So You Killed Science Fiction. Now What?

Friday , 10, March 2017 100 Comments

“Science Fiction! Oh, no!”

People complain that I only pick on Blue SF. Fair cop, especially as it’s not the only form of SF that damaged the genre. EVERY age after the Pulp-driven Golden Age did its part to drive the audience away, and put Science Fiction on life support.

Silver Age: Removed heroics and adventure.
Bronze Age: Removed decency and virtue.
Iron Age: The reign of the Left.
Clay Age: Finger-painting with their own poo.

There’s a sickness in SF, it’s very nearly terminal, and Doctor Warpig is in the house to diagnose the disease and prescribe a cure.

Some of you may be in denial: “Science Fiction is NOT a ghetto! It’s not struggling. It’s just as popular as anything else!”

Let’s put it to a test. Take these three books:

The Three Musketeers. Alice in Wonderland. Treasure Island.

You’ve probably heard of them. And movies and TV shows based on them. And allusions to them. EVERYBODY has.

Now name some post-Pulp prose SF works of equal or greater stature in popular culture. Spoiler alert: You can’t.

From the Silver Age? Nothing. In the Bronze Age? Nothing. And the Iron Age? Nothing. Then the Clay Age? Nothing. (The Golden Age? Tarzan, Batman, and Conan, for starters.)

Since 1940, the only landmark works Science Fiction has given birth to came out of television and cinema: Star Trek and Star Wars. What’s the closest to massive crossover success written SF has had in that same time period? Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games”. AFTER the movies came out.

Written Science Fiction is a ghetto.

In fact, during this time period movies and TV have always had a bigger impact on written SF than the other way around. (Star Wars Expanded Universe, anyone?) It’s been almost 80 years since prose Science Fiction had an impact.

If you don’t impact the popular culture, you’re in a freaking ghetto. Right now, SCOOBY DOO is bigger than Science Fiction.

Go ahead, click. It isn’t pretty.

Have you seen the Amazon numbers? “Literary” works—the stodgy, boring crap that turns people off of reading—outsell SF!

Let’s ask a normie if he recognizes some benchmark works of post-Golden Age SF.

Neuromancer? “Fantasy, maybe?”
Stranger in a Strange Land? “Some kind of travelogue?”
Ringworld? “Is that a Halo novel?”

A video game—A FREAKING VIDEO GAME—is a more popular example of Science Fiction than anything SF writers have cranked out since 1940. Video games, TV, and movies, folks. That’s where the audience is.

Written SF no longer matters.

Harsh words, but admitting you have a problem is the first step, and Doctor Warpig always tells it to you straight. Now, to be fair, Science Fiction isn’t dead—yet—but it’s in the ICU and circling the drain.

Tomorrow: the cause of the current cancer on SF, and the cure.

NOTE—This is the first of a series: Part Two. Part Three.


Jasyn Jones, better known as Daddy Warpig, is a host on the Geek Gab podcast, a regular on the Superversive SF livestreams, and blogs at Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery. Check him out on Twitter.

100 Comments
  • B&N says:

    So sci-fi is primarily read by men, who are visual creatures, so most sci-fi fans just watch it instead?
    And perhaps women sci-fi fans are mostly fans of Modern Doctor Who and Firefly, so they also watch it instead?

  • No, written sci-fi is not dead. If it were dead, Vaughn Heppner, BV Larson and I, who grew up together playing games and reading, wouldn’t be making six to seven figures each selling this dead sci-fi.

    What written sci-fi is, is disconnected from from the popular culture, especially the pop culture of those under 50, and most especially from males under 40. The left has a shaky but still strong grip on the legacy awards, the large publishers aid and abet, and certain well-known authors who shall remain nameless get all the press while people like us and a few dozen other indie/hybrids who outsell them by orders of magnitude remain behind the green door.

    So we’re pretty healthy. We’re merely banished from the gated communities of the Kumbaya-circling, back-patting poo-painters.

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      That you and your friends are making a living at this—congratulations, BTW, seriously—has nothing to do with whether or not SF is culturally relevant. It isn’t. (As you yourself say.)

      Written SF is a tiny, unregarded ghetto which Hollywood mines for props, costumes, and scenery, but the culture as a whole mostly ignores.

      The middle third of your response, which affirms my thesis, also presages some of the points in tomorrow’s sequel post.

