When Science Fiction Becomes Mainstream

Yes, by now, we should all realize that Science Fiction is being viciously and excessively co-opted by the Mainstream. But, when things like Wolverine and Transformers are Action, what does that leave for Science Fiction?*

In her article on the Internet Review of Science Fiction, Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

“I think science fiction as a genre will be dead in just a few years.”

I think a few years is a little too “shock and awe” to be realistic. But the rest of the arguments she makes in the article are valid.

Then there’s Paul over at Barnes & Noble’s Unabashedly Bookish who quotes Orson Scott Card saying that science fiction is “no longer a cutting-edge genre – the edge is now in fantasy.”

And while that’s certainly plausible, it could also be that the genre-melding of SF and Fantasy that Paul claims is happening, is, well, actually happening. Or, if not a genre-melding, then at least a large blurring of the line between the two:

I believe some of the very best – and most innovative – science fiction will actually be categorized as epic fantasy. Take Ken Scholes’ Psalms of Isaak saga, for example. It’s actually post-apocalyptic science fiction cloaked in grand-scale fantasy. Last year, reading the first installment in the series, Lamentation, was an almost surreal experience. I knew almost immediately that I had stumbled across a novel that was not only surely destined to be a classic but also the beginning of a series that could very well redefine both science fiction and fantasy.

I mean, was there not a time when quote-unquote Paranormal Fantasy was actually Horror because it had vampires in it?

And then there’s the never-ending question of where Star Wars fits in. Since it takes place “a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”, then isn’t its setting better compared to a fantasy world (like Game of Thrones as an easy example)? I actually believe it should be, because they’re basically battling it out with laser-broadswords, and flying around on X-wings instead of dragons using robots instead of faeries. But since “literary SF” (as opposed to “TV/Movie SF”) had been growing for so long when Star Wars broke out, it’s literary scholars headed further and further into the Hard SF category, where everything has to be explained (or else derided). Did George Lucas have to explain how “Light Speed”, or “Light Sabers”, or “Light Side” worked within the limits of traditional physics? Certainly not.

And here again I use Kristine Kathryn Rusch so as to not have to rebuild arguments already made:

I read fiction for entertainment, relaxation, and enjoyment. If I want to work, I read the history, literary essays, biography, science, and legal books that grace my shelves.

Last week, for the first time in more than a decade, I saw an sf novel on the bookstore shelves that made my barbarian self reach for the book with joy. The cover had a picture of a derelict space ship. The back cover blurb talked about far futures and finding artifacts in outer space. The cover quote said, “In the old tradition of Astounding.” … the novel promises the very things that Star Wars gives: An escape, a journey into a new yet familiar world, entertainment. A good read.

The things you still find in fantasy fiction. The things that sf jettisoned in the erroneous cold equations practiced by the New Wave.

Thank you.

And again:

“Good” sf can retire to the specialty press where the Science Fiction Village can read and discuss it. It’s time to return to the gosh-wow, sense-of-wonder stories that sf abandoned when it added literary values to its mix, the kind of stories that Star Wars, and by extension, Star Trek, Stargate, and all those other media properties have had all along.

I’m happy that some people are acknowledging the need for some sort of alteration to the Science Fiction genre as it stands. I’m busy (at least, I try to be) writing a space opera, an advanced-tech-future action serial, a post-apocalyptic quest, a surreal futuristic adventure, and story which is essentially characters representing science fiction and fantasy battling it out on a global scale. I plan to give no explanation about the technology in any of those other that what is necessary in a Star Wars sense.

When Science Fiction becomes Mainstream, you have to give people what they want. It’s not selling out if you are still writing what you want to write. It’s just a happy coincidence (and happens to be a good business practice).

* Honestly, I’d rather have things I write classified as Action as opposed to Science Fiction because then you can get all those Mainstream people who don’t realize that they like Science Fiction to check it out, where they might not be apt to have a look if they see that it’s marketed as Science Fiction. Yes, Science Fiction may be Mainstream, but call it Science Fiction, and a lot of people will still think it’s for dorks who live in their mom’s basements and play D&D. (Kind of like bloggers, that way)


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