(A section of Karel Thole’s cover for the 1962 Italian edition of Starman’s Quest (1958), Robert Silverberg)
1. MAPPING A TERRITORY
As a trained historian, I am fascinating by the process of “knowing” and “mapping” a period in time. I am possessed by my own ambitions of encyclopedism and particularly enjoy the theme of encyclopedism within fiction—lists of invented articles, books comprised of collated knowledge, even Dune (1965) and its obsession with shifting between all perspectives. To steal a phrase from a recent book I reviewed, I relish in the act of creating a “morphology” of science fiction and its variables. Let me be clear, I am a believer in the process, not the possibility of such dreams actualized. The latter is impossible. But the journey across the inclines and declines beckons.
2. FICTION AS HISTORICAL OBJECT
Unsurprisingly, I have favorite historical periods and themes. For example, cracks in 50s visions of suburban existence, demystifying the space race, the Civil Rights movement, the 70s political backlash… By extension, the SF produced in those periods (its more radical examples are often labeled New Wave) holds special appeal. Many of the themes prevalent in late 60s SF tended to look inward (inner space!). Years ago for a SF Signal post, I was asked to come up with an author blurb. Looking back at it a particular line stands out: “When SF tackles the greater morass of things and our oblique interiors he is happy.” This continues to hold true as I devour SF interested in exploring memory and trauma….
We must consider literary works within their particular contexts. Too often SF is dismissed as “no longer relevant” which suggests a variety of shoddy conclusions: 1) reviewers tend to equate value with whether or not social speculation or scientific invention has come to pass ignoring the historical context in which it was produced.2) reviewers thus assume a monolithic purpose of the genre — to “predict” 3) reviewers assume readers engage with fiction for the previous reason alone.
Language is a social project. A keen reader will be aware of the society that spawned a particular vision. A particularly good piece of SF cannot be passed off as “timeless.” Personally, piecing together the historical context and engagement with the trends of the time must be part of the critical reading experience.
3. FUCK PREDICTION
I care absolutely nothing about science fiction as a predictive vision. Most cover blurbs and authors might doll up their vision as “possible” or “potential” but it’s mostly window dressing a story. This is not to say that some authors are deeply aware of the currents of modern scientific thought and constrain their speculations within reason. As with film adaptation, the author must reinvent by translating one medium to another (speculation to narrative). The speculation could be satire, the speculation could be commentary on the author’s present, the speculation could be a warning. Returning to point 2, historical context matters! The historical context created a particular speculation—I, viewing the past, do not judge merit based on what has coincidentally come to pass.
4. I DON’T WANT TO ENCOUNTER ONLY ME (white, ~30, middle class, Ph.D.)!
I read SF because of different perspectives. I try not to dismiss a book because I somehow didn’t “feel” for or connect at a personal level with the “struggle” of a character. I read BECAUSE people think differently, act differently, and have different backgrounds than me. I do not read to find copies of ME or some younger idealized polyp of me that never existed in a story. A deep joy emanates from within when SF welcomes authors from all backgrounds, takes on challenging and morally conflicted characters, speculates on radical future changes, tackles our own society’s challenges via the SF lens. This does NOT mean that characters don’t need to be well written or convincing—they must be to create a compelling vision.
I will not ruminate alone, desperate to re-conjure some nostalgic glow when I first opened the brittle pages of a “classic” lost in a move long ago. I relish how SF was and will be reworked, reconceived, reapplied.
(to be blunt: I’m bludgeoning attacks on diversity in SF and arguments about SF needing to return to a Golden Age)
(Uncredited cover for the 1970 edition of Why Call Them Back From Heaven? (1967), Clifford Simak)
5. THE WAY OF TELLING
I’m also drawn to the 60s/70s because there was a serious and conscience attempt to tell stories in artful ways (New Wave SF): “literary” prose, radical structure/politics, non-standard SF characters/perspectives. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes it doesn’t work. But it’s all fascinating.
6. READING IS ACTIVE
I read to think. I do not read to sink into some comatose state. This is all to say, a plot and three fascinating ideas do not a novel make. I must be able to actively engage with the ideas, the characters, the world.