      • jic says:

        Absolutely right, literary SF is like jazz, or contemporary classical, or comic books. You can still make a successful living in it, there are still lots of interesting new people coming up in the field, but what little influence there is in popular culture is almost entirely second or third hand.

        Oh, since I’m already commenting:

        “What’s the closest to massive crossover success written SF has had in that same time period? Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games”. AFTER the movies came out.”

        You forgot *The Martian*. It was everywhere even before the movie came out. Obviously, though, a couple of exceptions does nothing to invalidate your premise. If anything, the fact that there are so few reinforces it.

  • Whether you’re right or wrong, that graphic is very interesting. Thanks. The percentage of Amazon imprint in “literary” is eye opening.

  • “Now name some post-Pulp prose SF works of equal or greater stature in popular culture.”

    Harry Potter

    (If you are counting, Tarzan, Batman, and Conan, then you can’t eliminate wizards on the grounds on non-SFness.)

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      You realize you just proved my point, in spades. If you have to go to “Harry Potter” to claim SCIENCE FICTION is culturally relevant, well…

      • PCBushi says:

        That, then goes to the argument bouncing around that SF and F should, in fact, be lumped together, and that the separation is artificial.

      • Anthony says:

        It also takes Tarzan – an adventure story if there ever was one – off the list.

        • Jeffro says:

          I don’t think it’s quite as easy to classify the Tarzan series as you think.

          For Ken St. Andre it was the definition of fantasy. And the line between fantasy and science fiction just wasn’t that hard in the way back.

      • You specifically cited Tarzan, Batman, and Conan as examples of prose SF works that have had immense impact in popular culture.

        • jic says:

          I was thinking as I read it that he made a major mistake citing those three (well, I suppose you can make an argument for Batman). It’s obvious from the rest of the post that his argument excludes fantasy, but then he goes and undermines himself.

          Ah, well, he’s still right.

  • ZekeofConfetti says:

    Well David (VanDyke, above) I have a copy of _Starship Liberator_ but I turned 67 last Year. Damn I seem to have made your point. The closest I get to Mass Culture is attending the biggest convention in my hometown DRAGONCON each year.

  • VD says:

    As DVD says, written SF isn’t dead. But Mainstream Written SF certainly is. As I mentioned at VP yesterday, Tor Books is said to be slashing its midlist; there are names people will recognize who are now done there.

  • Rod Walker says:

    Rod Walker thinks that written SF *was* nearly dead with a few exceptions, but it’s roaring back strong via indie publishing.

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      Answered in the post. Even including Indie, SF is being outsold by the “Literary” category, which is EMBARASSING.

      • Being outsold by the “literary” genre is certainly embarrassing, but I would wager that most of the literary fiction ends up unread on library shelves and coffee tables on people who want to status signal.

  • Anthony says:

    Dead, huh?

    Well, we’ll have to do something about THAT, won’t we?

  • 2Bfree says:

    combine SF and Fantasy and you get the number 2 seller

  • Yuggoth says:

    Written SF has always been a ghetto – it’s a far more open ghetto now than when I was growing up in the 60’s. The space race and Star Trek helped grow the audience enormously, and Star Wars had a huge impact and made it much more popular than it had been before. The very idea of Mainstream SF would have been unthinkable without those two factors. The mainstream stuff has been coopted and driven into navel-gazing or smug pastiches of great stuff done before, but there have always been writers producing thrilling yarns that also made you think. I don’t think we are likely to see it go back to the teeny cubbyhole it used to be.

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      SF used to be a widely read genre, popular among all ages and sexes. The “teens and nerdy adults” ghetto came along fairly late in the game.

    • Jeffro says:

      Congratulations. You have bought into the “Golden Age of Science Fiction” narrative hook, line, and sinker. You have no idea what sort of science fiction preceded it, how awesome it was, and how insanely popular the grandmasters of that period were.

      • Yuggoth says:

        Sorry, no, I was reading Burroughs, Conan and Tolkein before I was out of elementary school, both original editions moldering in the backs of libraries as well as the then-new reissues. I read everything I could get my hands on. But I knew nobody outside of my own family who read SF on a regular basis, if at all. You may be correct in surmising that as a result of the Cambell effect on the field, I’m just reporting what I’ve seen over the 50+ years I’ve been reading SF.

        • jic says:

          “I’m just reporting what I’ve seen over the 50+ years I’ve been reading SF.”

          Except that’s just about the time that SF entered the ghetto. “Written SF has always been a ghetto” and ‘written SF has always been a ghetto *in my lifetime*’ aren’t the same thing.

