Thursday, April 10, 2008

Now I'm Just Cranky...

Even though I was wary of spoilers (I didn't get a chance to tune into the premiere of Battlestar Galactica after all), I ended up reading Ken Tucker's review of it in Entertainment Weekly.

So I'm going along, laughing at the funny bits (Tucker's admission that he watches BSG for a number of reasons including, "...the off chance that Edward James Olmos' Admiral Adama will change his stony-faced expression...") and then we get to what is basically, Tucker's theme: we should like this TV drama because it's NOT REALLY SCIENCE FICTION.

I hate this argument.

I think I hate it not only for all the reasons that Eleanor has been musing about (the idea that the general public seems to have a misconception that SF is "too hard" and/or "too dark," which I'd still like to take on at some point,) but also because I've had to sell people on my own work with the phrase, "well, it's not REALLY science fiction. You know, it's about people, like all good stories." Which is basically the same thing Tucker is using to try to sell TV audiences on BSG.

I know that historically SF has been the genre of IDEAS with a capital "I," but I think the human equation entered into SF about the same time that women took over the genre (or at least attempted to) in the late 1970s. When people tell me that they don't read SF because they prefer stories about people, I tell them they need to read something written in the last oh, two or three DECADES. I have always read science fiction for the characters. Yeah, okay, I like the backdrop of space or a computerized future, but I read William Gibsons Nueromancer because I wanted to find out what happened to Case, and perhaps more so Molly. When an SF book fails to deliver good characters I see that as a failed book, not a problem endemic to science fiction.

I could go on, but I also wanted to point to this really fascinating comment left on the SF Novelist's site by Steve Buchheit in answer to my question posed there on My Dragon Takes Your Starship as to why fantasy out sells SF:

"It’s just that fantasy is dealing with the issues that people today want to explore (or are interested [in]). As someone who writes and reads both I was interested in watching some historical trends. It was a revelation for me when I finally saw the link between social and technological advances to when and how fairies appeared in stories and the general culture. they showed up in regular order every time society changed its relationship to technology (which we are now, and surprise, they’re everywhere again). The books we read, the cultural myths we explore, all are cued into the larger world. Classic Golden Age SF rose with the need to counter the Soviet technological threat (hey look, we got better ideas!). Tolkein was published at a time when people felt disconnected by that advancement and that technology was advancing in the wrong directions (the bomb, war technology, advent of “better living through chemistry”). SF then resurged with the computer age. Now with bioengineering, the strange vulnerability of being interconnected through those computers, and general technology advancing faster than we can process and in ways society isn’t all too comfortable with, fantasy once again is taking the fore. There’s good fiction being sold in each genre. And just because fantasy may be “hotter” at the moment, doesn’t mean SF is dead. It’s just where the rest of the reading humanity’s head space is at the current moment."

I have to say I like that answer. It makes sense to me. I don't mind the ebb and flow, I think it's fair to say all genres have their day. I just wish that science fiction could shake it's label as the genre of "laser beams," as Tucker put it, and not much else. I think people are missing out on some great fiction because they can't see beyond that stereotype.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm always telling people the reason to read SF/F is for the characters. I enjoy the settings and issues, but it's the character development that keeps me reading.