7. THERE IS NO GOLDEN AGE (sort of?) (hyperbole?)
A lot of readers of my site suggest in their comments that I must adhere to some sort of “all current SF is crud” and that is why Joachim Boaz sticks to his decades. I confess, I might have hinted at this in the past—snide comments aimed at the 80s occasionally crop up! But, there is plenty of fascinating SF published today (and yes, in the 80s as well). And I read some of it, secretly, under pillows, in closets. I am not trying to promote a Golden Age Syndrome of the glorious past, the decadent present, and apocalyptical “we must prevent the end” of “real” genre. I call bogus. We can (absolutely) prefer and admire particular decades over others.
Thoughts? Comments? Tangents? All are welcome.
(Cover by the Brothers Quay for the 1977 edition of A Scanner Darkly (1977), Philip K. Dick)
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59 thoughts on “Article: Why I read and review 50s to mid-80s Science Fiction”
I’d love to hear why you enjoy reading 50s-70s SF!
“I’d love to hear why you enjoy reading 50s-70s SF!”
I resonate with your compulsion to map a period of time. By doing it a day at a time, I’ve found a lot of contextual depth I might have otherwise missed.
And because there were woman science fiction authors before LeGuin.
(To be fair, I’ve just read her fourth and fifth stories, both fantasies, and they’re quite good).
I am too much a on the whim reader to do anything in order or plan any future reads! Hence my reluctance to proceed chronologically… But I get the allure of the idea!
That’s the beauty of different approaches! I get to read what you do, and you get to read what I do. 🙂
Just glad you’re doing this. I’ve learned a great deal from your weblog.
It was an interesting time, with SF still a literary ghetto, full of third-generation writers yearning for more respectability, a corpus small enough that the community of writers and fans could be familiar with virtually everything that had been published, and before Star Wars created a commercial boom and a wider cultural reach.
And the baby boom counter-culture was hitting hard.
I would like your reviewing to be extended to fanzines of the time, if you’re so inclined.
Hello Paul, thanks for the comment! As of now, I probably will not be reviewing fanzines (it’s an endless rabbit hole!). At one point I was trying to seriously give reviewing the SF magazines of the day a go but discovered that I rather read the stories in anthologies or single author collections. Of course, some stories were not anthologies so I might try to track individual stories down….
My immediate goals are to review all the SF I read. This a tall order as I have a pile of at least ten books waiting for a review!
But yes, the historical context of the time created a fascinating environment for a momentous shift in SF with the New Wave Movement that I so adore.
Thanks again for stopping by!
This really is a very good article.I think I can agree with most of it.SF was a starting point into books,but soon afterwards I began to realise it’s creative value,as well as it’s historical and cultural importance.It has existed for a long time in our civilised and literary heritage.That’s why I stuck with it,because I knew it could be just as good as any fictional forms,and yet it is different.It’s modern authors who rose during the SF paperback boom,responded to literary values,but developed it into something quite like yet unlike them.
Hello Richard. Thanks for the comment. This is not a post you have to agree with — it’s my individual rationale for reading the SF I read. It certainly doesn’t have to be yours!
Hello there again.No I don’t have to agree,but I just do!I thought what you wrote about the modern movement in SF was quite sound,and similar to my own thoughts about it.
History is important. With the death of the mass-market paperback, we’ve also seen the death of any serious reprinting and/or exposure to the past in literature, and that includes westerns, action books, and mysteries. So sites like yours are important. I read a lot of pulp and gaslight fiction, especially in pulp facsimile reprints. It’s a way to read what has come before, especially before so many hard and fast rules as to what “genre” fiction is. Horror fiction in sf magazines, sf in mystery magazines, weird mysteries in horror ‘zines, etc. Whatever somebody thought would sell got published, and what got published influenced the oddest things. It wasn’t until the fifties, I think, that so many of the hard and fast rules as to what constitutes “genre” fiction came to be. As I read these facsimiles, I sometimes never know what is going to be read next. So I can understand where you’re coming from. Also, we all only have so much time to spend on our interests. I’m not a fast reader, and I’m never going to waste my time on a thousand page war novel by John Ringo, which may part three of a series, and which can’t be read on its own. All-in-all, a good essay. I knew there was a reason as to why I keep reading your posts. 🙂
Thank you for the kind words Mark!