  • Bryce says:

    Yeah, impactful SF rarely comes from written works. And it is generally the movie version that catapults the work into popularity. Jurassic Park has had a pretty big impact. Phillip K. Dick was post golden age (right?), and his work has spawned Total Recall (& the 2070 TV series), the Adjustment Bureau, a Scanner Darkly, Blade Runner (& upcoming sequel), the Man in the High Castle, Paycheck, Minority Report (a movie and crappy series), Screamers (& sequel). Everybody’s seen at least one of those.

    But in the same vein, no single plain old romance book has had a huge cultural impact recently, either. Only when you toss in fantasy does it ever get noticed by huge amounts of people. Would you consider it a ghetto, too? Isn’t romance like a billion dollar industry? How many non-Jane Austen romance novels can most people name?

    That all being said. It’s hard finding works these days that I love as much as “Police Your Planet.”

    • Dan Wolfgang says:

      What about Ender’s Game? The book sold millions, yet the movie version bombed.

      • Jesse Lucas says:

        The movie didn’t follow through with what made the book so powerful, and it tried to shove a 6-8-hour story into 2. If it had started as a TV show, one of those 80s shows where they’re obviously on a set and all the 0-g battles are on wires, it would have spawned a movement.

        I seriously thought of Ender’s Game when Mistah Pig brought up SF not penetrating culture. I know a lot of people who don’t read SF but have read Ender’s Game.

        • Anthony says:

          I’ve only read the original novella. The concept behind it was cool, but what made it so powerful isn’t only what they made Ender do. It’s that they thought by not telling him what was going on, they genuinely thought they were doing him a kindness.

          • Jesse Lucas says:

            That’s a neat perspective. They were trying to be like Ender but failing. I have read the novella but it’s slender and pale next to the novel in my opinion.

          • Anthony M says:

            Right. The interesting point about the ending was basically when they looked at him and more or less said “And the best part is, we don’t need to worry about PTSD, because you don’t even realize what you did!”

  • Jasyn Jones says:

    As I said on Facebook, you are correct: Jurassic Park is culturally prominent. And, though a countervailing example to my thesis (the only plausible one thus far proffered), the fact that it comes from an author who is largely alien to the SF community, and indeed isn’t counted as among the leading authors of SF at all, does point up the fact that something in the SF community is unwell. (More on that tomorrow.)

    • deuce says:

      Yeah, Crichton was a Haggard and ERB fan, but didn’t have time for Asimov. Just sayin’.

      • Jasyn Jones says:

        Wish it hadn’t been so long since I read the book. The movie was obviously an Action-Adventure movie, but I don’t recall where the book landed on that scale, if it was primarily science or primarily action.

        • cirsova says:

          The book had more ridiculous balls-out action and thrills than Hollywood could be capable of.

          The greatest tragedy of SF pop fiction was that Crichton wrote Lost World as a sequel to the movie rather than as a sequel to his book.

  • Anthony says:

    Jasyn, I would take out Batman from your list if I were you.

    That opens you up to superheros and the comics, in which case there are a billion zillion examples of post-1960 characters and stories that had an unbelievably tremendous influence on popular culture. I can name at least 10 off the top of my head, even.

    • Anthony says:

      (Deadpool is from the NINETIES, even!)

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      Batman is a Golden Age character imported into superhero comics: he’s pretty much the Shadow with a cowl and cape. In fact, many of the panels in the first issue were direct copies of Shadow covers.

      The recent Geek Gab with John Wright, Jeffro, and Razörfist goes into more detail: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjVUCH2d13Y

      Superhero comics had a huge impact on culture, for reasons I may go into because they bear directly on the discussion (and directly support my thesis). But they’re not SF, even though they too borrow props, scenery, and costumes from SF.

  • Anthony says:

    Also, I’d say the collective works of Phillip K. Dick combined had a tremendous influence on pop culture too, as Bryce points out. I suppose your mileage may vary at how much influence.

  • Gaiseric says:

    I think this whole series of posts begs a question that one of these days will need to be answered—why does sci-fi existing and being important IN PRINT matter? You’ve demonstrated that sci-fi in novel and short story form has withered considerably from where it once was, but to make the case that science fiction OVERALL has done so, you have to ignore, among other things, 1) the huge popularity of syndicated reruns during the 50s and 60s of Buster Crabbe serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, 2) the massive success AND cultural impact of movies like Alien and The Terminator, to name just a couple, and 3) the huge success of science fiction video games like Star Craft, Halo, Destiny, etc.

