Death Rays Are So Yesterday

Poor science fiction—it got too close to the sun

| November / December 2007

In a sulfurous chasm beneath Reality, the serpent and the eagle have reached their moment of reckoning. The eagle swoops in for the kill with talons extended, and the serpent turns its fanged and slavering maw to meet the eagle’s gaping beak in a cosmic kiss of death that will obliterate countless worlds.

Other than that—the design on the back of the Hawaiian-cut shirt of a man investigating the bean dip at the buffet table—this gathering of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is palpably low on excitement. We’re on the 38th floor of a Marriott hotel in Lower Manhattan, in a beige suite filled with cheap furniture. And with the exception, obviously, of this correspondent, we’re a fairly drab and subdued bunch. The demographic is middle-aged to old. The median shirt type is sweat-. And there are several grown men apparently untroubled by the fact that they’re wearing backpacks to a social event, yet troubled to the point of madness and eczema by pretty much everything else. What’s missing is energy, that raw, spittly fizz that only an overexcited nerd can produce.

I suppose they may all be fatigued. After all, this is only night one of their annual Nebula Awards weekend, and many have driven across the country to be here.

Then again, it could be the other thing—the thing that nobody’s bringing up over the plastic cups of Yellow Tail merlot. Which is that science fiction, the genre that lit the way for a nervous humankind as it crept through the shadows of the 20th century, has suddenly ceased to matter.

The early days of science fiction, much like its later days, found its exponents bickering about what the genre was, what it should be, and what its relationship was with the more established human pursuit known as science.

One view, subscribed to by Jules Verne, was that the genre should consider itself almost a legitimate field of science proper, or at least should try to hold itself to an analogous code of rigor. Verne conjured up imaginary futures, and he sent his heroes on adventures armed with as-yet-uninvented technologies. But he didn’t like to make scientific leaps of faith just for the sake of the story. If Verne had his heroes travel 20,000 leagues under the sea in a pimped-out luxury submarine, his personal code required him to explain how such a contraption could be built according to the principles of physics as they were understood at the time of writing: 1870.

12/17/2007 12:00:00 AM

I think this writer is a bit off the mark. First off, I've been to the Nebula Awards and perhaps it was because Harlan Ellison was there, but it was definitely NOT boring! Secondly, this trend - fantasy all over the shelves, the changes in the "real world" seeming to come too fast to be worth predicting - has happened before. In the 1980's, the situation was exactly the same... and then Cyberpunk came out of nowhere and revitalized science fiction. I personally expect a new, vibrant batch of books and writers any moment now. Third, has this person seen any movies or TV shows? Science fiction is all over the place! From the obvious (Battlestar Galactica) to the more subtle (Heroes, Bionic Woman), what we in fandom call "genre" themes are everywhere. In theaters, we have a lot of fantasy, horror, and comic adaptations that have science fiction themes. Fourth, this time is perfect for new science fiction! SF has always been more about commenting on the present than trying to predict the future. In this time of global weather and political changes, we desperately need new writers to tell us new stories, to help us understand the choices in front of us *now*. I can't wait to see what the future brings!

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