Yes, loved reading this! I especially feel the same regarding perspectives and ideas, writing style and themes, and active reading… Most especially active reading. I want to be challenged and have to consider consequences and figure shit out. Pulpy science fiction might be dated in many ways to today’s standards, but it’s still far superior in others.
Thanks for the comment! I actually do not read a lot of pulpy SF (and if I do, I am not always a fan) — perhaps we have slightly different definitions?
Here’s my credit’s worth: The main reason I read science fiction is the same as when I began: Escapism. My favorite decade is the 1950s when I could open a book and be transported to adventures in outer space or time or explore the various apocalypses that might wipe humanity from the face of the Earth. I still enjoy the majority of these books with the warm feeling that I’m revisiting favorite places in my life, with that melancholy twinge that I know it’s impossible to ever regain that sense of wonder I felt 50 odd years ago. And I while rereading the old stuff, I found a few stories I’d missed originally, such as Wilson Tucker’s The Lincoln Hunters and C.M. Kornbluth’s Not This August, for examples. Discovering these and other stories was like discovering hidden gems and keeps me mining the old bookshops and online stores for more. Some consider this one decade to be the golden age of the genre. I disagree and think the era actually spanned nearly 30 years, until the exciting advancements, experiments and different directions of the 1960s finally withered away by the end of 1970s for the most part.
In my opinion the trend that lead to this downturn and gave spawn to the blight of the 1980s that still exists today, and continues to prove Sturgeon’s Law that 90% of everything is crap, is when Fantasy, popularized by Lord of the Rings, supplanted the Fiction in SF.
Thanks for your comment! It’s fascinating seeing different perspectives.
Yeah, escapism is the last reason I read SF. That is not to say it can’t be diverting or engaging, but it has to be more than simply a good escapist story for me to be interested.
My escapism is more being entertained by the story, location & characters as opposed to engaging in fantasizing for the purposes of escaping mundane reality. I also find it relaxing from the responsibilities involved in electrical design and much better than draining my IQ in front of the idiot box.
Well, that sounds like all reading then — I am responding to the claim that people “read SF for escapism” — as in, a more passive type of reading for plot and action….
I loved your post. I do read science fiction for escapism and the themes I most enjoy differ from those you mention. But I love the historical aspect of science fiction. I love how it acts as a time capsule, reflective of the period and the culture in which it was written. So I have often picked up the novels and especially the anthologies you mention so I can experience new authors or themes. We both share a love of science fiction illustration as well and I have enjoyed a lot of the illustrators you feature. I have been working on a post about what I enjoy in science fiction it should be ready tomorrow, but it was reading your comments that got me off my butt to finish it. I am including a link to your post in mind, I hope you do not mind.
I look forward to your post Guy!
It is always worthwhile to reflect on what gives us great joy.
Which themes intrigue you the most?
At present in the current science fiction it is the diversity of voices and cultures exploring science fiction themes authors like Aliette de Bodard, and Ken Liu. For themes it is the far future space opera with it’s vast diaspora and the subsequent evolution of cultures and humans from authors like Alastair Reynolds and Greg Egan.
Ah, I more meant (but was unclear) for the period I’m discussing — 50s-70s SF.
You’ve inspired me, when reviewing the older stuff, to talk more about the historical context.
John Clute famously said there are three dates in every book: the year it was written, the year it’s set, and the year it’s really about.
Favorite decade? Probably the 1950s for me though I’m obviously pretty unfocused in what I review.
Thanks for the comment (and I’m sorry that I didn’t respond earlier — I’ve been on something of a hiatus). I enjoy your reviews! I’ll try to comment more frequently….
I am considerably older than you and grew up reading 1960s New Wave SF, so I’m really pleased to see someone of your generation enjoying the older stuff. As you said, sometimes the experiments worked and sometimes they didn’t, but at least writers were pushing the boundaries.