    Not that I’m doing so exactly, but one could argue that sci-fi always WAS a genre that was better suited to a more visual medium than the printed word, and once visual media that could do it justice became widespread and financially accessible to creators, the genre naturally made the jump, where it’s been extremely successful ever since.

    tl;dr—*written* sci-fi being dead ≠ sci-fi being dead.

    • Gaiseric says:

      To add to that; not very many people (relatively speaking) have read 2001. On the other hand, almost EVERYONE has seen the movie, or at least understands references from it.

    • SF being in print matters because the medium is the message.

      Look up Marshall McLuhan’s work on how media–not content; media alone–deeply affect audiences who consume them. See the Kennedy-Nixon television debate vs. the radio version for a notorious example.

      Print requires more audience participation to extract the content than visual media like movies do. Historically, print is rivaled only by the internet for driving cultural innovation and the exchange of ideas. The American and French Revolutions wouldn’t have happened without the printing press.

      The decline of print was very likely a major contributing factor to the West’s cultural stagnation in the latter half of the 20th century.

      • Anthony says:

        I’m very much not sure if I buy this.

        This is a good objection – why has science fiction >i?reading slowed down?

        The answer could be Daddy Warpig’s theory.

        Or it could simply be that people like movies more than books.

      • Gaiseric says:

        Yeah, but now you’re getting into issues way beyond what’s happening to science fiction. In fact, if that’s going to be brought up, then we need to see that science fiction has been MORE impacted by this than other genres.

        And even then, it doesn’t address the fact that sci-fi thrives in other media. Like I said, one could argue—I’m not sure that I’m prepared to do so myself, but I could see someone else doing it and take it as a serious hypothesis, at least—that sci-fi as a genre simply works better with a more visual medium than novels and short stories. Which is why it’s thriving on both the big and small screen, and especially so in video games.

    • Nathan says:

      Visual science fiction is usually 15 years behind the trends of print science fiction.

    • Andy says:

      I just think books are better is all. I like a good movie and I certainly play a lot of video games, but when it comes to pure storytelling, nothing beats print.

    • True_poser says:

      Why does infantry matter?
      Conflicts of XX and XXI centuries demonstrated that infantry has withered considerably from where it once was and artillery inflicts a lion’s share of casualties on enemy, but to make the case that warfare OVERALL has done so…

  • Cambias says:

    Name some pulp-era SF which has a pop-culture profile equal to Tarzan or Batman. Lensman? Nobody but SF history buffs have heard of that. Barsoom? The fiasco of the recent John Carter movie shows how little anyone cares about that. Doc Savage? The Shadow? Maybe your grandparents remember them. Flash Gordon? That was that movie with music by Queen, right?

    • cirsova says:

      Conan?
      All of Lovecraft.

      • Anthony says:

        Conan and Batman aren’t even close in impact. Lovecraft has a strong niche group but the average person won’t care about him.

        • cirsova says:

          Dude. Lovecraft has shown up everywhere from Umberto Eco historical thrillers to Scooby Doo. Finding someone who doesn’t have at least some passing familiarity with him or his works would be harder than finding someone who didn’t.

          • Anthony says:

            Fair enough. I’m just saying the number of passionate Lovecraft fans vs. The number of passionate Batman fans is very, very different.

    • cirsova says:

      Also, Martian Chronicles had that cool mini-series where everyone had bellbottom space suits.

      War of the Worlds, maybe?

    • Bryce says:

      The thing is, Lensman has a large cultural impact, because it impacted other SF creators. You can make a case that without Lensman (& Valerian), then there is no Star Wars. There can be huge impact without popularity of the work itself.

      • deuce says:

        Look at all the people saying that the John Carter movie somehow “ripped off” Star Wars. ERB and Barsoom had been memory-holed, despite being quite popular in the ’70s.

  • Blume says:

    Everyone knows Alice in wonderland, treasure island and the three musketeers from their movies. Not from reading their books. Thus discounting hunger games because it shoot off after the movies came out is ridiculous. I would also like to second the Philip k dick influence and add Dune.

  • Anthony says:

    In fact, ask anyone what’s more fun – generally. Not SF. Generally. Reading a book or playing a video game? Reading a book or watching a movie?

