Friday, August 10, 2007

Math is Hard, Barbie. Get Over It

In one of the many groups I'm on someone forwarded this article from the New Republic about the difficulty of selling science fiction to the mundanes.

One of the author's friends had this complaint about science fiction[paraphrasing], "Science fiction is too hard. I can't remember all the silly acronyms or the difference between androids and robots."

I hear this a lot.

My response? Try reading something written THIS decade. It's been a long, long, long, LONG time, folks, since the days that science fiction was ONLY about the rivets, bolts, and the big idea. I'd say, in fact, that 95% of everything written since 1983 has been, ultimately, about people. The New Republic author seems to imply that she thinks that J.K. Rowling invented the idea of the hero's journey and the story that centers around the struggles of "realistic" people confronting fantastical problems.


I find this misunderstanding about science fiction so confusing and infuriating. Why must I deal with a perception of science fiction that was forged before my birth in the 1940s and 50s? There are people I've met who, when they find out I write SF, ask, "You mean all those ray guns and space aliens?"

"No, I say, all those Left Hand of Darkness and Parable of Sowers and other books I thought changed the landscape of science fiction and fantasy two decades ago!"


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I dunno - I find people's leeriness of science fiction frustrating too, but lately I've been realizing that reading it requires some skills we may take for granted. People's snootiness about why they won't try is the annoying thing to me.

I was really surprised recently when I handed over a couple of my favorite lesbian science fiction novels to a friend and she found them incomprehensible. But then I went and reread the first twenty pages of each, and realized how much I suppress my reaction of "what's this?" "what's that?" "what's that mean?" and "what the hell is going on?" for the first chunk of a science fiction story or novel (especially if I peeked ahead and there's going to be good sex).

There is a learned skill - trusting that it will all end up making sense, and becoming familiar with things like the inevitable stuff about A.I.'s and DNA and nanotech and all that stuff that *does* show up a lot and, personally, I never quite know if I really understand fully, despite poring over all those Scientific American articles.

My friend said she doesn't really have time to think that hard - she only has time to read at work and has to put the book down a lot - and often can't emotionally handle reading something that's too depressing/'dark.' I want to discount that, but going through the list of science fiction books I'd love to recommend, they're all pretty deep thinking reads and/or dystopic and depressing.

Learning to relish those qualities was like acquiring a taste for them - didn't just happen overnight. I've never been able to get past the first five pages of Left Hand of Darkness - I realize I don't have the time to really focus and give it the attention it needs. Some day I know I'll pick it up and read it cover to cover, but it does require a commitment of sorts.

I guess I also haven't quite receovered from the stunning, impromptu lecture on math theory I heard recently from someone critting a fantasy short story, that she reeled off without taking a breath- jeez, math *is* hard, and big, really big. Call me Barbie.