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October 26, 2012

If Science Fiction is exhausted who's to blame?

There's has been much discussion recently about whether Science Fiction is in a state of exhaustion, starting (I think) with Paul Kincaid's article for the LA Review The Widening Gyre: 2012 Best of the Year Anthologies and continuing elsewhere including Jonathan McCalmont's Cowardice, Laziness and Irony: How Science Fiction Lost the Future and The Coode Street Podcast (episodes 116 onwards).

I want to discuss is the idea that Science Fiction writers are to blame. In several of the articles and discussion it has been said that Science Fiction writers have given up trying to predict the near future, that they've eloped to the safe havens of far future and the post apocalypse. Forget for a moment that this feels like the same argument we had about near future optimistic SF (lead by Jetse) a few years ago and then Mundane SF a few years before that. Assume we have forgotten the endless cycle of this discussion. I want to take issue with the idea that the writers are to blame. Instead I'd question whether the editors and publishers are to blame. 

The stories we see in magazines are the stories the editors decide to publish. For all we know there could be floods of brilliant Science Fiction of the type we want being rejected every day. We don't really know (not until the editors of the world unite and tell me I'm talking rubbish). The same goes for publishers, probably more so, driven by the need to make a profit and follow the whims of consumer trends. Novels are a bigger risk financially so why take a bigger risk on the content? We know how it goes. It doesn't seem fair to blame the writers. There could be great writers, writing great stories that aren't getting published and we wouldn't know.

Yeah, I know, if the stories were that good they'd be published no matter what. Maybe. I just haven't heard/read the publishers of SF being included in those discussions.

Of course I don't actually agree that Science Fiction is exhausted, I've read some wonderful novels this year. I've also read some bad ones too. As usual.