    The average person is going to say “playing a video game” or “watching a movie”. We readers are the rarities.

  • Anthony says:

    DW, I have much respect for you and you’ve made strong arguments so far…but the more I’ve thought about this the less I buy this.

    No written sci-fi has been culturally influential after the pulps ended.

    Wait, superheroes? They don’t count, because they’re not sci-fi.

    Tarzan? He counts! We shouldn’t be concerned with artificial separation of genres!

    Harry Potter?

    He doesn’t count. Fantasy.

    “Alice in Wonderland”?

    It counts! We don’t want artificial separation of genres, right?

    “Jurassic Park”? Okay, yeah, that’s an exception.

    Phillip K. Dick? Well, yeah, I guess that’s an exception.

    The three laws of robotics? Well, maybe an exception.

    TONS and tons of movies? Oh no, they don’t count, we’re talking about written sci-fi. Never minds that less books are being read generally and sci-fi is one of the most popular genres in movies and video games. Of course lit fic sells more books; their movies SUCK. Where else are you getting lit fic?

    This is sounding less and less convincing to me.

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      SF kicked out Fantasy. Got rid of it. Built an Iron Curtain between the two, and began a long program of sneering at the magical stuff.

      You don’t get to disavow a huge category of stories for 80 years, then claim their successes as your own when it becomes inconvenient. Sorry.

      But let’s say you’re entirely right. Let’s grant your argument.

      SF still sells like crap. IT’S BEING BEATEN BY BORING “LITERARY” GARBAGE.

      People can claim that Harry Potter should count as SF or it being unfair to include or not include Tarzan, WRITTEN SF IS STILL A GHETTO. It’s the bottom of the heap. Even including Indies.

      And even when some authors do sell, they haven’t been producing works that impact the culture. Movie and TV SF did.

      THIS IS NOT THE SIGN OF A HEALTHY GENRE. Something is wrong here.

      And it’s long past time people started paying attention to the problem.

      • Anthony says:

        That long program of sneering doesn’t change the fact that HP is as much SF as Tarzan.

        I’m still not convinced you’re diagnosing the problem correctly. It is just as likely lit fic is outselling SF because games and movies are just more popular generally. Lot fix movies suck or don’t exist, so what do they have but books?

        Put another way – does lit fic or SF have more of an impact on pop culture?

        It’s SF.

  • cirsova says:

    Point of order on I, Robot – those stories, and the Three Laws, were from the S3 & Astounding during the 40s.

    • cirsova says:

      Also, unlike Jeffro and Daddy Warpig, I tend to use 1950 as my arbitrary cut-off date, because while Campbell was at the helm of Astounding, he still had a lot of competition from Romance and softer sides of the genre pulps, Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction was not yet on the scene as a ‘serious’ alternative to pulp fantasy, and digests hadn’t yet become the primary format for SF mags.

      • Nathan says:

        1950 is about when Campbell starts to lose power in the industry, as he starts putting the brakes on the realism and despair in his own magazine. Writers went elsewhere, to editors more permissive in their supervision. Yet Campbell’s prestige was still enough to make Astounding the sole surviving pulp after the twin axes of new Street & Smith management and the Conde Nast sale eliminated the Street & Smith pulps.

        • cirsova says:

          True. I do also think that the emergence of F&SF is a significant watershed, as it was one of the first major outlets for SFF that did not have a past connection to the pulps. Even though it had switched to digest, Astounding was still Astounding, though Campbell would try to distance the publication further via the name change a little over a decade later. But F&SF was a ‘little literary magazine’ from day one.

    • Anthony says:

      Come now, it’s simply dishonest to treat a Campbellian writer’s most Campbellian concept as pulp.

      • cirsova says:

        I can’t even tell if you’re trolling.
        Well played.

        • Anthony says:

          No, I’m genuinely missing your point.

          Sure the three laws are originally from the 40’s, but they were never, ever pulp. Nobody thought they were, and they’re practically the mascot of Campbellian SF.

          Yeah, it was pre-1950. But Asimov was one of the first guys rebelling against pulp. The three laws were early Campbellian shots fired. They’re firmly a part of a later tradition.

          • cirsova says:

            Okay, you’re being incredibly obtuse here. Just because it jibes with Campbellian philosophy of SF doesn’t change the fact that they were pulp stories published in the pulp era in pulp magazines.