I also like the 1950s SF, mostly what was published in Galaxy. But mostly Moorcock’s New Worlds just blew me away. I used to own a complete run of New Worlds, with all of the harder-to-find magazine sized issues. Then in a period of relative poverty and worry about what would happen to them if I died, I sold the entire collection. As the years went by I found that I really missed owning them and managed to replace them all from e-bay. It cost me a fortune, and I am still missing the ultra-rare no 186, but it gives me pleasure to own them again.
I’m afraid that many of the stories are unreadable now, but I just love the attitude.
Hello Allan, thanks for the comment!
I wish I had a full run of New Worlds (well, the later 60s and 70s editions)…. if only for all the interior art, editorials, non-fiction articles on art and culture.
Your question intrigued me so I thought I would expand on my previous comments. I started reading SF in the late 60’s but I realize now the libraries were stocked with material initially published in the 1940’s and 1950’s. That coloured the themes I followed, space exploration & colonies, aliens, rmutants, robots so the authors I followed who were publishing in the 1970’s were people like Cherryh, Niven, Le Guin, McCaffery, Zelazny etc. I realize now it was the straight forward continuation of the themes I had read earlier that their work represented that attracted me. So I was less likely to read people like Disch, Spinard, Lafferty, however I came to realize that these other writers were actually working with the same themes but perhaps approaching differently so I began to read Dick, Ballard, Brunner in ACE Doubles, a guilty pleasure to this day. Sites such as your which discuss different periods have encouraged me to try Compton, Watson, Bishop, Lew and Disch. I am still not sure if I have answered your question but this discussion of theme and the reading of new (to me) works and authors regardless of decade is something I will continue to do.
Hello Guy, I see you’ve posted your article on why you read SF! I’ll comment in a bit.
It’s weird, I guess, that the stuff I read as a kid I actively avoid to this day (Tad Williams, bad fantasy, some okay fantasy). I don’t look back on most of what I read as a younger teen with nostalgia (there are a few examples, Tolkein, Brian Jacques, and a handful of others). My SF reading habits developed in my late teens and early 20s.
It’s always nice hearing that my site encourages reading. Goal = accomplished.
Guy is correct about libraries, but it would be part of a bigger discussion on how powerful an influence libraries had on most older readers, before ebooks. Growing up in the sixties most libraries had “standards”, which meant that only certain books could be carried in the library system. In Detroit it was no paperbacks, and no “trash” or “lowbrow” literature. For instance, I could not get ANY Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew type books through the library system, my folks had to buy them for me, and then they got circulated throughout my family. Ditto for such lowbrow authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs. Now, a great deal of great stuff is being published by small press and on demand, so these books never reach the library shelves. Which is why websites such as yours, which take the place of old time fanzines, are so important. Bringing to our attention old, and now obscure, books and authors. Ah, I miss the neighborhood used book store.
I’m surprised to read your comment about library ‘standards’! I guess I had it easy at my local library, in Boston. When I was a kid the librarians seemed to want to get as many books out circulating as possible. I remember the librarian pushing Ray Bradbury books at me after I finished Eleanor Cameron’s ‘Mushroom Planet’ books, and then other authors after I was finished with what they had of Bradbury.
One of the most insightful posts on the subject I’ve read! I think I started reading SF because of the predictive nature of some of it. But as I got older, I became more interested in reading for character development and how those characters react to unusual situations. I’m much more inclined to read about societal change or psychological analysis rather than technological change.
Also it may be shallow, but as I work in advertising, I do appreciate carefully designed books, with an emphasis on the artwork and typography of the 50’s – 70’s. My wife asked me recently if I had read anything by Robert Silverberg, and it occurred to me that I had only read one of his books, mostly because the ones I’ve seen that were published in the 79’s have had awful cover art! Checking out recent reprints of Silverberg’s work has made me think there has been a vast improvement in design recently though. I will admit to reading VanderMeer’s ‘Annihilation’ because of the cover!
