Current Science Fiction: What’s Gone Wrong?

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     Come here. We need to have a talk, a serious talk, about what’s happening in Science Fiction right now.

     Science Fiction. A vehicle for future predictions, for social commentary, for exploring future ideas. Right?

     That is often not the case these days.

     At the blog A Matter of Scale: Technology and the Human Condition, Ebonstorm , in the post “Science Fiction and Social Awareness,” discusses the current failings in the Science Fiction genre. The protagonists, says Ebonstorm are “mostly white, mostly male and moving further away from being accessible to the readers.” Ebonstorm goes deeper to list these failings, including:

(My commentary is in blue)

  • social/racial inequalities in the writing…marginalizing other social groups.

The burly, blonde, white, gun-toting man playing shoot-em-up stereotype is more pervasive than ever, as is the big-breasted, corset-waisted woman who’ll drop it all to be with “her man.” Sci-Fi used to be full of so many strong women I felt affirmed every time I read the genre. What’s happened?

  • the rewarding of primarily white men as the best writers of the genre and as the main protagonist

Yes, definitely. Old white guys applauding each other. Shall we continue to perpetuate the old, dead, white guy outmoded canon for another generation?

  • A failure to acknowledge writers from minority groups who may have different views of the future.

This is beginning to change, somewhat, (I applaud the small strides made in the last year) but until openly LGBTQIA writers and writers of color are embraced and awarded in equal proportions to the male, white dominance, this will continue to be my largest gripe with the genre and with the larger Sci-Fi publishers.

  • a failure of the genre to address near-future issues due to potential scientific complexity

This is indicative of the dumbing-down of the genre as a whole.

  • Science Fiction becoming more like fantasy or westerns in space

Yep. The future is not full of only lone wolves, rogue space cowboys, and prospectors set on making it rich on an unexplored asteroid. The future contains families, mothers, fathers, children, the disabled, and a blending of races and ethnicities facing every day and extraordinary challenges. There will be societies in crisis, religion…come on! Just because it’s the future doesn’t mean the struggle isn’t the human struggle (but adding aliens and/or writing from an alien perspective makes it even more interesting, doncha think?)

  • losing the exploration of scientific ideas

And scientific idea does not only mean the hard sciences. Let’s go back to exploring the social sciences as well. Doing so increases understanding and tolerance.

  • the increasing marginalization of the genre due to lackluster efforts of writers to explore more risky ideas

Boom! Ideas involving social relationships, cultures, religion, sex, interpersonal relationships, issues important to minority groups—issues important to humans in general. Where have these gone?

  • the increasingly doom-centric orientation of the genre and the preponderance of dystopian fiction

Right now, I am sick to death of dystopian fiction. It’s been done, and it can still be done well, but the proliferation of it in YA lit is epidemic. Let’s expose them to the what-if again.

  • the lack of ideas of working toward a positive future

I call this the Eeyore effect. There’s nothing good going to happen, we’re all fucked, and the writing proves it so I’m going to accept and embrace the doom and gloom when it comes to surround me.

  • The lack of scientific interest in the potential audience which reduces the potential quality of stories

Welcome to the dumbing down of U.S. Education. (I taught middle school through collegiate levels so I can say this with some authority) The Common Core standards tried to remedy this situation, but you can’t make up years’ worth of low standards by simply changing the rules. Common Core would have worked if it had been phased in with K-1 students and then grown a little each year. Simply put, it was too much too soon. It further overwhelmed already overwhelmed and underfunded U.S. public school systems. There are admittedly other societal issues at play here—namely the fact that an uneducated populous is easy to manipulate and control—something we’re seeing coming to an ugly, orange-tinged head with the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States.

 I miss the days when Science Fiction embraced the what-if and look forward to the day when it grows into the diverse, look-ahead, genre I know it can be. Until that day, I will remain in my comfortable sub-genre niche—a disabled, lesbian writer of dive1rse Social Science Fiction—and embrace the fact that there are others out there who appreciate the worlds I create.

Socially Aware Sci-Fi reads:

  • The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula K LeGuin

  • The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood

  • 1984 George Orwell

  • Brave New World Aldous Huxley

  • Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury

  • Octavia Butler -almost anything she wrote in the genre

  • The Time Machine H.G. Wells

  • Nnedi Okorator will probably go on this list soon–I’m reading Binti now and I’m duly impressed

I know there are numerous others, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind.

And my work, I don’t put myself in the same arena as the great works I listed above, just in the genre. I am not comparing my work in any way, shape, or form, but I hope to be listed among them someday.

2 thoughts on “Current Science Fiction: What’s Gone Wrong?

  1. Ms. G’fellers, with all due respect, I’m afraid you’re not looking hard enough. But that’s great news for you! Just go to the main science fiction magazines Asimov and Analog. There are stories out there I think you would like. These writers deal out real human struggle with real human speculation, and furthermore, they include protagonists of all backgrounds.

    Of course, I’m referring to the shorter, not-so-popular science fiction. I’m just getting back into longer fiction, having already read several of the classics. Maybe I’m not up to speed on current long fiction as you are. But I do believe science fiction is taking on a new trend, simply because there’s now a wider demographic of writers out there. Take heart! Happy reading!

    Like

    • Ms. McKenzie,
      Don’t get me wrong. I fully agree that diversity in SF does exist, to some extent, especially in shorter Sci-Fi works as you stated, but the problem lies with the fact that these writers’ works, large and small, remain widely unrecognized by larger publishers and the larger, longer-established award programs and such works are regularly under-promoted. That was my entire point. And I did recognize the fact change has started (small strides are still strided), but the lack of diversity is still a substantial issue. Furthermore, I wasn’t saying the genre was taking a new trend. I said it was already there, and has been there for a while, and again, I stated that I recognized small, positive changes.

      I look forward to seeing more of them.

      Thank you for your feedback.

      Like

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