          • Anthony says:

            No, it’s more than that, and you’ryou’re missing the point. Asimov was a Campbellian writer and perhaps the face of the Campbellian tradition, writing Campbellian stories that defined his career. This was not pulp, it was the first sign of pulp losing their grip.

          • Nathan says:

            No, it was the first sign of New York fandom having enough influence to exert its will onto the genre. The success of Campbell was not a success of literature, it was a success of getting a small clique in control of the editorialship of most of the magazines.

          • Jesse Lucas says:

            I, Robot was literally a collection of stories about a strong autistic female character solving robot problems with screwdrivers. Anything you want to say about blue SF can be applied to the robot stories.

          • Anthony says:

            Nathan,

            I’m pretty sure you repeated what I said but phrased differently.

  • Anthony says:

    Not only that, those pulp characters came out in a time before they had blockbuster movies like today. Written fiction was more popular generally. Of course it sold more.

    • cirsova says:

      They had blockbuster movies in the 20s & 30s.

      They had King Kong and Ben Hur and The Wizard of Oz.

      • Anthony says:

        Not as big as today. Movies are much more popuular.

        • Nathan says:

          Radio. Radio had a popularity and a reach beyond that of TV and movies today. The Shadow magazine, for instance, came about because of a radio show.

          • Blume says:

            Which destroys daddy warpig’s argument further. Tarzan and the shadow had their boost from radio just like Harry potter and the hunger games were boosted by their movies.

          • Nathan says:

            Not really. The first version of the radio Shadow in 1930 was just an announcer on a show selling pulp detective stories. Pulp Shadow was a fully realized character born in 1931 who outsold Weird Tales six times over. The radio version of the pulp Shadow did not get started until 1937.

            For a point of reference, look at Daddy Warpig’s chart, substitute the Shadow for romance and Weird Tales for science fiction.

        • B&N says:

          Highest ticket-seller ever—Gone With the Wind 1939.

          http://www .boxofficemojo. com/alltime/adjusted.htm

        • cirsova says:

          The average big budget flick from back then, when adjusted for both inflation and weighted for population would be between $100 and $200 million. Big difference is that the most ridiculously over the top action flicks from back then (and there were some) cost a fraction of what they do today.

          So, yeah, while they may not have been putting up Spiderman numbers, there were about 1/3 as many people living in the US and China wasn’t a global market representing a billion potential film-goers.

  • Patrick C says:

    To become “culturally” relevant, a story has to be in movie or TV form, since most people don’t read (much). This then depends on the small group of people who decide what to produce in the way of movies/TV. I don’t think this really reflects any big trend in SF itself. I’m really surprised when an actual non-comic-book non-Trek-Starwars SF movie comes along (think of Interstellar) that has some original ideas.

    What about 2001 – a book that became a movie that left a huge and lasting (so far) effect on the culture. Such an occurrence is rare though.

  • Severius says:

    Flowers For Algernon is still fairly well known. There’s an episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia that plays off it called Flowers For Charlie.

    However, while I agree with you that modern SF is terrible and readership has fallen, I find your argument in this post pretty weak.

    Tarzan, Conan, and Batman aren’t SF. Stretching the definition to include them just makes the genre delineations useless. If Tarzan is SF then Treasure Island is SF.

    It seems like your pointing to popular adventure stories from the pulps in an attempt to prop up the perceived reader numbers of SF in that time period. SF has always been a niche market.

    • Jeffro says:

      The genre delineations are useless.

      • Anthony says:

        Then your argument fails completely.

      • Anthony says:

        Either we can divide between genres or Harry Potter and superheroes are sci-fi and there’s no problem after all.

        • Jeffro says:

          ERB’s John Carter was not only science fiction, it was the template for countless franchises and sff series. Lovecraft was published as science fiction. A. Merritt was published as science fiction. Even REH’s Conan had his run ins with space aliens. Then someone redefined science fiction specifically to exclude these authors and wrote them out of the narrative surrounding science fiction history.

          This is an absolutely devastating event that turned the field into a ghetto, erased its canon, and left it wide open to subversion by people that hated everything the field previously embodied.

          We’ve posted thousands upon thousands of words on this topic. Are you honestly going to look at the evidence and declare that “there is no problem after all”? Seriously?

          • Severius says:

            I’m not saying there’s no problem, I’m saying that just because a story was published in Weird Tales doesn’t make it SF. It might be Weird Fiction, but that’s a different genre entirely.

