Friday, June 13, 2008


Patrick and I had dinner with Maureen McHugh at Wiscon. She said something which is staying with me. She said she didn't know what is currently happening with SF.

"Slipstream?" I offered.

"That was the 90s," she replied.

I thought about this. It's easy to come up with labels for decades in SF.

1930s -- The pulps and Doc Smith

1940s -- Campbell and Astounding

1950s -- H.L. Gold and Galaxy, Anthony Boucher and F&SF

1960s -- The New Wave

1970s -- The Women

1980s -- Cyberpunk

1990s -- New space opera, the British writers

All the labels are arbitrary. The 1980s had a fair number of long, slow eco-feminist novels by women, along with cyberpunk by new, mostly male writers: Always Coming Home, The Door into Ocean, A Woman of the Iron People among others.

I think of the 90s as new, improved space opera, much of it by British writers. Maureen thinks it's slipstream.

All the usual, traditional kinds of SF writing continued through the decades: hard SF, the techno-problem story. People are still writing and selling deal with the devil stories. Sub-genres die slowly, if at all. When we label decades, we're talking about what's new.

So the question is -- is something happening that Maureen and I aren't seeing? Is nothing happening? Is SF finally fuzzing into the mainstream, which is (at the same time) fuzzing into speculative fiction? Or is SF splitting in so many directions that we can no longer think of it as a single genre?


Michael Merriam said...

The current movements seem to be:

New Weird
Mundane SF
and a big explosion of new authors in Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance.

Douglas Hulick said...

Who do you see doing steampunk? I haven't been looking real hard, but most of what I see is sub-cultural movements and electronic media (primarily TV & 'Net), as opposed to a lot of printed works. Mind you, I'll happily have my horizons widened on this. :)

Kelly McCullough said...


Kelly Swails said...

True dat, Y.

It's near, you know.

tate hallaway said...

I'm sorry, but WTF is Singularity, anyway? I know what the idea IS, but name a book other than the latest one by Gibson that deals with it?

I'm with Michael. The now of SF isn't. It's paranormal romance and New Weird.

Kelly McCullough said...

A bunch of folks have written singularity books. Bob Metzger, Vernor Vinge, Charles Stross, etc.

Douglas Hulick said...

For those of us not in the know, what are you talking about when you say "singularity", anyhow?

Bill Henry said...

Yeah, it's Vernor Vinge whom people are referring to when they throw out the term "singularity" these days.

Lyda's right, though, to point to Gibson; he was talking about singularity, or "When It Changed," like twenty years ago, in the Sprawl trilogy (so-called).

It feels to me as if the SF market today is so glutted with books, and the readership is so fragmented, that it's difficult for core fans (if such a thing can be said to exist anymore) to know where to turn for a good read.

I'm thinking of a conversation I had with Kelly a while back about the science fiction of the 1980s -- we were recalling this experience that so many of us had back then that you could just walk into a bookstore and know what books to buy simply by looking on the shelf. You could practically see the instant classics, and they weren't just cyberpunk; you had Ender's Game, and Startide Rising, and Ringworld, and The Snow Queen, and . . . so on. (Not meant to be an exhaustive list.) You know the books I'm talking about: the ones that readers of a certain age still have on their paperback shelves today. And we all have the same ones, because those were the books to buy.

It's different now. After the singularity, and all. The publishing market model is incredibly gutless and deeply frakked up. And then there's the Internet. Unless you're a lucky author who breaks out, you're pretty much selling to your LJ clique, neh? Lots of little worlds all jostling around in (cyber)space.

Kelly McCullough said...

Simplifying: the "Singularity" is the idea of point at which humanity will hit a change point beyond which we in the present can't imagine what happens next. There are variety of version involving genetic engineering, nano-machines, humans merging with computers. Whatever the reason, when it happens the creatures on the other side will be so different from current generation humans that we in the present simply can't begin to guess what they will be like.

sexy said...