I disagree that books are better designed… perhaps they are easier to read in some ways (larger interior font, etc.). But look at the Brothers Quay cover above for the 1977 edition of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly (1977). The art is haunting, the colors perfect/muted/matching the tone, and the Doubleday’s general design scheme is smart and visually arresting!
Oh whoah, wait a minute! I don’t mean to say that books now have better art than they did in the 50’s – mid 70’s, that’s the best time for cover art!!
I’m referring to the late 80’s through the early 2000’s when publishers seemed to just throw out either a half dressed woman on the cover, or a simple CGI image – usually with no relation to content. Not all books from that time of course, there were still plenty of good artists at work, but a lot of books from that time have awful or mediocre cover art. Recently though it seems as though the quality of cover art has improved, even computer generated is at least much more creative than it used to be.
Ah, I was confused!
The 80s vs. the present makes more sense as a comparison.
I see that I have a typo in my first comment “79’s”.
Covers sell books, but a book rises and falls on its contents. I could always tell a book that was meant to be a bestseller. The book would have the blandest cover imaginable with only typography as some form of “artwork”. This would bleed over to many sf covers. This would be why the horror paperbacks of the eighties and nineties can be so collectable, or those lush historical romance covers. There were some hold-outs, like the Del Rey or DAW Book covers. A good example of a blah cover would be something like http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?194241. Thankfully we did have artists like Powers, Lehr, Gaughan, etc. to grab our attention.
And if we were to read sf based on Prediction then we wouldn’t read anything with sf dealing with computers or time travel. And Asimov stated that sf’s Golden Age was the age of fourteen. Mine was much earlier, reading instead of drugs, but the meaning is clear. A Golden Age is when all is new, and all reading is a gateway to adventure/imagination.
Point #4 really resonates with me. I think an effective SF book is one that takes a version of reality that is familiar/comfortable/mainstream and twists it, flips it, or simply reflects it back in a distorted manner (like a fun-house mirror or a cracked mirror). It seems that this is what a lot of SF from the 1960s was doing: inviting readers into a scenario that seemed familiar and then pulling the rug out from under them.
Two examples of this “defamiliarization” (to use an old but still useful concept!) are the “alien” encounter/first contact motif, or the mad scientist/engineer character. Both LeGuin’s “Left Hand” and Lem’s “Solaris” do a masterful job of exposing the tendency for humans to (sometimes unconsciously) interpret the “alien” through an anthropomorphic lens. And as far as exposing the mad sci/eng to ridicule, you needn’t look any further than Lem’s “Cyberiad”: a hilarious send-up of scientific egomania and technological navel-gazing. (The tale about the “bard” robot stands out the most.)
#4 is probably what infuriates me the most. Claims of “we need to return to the Golden Age” smacks of “we need to erase new diverse voices…” Again, I am interested in the 50s-70s because of the historical context. But, that restriction is not based on some Golden Age syndrome… if that makes sense! I cannot escape my historical training! I need to anchor my reviewing endeavor in a “time”….
Great journey, I am on a bit of a sci-fi journey of my own.
Thanks for visiting. Any thoughts on the article?
I completely agree. Yesterday I finished reading “A Scanner Darkly” for the first time, and I enjoyed it immensely. It is a great book even though I still prefer “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” more. “A Scanner” portrays the world which is so different and it has drug addicts as main characters, but because it provides a different perspective on the issue and a different way to see the world/societal concerns, I loved it even more. There were many philosophical and almost political observations.
I’m a fan of both Do Androids and A Scanner — for many of the same reasons you indicate.
Have you read Martian Time-Slip? That might be my single favorite of his novels… I’ve read at least 20 over the years and 80+ of his short stories. If you’re interested in PKD definitely check out the brilliant podcast by Evan Lampe — he’s in the process of a complete readthrough of all of PKD’s SF in chronological order.
Thanks a lot for recommending the podcast and Martian Time-Slip. I have not read it yet. I only read Electric Sheep and A Scanner (I published a review on A Scanner just now on my blog) – both are now my favourites. I just enjoy so much the writing and the situations in the stories. Very thought-provoking.
