Charlie Stross on the State of Big Ideas in Science Fiction

In my rant about the new aesthetic of the future, I complained that there were few, if any, genuinely new visions of the future coming out of science fiction. Post-cyberpunk Author Neal Stephenson has been complaining about the lack of innovation in science fiction. Sci-fi author Charlie Stross has responded a question posed by the SF Signal inspired by Stephenson’s essay:

Are SF writers “slacking off” or is science fiction still the genre of “big ideas”? If so, what authors are supplying these ideas for the next generation of scientists and engineers?

Stross writes that a few authors – Greg Egan, Hannu Rajaniemi and Bruce Sterling – are pushing the genre forward, but he thinks that the real issue is that science fiction readers and critics want escapism, not new ideas. He writes:

To the extent that mainstream literary fiction is about the perfect microscopic anatomization of everyday mundane life, a true and accurate mainstream literary novel today ought to read like a masterpiece of cyberpunk dystopian SF.

We people of the SF-reading ghetto have stumbled blinking into the future, and our dirty little secret is that we don’t much like it. And so we retreat into the comfort zones of brass goggles and zeppelins (hey, weren’t airships big in the 1910s-1930s? Why, then, are they such a powerful signifier for Victorian-era alternate fictions?), of sexy vampire-run nightclubs and starship-riding knights-errant. Opening the pages of a modern near-future SF novel now invites a neck-chillingly cold draft of wind from the world we’re trying to escape, rather than a warm narcotic vision of a better place and time.

Charlie Stross: SF, big ideas, ideology: what is to be done?

(via Warren Ellis)

2 Comments

  1. Charlie Stross may talk about sci-fi for all I care. Much as most stories tend to be set in the future, etc, etc the annoying thing is that the genre has ceased to be what some may call a ‘pure sci-fi’ genre.

    I recently read a book which though listed on the catalog as a science fiction book actually was a blend of fantasy and a bit of humor. So I don’t know, it could be the writers themselves who’ve lost focus on…uh what generic conventions are meant to be.

    But I figure, Hollywood or the movie industry in general has influenced most people negatively. It’s freaking Hollywood that’s responsible since most folks are impressionable.

  2. His best line?:

    “Seriously: to the extent that mainstream literary fiction is about the perfect microscopic anatomization of everyday mundane life, a true and accurate mainstream literary novel today ought to read like a masterpiece of cyberpunk dystopian SF.”

    This is bang on and speaks to the heart of matter of what science fiction is currently struggling with. Well, this and Hollywood…

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