            I would agree with you that ERB’s John Carter stories are SF, but you specifically called out Tarzan.

            As for Conan having run-ins with space aliens, saying that makes Conan SF is the same argument Romance authors used to shove their crap into the SF category. A Romance story is a Romance story even it has a space alien in it or has some weird component, and a Sword and Sorcery story is a Sword and Sorcery story even if the hero happens to run into a space alien.

            Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser’s patron wizards were aliens as well, that doesn’t make Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories SF and not Sword and Sorcery.

            But none of this argument is to say that current SF is in a great state and nothing is wrong. The great majority of current SF sucks. The great majority of modern literature in any genre sucks.

          • Nathan says:

            The walls between sword and sorcery and sword and planet are thin. Sword and planet is science fiction, especially once you get outside of America. So, yes, a serious argument can be made that Conan and Lankhmar are science fiction.

            Which comes to the point that our current understanding of science fiction is artificial, imposed by a bunch of hardcore geeks uncomfortable with how immaterial and fluid the boundaries between weird fiction, fantasy, horror, science fiction, and mystery were.

          • Anthony says:

            Not at all. I am just saying you can’t simultaneously claim there’s no distinction between sci fi and fantasy and also say that sci fi isn’t doing well. Of course there’s a difference, and you acknowledge it all the time, no less.

          • Anthony says:

            There it is again.

            You’re missing our point, I think.

            Obviously sci fi literature is doing poorly. No disputing that…IF we acknowledge a distinction between sci fi and fantasy.

            You’re trying to have it both ways here. Sci fi is not fantasy. You know that, which is the entire problem with this discussion.

            To fix the issue, we need to make sci fi fun again, as you said. We don’t fix it by writing fantasies, which are already popular, as HP proves. And using Tarzan as an example is cheating, pure and simple.

          • Jasyn Jones says:

            Fantasy & Science Fiction is one genre, separate and indivisible*. Some stories have technology and aliens, others magic and nonhumans, others technology and magic, and so on and so forth.

            People who try to disavow 95% of the genre are free to do so. If I need to speak their language to make my point understood, fine. But I don’t have to accept the validity of their mistaken beliefs, or cater to them.

            (*With many different strains, primarily distinguished by different props, costumes, and scenery.)

            (Fantasy is in as much trouble as SF, but in a different area. The primary problem with Fantasy is a paucity of variety. With a few rare exceptions, Fantasy is creatively bankrupt. It needs a reinfusion of “anything can happen, and should” creativity.)

          • deuce says:

            Severius: “I would agree with you that ERB’s John Carter stories are SF, but you specifically called out Tarzan.”

            By the state of scientific knowledge at the time he was created, Tarzan was SF. Burroughs simply postulated that an unknown species of semi-arboreal hominids inhabited the jungles of West Africa and speculated on what might happen if those hominids adopted an infant. By the scientific standards OF THE TIME, the first Tarzan novel was more “hard” SF than Heinlein’s A STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND was by the standards of its time.

            There is no magic in the entire Tarzan series. Are you saying that ERB wrote “realistic” fiction — as opposed to SF — then?

  • Jasyn Jones says:

    Just to be clear, the three examples proffered of landmark works of SF in the last 80 years are:

    1 Harry Potter
    2 Superhero Comics
    3 Jurassic Park

    Jurassic Park (according to P Alexander) and superhero comics and Harry Potter being examples of the entertaining adventurous stories I recommend SF produce more of, I suggest that these three examples act to support and indeed magnify my thesis.

    SF is indeed culturally irrelevant, and not selling. Adventurous stories do sell, and frequently become culturally relevant.

    Do. The. Math.

  • Christian says:

    “Silver Age: Removed heroics and adventure.
    Bronze Age: Removed decency and virtue.
    Iron Age: The reign of the Left.
    Clay Age: Finger-painting with their own poo.”
    Your own subjective colouring aside, this has been the direction ALL literature has taken in the past decades, not just SF. This doesn’t explain why SF has become less relevant.

    I think it’s more likely that the decline of SF can be linked to the decline of S. Science and rationality have taken pretty heavy hits of late, with both political sides using science only when it agrees with them, and decrying experts as “disconnected” or “biased” when they disagree.

    • Nathan says:

      Science fiction started its decline in the 1940, which predates the 1970s erosion of trust in science caused by Sagan and the nuclear winter scientists. The decline can more readily be traced to the adoption of literary realism by Campbell and his acolytes.

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