I am ashamed to admit that I pretty much follow popular films releases when it comes to Philip K. Dick novels. The next on my to-read list is “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (to compare it to Total Recall movie), but I also do realise that I need to read more broadly. I have read some other sci-fi stories, but I just find Philip K. Dick books the most intelligent there are in terms of psychological and philosophical concepts. I find his stories something so much more than simple escapist fantasy tales.
PKD is often a gateway drug of sorts, into the world of complex 60s/70s SF!
I recommend Michael Bishop. Two which might be of particular interest….
A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire (1975) — I reviewed it here — > https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2014/01/08/book-review-a-funeral-for-the-eyes-of-fire-michael-bishop-1975/
And also Bishop’s Stolen Faces (1977) reviewed here — > https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2014/03/26/book-review-stolen-faces-michael-bishop-1977/
Thank you again for the fab recommendations. I am not too sure how prepared I am “to embrace” such alien worlds as yet when reading, but I like that you call them “masterpiece” and say that there are layers and meanings to the stories. I like the sound of the first one because it involves brothers and rituals, and the second – a disease and masks. It certainly does sound rather intriguing.
When I sit down and decide to read a book I want to let go. I want to be carried away and drawn into a story. I don’t want to take a pompous stance about a by gone era. I don’t want to dissect and inpsect
Some of the stories I have been reading this year have little character development and what is now call world building. These writers during wartime confronted and defeated their enemies. The writers created a time when men were men and women were women. And the guy always got the girl in the end. The misogyny and characterization of women is horrible. I really can’t agree with depicting them as uneducated and a shrieking harpy. The damsel in distress is not really the greatest but it was a time when men wanted to be the hero.
The golden age books were a period from 1938 to 1946. The term golden age refers to a particular style of writing and the introduction of the space opera. The hero coming up from sheer destruction and solving problems. These writers overcome the technolgical deficiencies and created had science fiction. The science fiction 1938 to 1970 has come to mean a lot to me. In some books you read they represent peace and prosperity while in reality it was one of our most destructive times. We owe the golden age to guys like Robert Silverberg, George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg. These guys brought the golden age to the big screen.
I am confused by your comment. You are dissecting and inspecting by discussing and identifying evolving gender roles in fiction, creating periods in which to group and categorize, debating evolution and process, and by the very act of reading my reviews…. I am all for understanding the historical context of an era — which is hopefully what I made clear in my article.
I guess what is confusing me is this — how are you responding to my article? Or, are these more your personal opinions which aren’t entirely related to my comments? You appear to be responding viscerally to my comment about Golden Age. You will also identify if you look through my reviews, that I have read an incredible amount of SF. I am very aware of the basics….. As for your comment about “Golden Age,” my position is a far more nuanced one which you seemed to have missed. In current debates, the term “Golden Age” is wielded as a weapon to attack current evolution of genre. To claim that SF should only be a particular way rather than acknowledging the delight in the new opportunities genre has to offer. I make very clear that my personal reading patterns revolve around figures such as Silverberg and the New Wave SF of the 70s. I am in no way trying to diminish their contribution. My site is a testament to the reverse.
Don’t get me wrong I just don’t or can’t approach the way you do.
I approach from the perspective of wanting to enjoy and try to relive from someone else’s experience. I fully enjoy the way you interpret what you read. Sorry to confuse you . Everything else is just personal opinion. I don’t examine the books for historical implications. I had to look up why it is called golden age and it really makes no sense to me . We go from pulp to golden age to new age. Really in the end it is a good time read. That is what I look for when I choose a book.
Thank you for the clarification. The basic term “Golden Age” as applied to a historical moment in time or SF specifically has always struck me profoundly problematic… As if we are no longer in an era of worthy production…. But I am not trying to split hairs on what is now acceptable terminology — regardless of its implications.
I come to this with a somewhat different background (white male in my 30s but a librarian who works with “alternate media”, ie. film and television), yet I feel that along the way I stumbled across some of the same conclusions, not only about SF but about any sort of media we interact with. I have spent a lot of my life focusing on films and video games, and due to technical limitations, these forced me to look at a version of historical perspective. Video games have a shorter lifespan, so I didn’t have the same opportunity to take that perspective into account in terms of content, but watching the shift in representation in film, the influence of external forces like social movements, wars, or the Hays Code, and seeing how this developed alongside the politics of film and the people creating them, I began to have a greater understanding of how time and the external can influence the creative process.
