Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The End of Science Fiction (yet again)

The Fix's Nader Elhefnawy offers The End of Science Fiction (Part One), the first three of "five big arguments for a bleak view of the genre's prospects that certainly merit consideration." These three - The End of Science, Changing Expectations, and The Life Cycle of Genres. He draws from John Horgan's The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age, Bruce Sterling's preface to Burning Chrome, and John Barnes's Helix column on science fiction as an “undead” genre (itself a fascinating read.)

I enjoyed the article, which if nothing else points to a lot of equally enjoyable essays and opinions, but I think the usefulness of this sort of thing is drying up for me. Is science fiction dying? From where I stand it appears to be exploding, but even if it is dying, what am I supposed to do with that? I'm reminded of the final lines from H G Wells' the Time Machine. "If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so. But to me the future is still black and blank..."

Here's to a black, blank future!

9 comments:

Unknown said...

Exactly. The reports of SF's death have been greatly exaggerated in the past, and one can't really be sure anyway until it's post-mortem time (and what genre if not SF/F could arrange for a resuscitation?).

What's interesting to me about all these musings on the fate of the genre is the sociological comment it provides. I get the feeling that commentators in the future may look back at all this (and that in itself is an optimistic assumption, perhaps) and say, "Boy, these guys were really worried about what they were doing on a self-conscious level, about the longevity and health of their verbally-shaped dreams. Let's examine what this means in the context of the time's social, political and philosophical currents." And then they'll come up with all sorts of interesting (maybe psychological) causes, which, if we could travel to the future, would probably be as wild as any SF we can envision today (because we're too trapped in the present to realize them, and by the future they will be distorted by history)!

Lou Anders said...

Exactly on your exactly. And Barnes' contention that we're an "undead" genre are fun in an academic context, but don't really matter to the wealth of readers currently enjoying contemporary SF.

Unknown said...

Right. Btw, have you read John Horgan's The End of Science?

I didn't find it very stimulating on an intellectual level or relevant in a sociological way, except, as before, unwittingly.

Lou Anders said...

I have not, and what Elhefnawy says about it doesn't inspire me to. But in 99, I had a friend, a theoretical physicist, tell me that pretty much everything had been done, and apart from a few arguments about the first picoseconds of existence, it was all in the bag. A year later he was into string theory and utterly retracted his previous statement.

ces said...

Science fiction dead? Tell that to the people standing in lines that go out the door of bookstores with author readings/signings.

Like Mark Twain said, "The announcement of my death has been greatly exaggerated." (or something like that anyway)

ces said...

And on an unrelated topic . . . The Seattle Times Newspaper Business Section had a LONG article about Neal Stephenson, and I just got my Locus whose front cover is Neal Stephenson. I never realized that he is from Seattle! And more than just a science fiction author too!!! Fascinating, fascinating.

Lou Anders said...

And a science fiction author charting new territory and getting massive mainstream respect too.

Unknown said...

Lou, speaking as someone who studied theoretical physics, let me totally concur -- with your friend's retraction! There is actually a brutal amount of things we don't yet understand. Kaku's stuff is good (I heard you mention him in the podcast [the volume of your voice seemed low throughout, btw, a technical thing I'm sure]) but for one of the best summaries of the current state of understanding (including M-theory etc.) see the first chapter (only 15 pages) of Lee Smolin's 2006 THE TROUBLE WITH PHYSICS. Let me know if you're interested in it and I can try to get it to you (just that chapter, titled "The Five Great Problems in Theoretical Physics") by e-mail :-)

Lou Anders said...

I'd love to know what the "Five Great Problems" are. My sense, talking to my friend, though, is that what these guys actually do is so far above anything that is put in layman's terms for my benefit as to almost be an entirely different discipline! I always prided myself on being able to make it to his third sentence before I was lost.