Thursday, April 03, 2008

Minicon and Jack McDevitt

Minicon was two weeks ago. There was a panel on why fantasy sells better than science fiction, and Shawna McCarthy was on it. She edits Realms of Fantasy. At one point, she asked her readers why they read fantasy rather than science fiction. This is the reply she got:

1) Science fiction was too hard.
2) Science fiction was too dark.
3) science fiction was too much like present-day reality.

I'm not sure these replies are flattering to fantasy.

But the answers may explain the appeal of Jack McDevitt, a contemporary hard sf writer.

I like MeDevitt's novels and read them all, grabbing them up the moment I see them. Their appeal is largeness of vision -- his characters race around the galaxy in ships with amazing FTL drives and find alien artifacts a billion plus years old -- and a fundamental decency and sanity. His characters are bright, kind and likable; and his future is humane.

But there are problems (for me) with his novels. Almost all the characters have English first and last names; and their lives are strangely like life in the 1950s or in the more traditional parts of the US today. McDevitt used to live in North Dakota and now lives in Georgia.

It occurs to me that his future, which is socially more conservative than our present, is comforting for many of us. We get wide-screen adventure without a rapidly changing, uncertain everyday life. In McDevitt's future, financial markets are not melting down; North America is not turning from white to brown; and the great problems of our era -- violence, prejudice, class warfare and environmental coll ape -- have been solved.

His science fiction is not hard the way cyberpunk or Charles Stross can be; and it's not dark; and it is blessedly distant from our current reality.

I am not sure this is a criticism. I wish his novels were more multi-cultural. There are more different kinds of people in North Dakota than in his future: Kurds, Somalians, Native Americans, African Americans, all kinds of European Americans.

But I am not sure he is wrong to have a future where the great question is -- shall we go to the stars, rather than -- can we survive ourselves?


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