I’ve also engaged with a variety of literature throughout my life, and as I’ve aged, my views on what I was reading shifted, but I also began to reckon with how this historical and social perspective shaped authors. For example, I like reading the work of Robert E. Howard. His views now regarding minorities would be considered horrendous, but if I consider the time that he was writing, the story of his life, and the views of his contemporaries, the issues I have for elements of his stories become understandable. I don’t agree, but I can more easily interpret and appreciate instead of throwing out what is history because I find it distasteful or out of sync with my “modern” sensibilities.
Similarly, I enjoy military science fiction, which you and I discussed on a different page. A lot of what I focus on is the relationships that develop between soldiers, the good that comes out when surrounded by people at their worst. I’m the first male in my family in four generations not to enlist, so this serves as a form of therapy, to try and help me understand a reality that many family members have faced or continue to face but that I have not ever encountered. When I read these stories, I tend to prefer the work of veterans like Joe Haldeman and David Drake because there is an element of understanding that I appreciate.
So, I suppose there we have it: I read SF to try and understand the perspectives of others around me who have experiences I will never know. I try to take history into account to understand the choices and views I disagree with. As a librarian (well..Metadata Specialist), I try to document and categorize those things I encounter so that they are not lost. And I agree, there are no true golden ages. There are periods where events may set media generations apart, but I try not to consider things “lesser” simply because I don’t find them as entertaining or enjoyable. And I agree, fuck prediction: SF can be as out there or as inward as whoever is writing it wants it to be.
Thank you for this wonderfully reflective response. You should post one on your site! Perhaps more geared to the films that you review….
You are correct: deliberate engagement with media should foster an awareness in context. And I find it a necessary act of meaningful engagement.
Thank you again!
These reasons are so great, and I identify with most/all. This was my favorite though: “I care absolutely nothing about science fiction as a predictive vision.” I think I like reading “vintage” scifi best when the predictions are wrong… or at least don’t matter in the slightest. I’m thinking of works like all of the stories in “The Martian Chronicles” and related.
GREAT explanation, and pleased to meet you!
Thank you for commenting. And thanks for the kind words!
I like it because the writers were not tethered by technology. If they needed something, they made it up and no one said that it was impossible (well, maybe some did). Imagination was the key. When I write about a faster than light drive and someone asks me how it works, I tell them, “It’s easy. You just press that green button right there.”
My daughter asked me how antigravity works in my Kitra novels. I responded by flapping my hands rapidly. 🙂
Science fiction writers of bygone days were tethered by technology, though. They just had a different set of technologies to extrapolate from.
I think it depends entirely on what type of SF you’re trying to write — now and then.
If there’s no science in it, it’s not science fiction. 🙂
I disagree. I will confess that persistent issue of whether genre exists, or is important, or what are its components, etc. does not interest me. I have a wide-ranging view of genre on this site.
I am more interested in the question of what people thought was genre in the past than what it might actually be!
Really interesting post and discussion. If I understand you correctly, I agree with you that SF doesn’t have to be timeless to be good, or even classic. But I will argue that some of the best and most classic SF is in fact timeless. What makes historical context interesting for me (as an archaeologist) is not just change, but the dynamic of change and continuity.
Hello, thanks for stopping by. I think the big difference is that I’m not really on the search for great SF. Nor am I interested in whether or not it is considered good now by the SF establishment (I will still read it and give it a go). I’m mapping a moment — and if I find great SF along the way all the better! And no, I do not think that “most classic SF is in fact timeless.” Or, if it is, people aren’t necessarily away of how it’s still a product of its time — even if elements might have been picked up by later novelists or coincidentally selected themes that are still common. And that operation, the connection to the present either through coincidence or literary trends, is profoundly uninteresting to me. Hence why I find contemporary debates about SF canon tedious and unproductive.