It seems to be the week for science fiction discussions, because I found a few more:
Some very interesting points there. And yes, the sheer scope of many classic space operas was a huge part of the appeal when I was younger. The epic intrigue of Dune, the century and galaxy spanning adventures of E.E. Smith’s Lensmen, the one thousand year plan to shorten the dark age and bring about a new galactic empire in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, the time traveling meddlers who accidentally end up destroying humankind in Asimov’s End of Eternity, the Prisoner of Zenda like body switch across space and millennia in Edmund Hamilton’s The Star Kings, the enormous ring the size of a planetary orbit in Larry Niven’s Ringworld, the spaceship pushing telekinetics of Anne McCaffrey’s Talented books, the trek across a dying planet in Leigh Brackett’s Ginger Star trilogy, the horizon curving upwards in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ At the Earth Core (not a space opera, but it had the same effect) – these were the moments of mindboggling sense of wonder that made me an SF fan as a teenager. The quality of the books in question was highly variable and in fact I can’t even read many of the authors I loved back then anymore. But the galaxy spanning wonder and sheer joy of those novels is something I haven’t found in new SF for a long time now. And if I actually find a new book that seems to scratch that itch, the characterization is usually so lacking and the technobabble so bad that I often find myself giving up in frustration.
Meanwhile, the Guardian has asked several science fiction authors to name their favourite science fiction novel, though a few named their favourite author instead. The readers also have a chance to weigh in. One of the authors questioned is Margaret Atwood, so can we please lay that whole “giant squid” thing to rest now please? I mean, it’s been almost ten years now, so can we please drop it?
Talking of which, it seems as if there is yet another round in the forty year war between literary speculative fiction and pulpy plot-focused SFF going on at the moment. I’m not wading into this one, because both sides are calling each other names and even Godwin’s Law has already been breached. But if you’re interested, Paul Jessup has compiled a few links to relevant posts.
But what really annoys me about this discussion, aside from the fact that it erupts at least once a year or so, is that everything is turned into an either/or question and that adjectives such as “literary”, “experimental”, “traditional” or “pulpy” are confused with “good” or “bad”. An experimental piece is not necessarily good nor is a traditional, plot-driven story necessarily bad – or vice versa for those on the other side of the debate. It is perfectly possible for authors and readers to oscillate between both sides and find enjoyable works on each. As well as bad ones, Sturgeon’s law applies everywhere. It’s even possible to write an experimental piece one week and a traditionally narrated story the next. It’s a big genre and a big literary world with room for everyone, so why are we having this discussion again?
Oh yes, and first person narration is not experimental. It was there right at the beginning of the novel – have you never read Pamela or Robinson Crusoe or Moll Flanders? If anything, then the so-called third person limited POV (what I have been taught to call “personal narration”) is the recent upstart which didn’t arrive until approx. one and a half centuries after first person and omniscient POV. Oh yes, and omniscient narration is not experimental either. It’s one of the oldest forms we have. Really, widen your horizons, people.