Friday, June 13, 2008

What Is Going On With SF?

Patrick and I had dinner with Maureen McHugh at Wiscon. She said something which is staying with me. She said she didn't know what is currently happening with SF.

"Slipstream?" I offered.

"That was the 90s," she replied.

I thought about this. It's easy to come up with labels for decades in SF.

1930s -- The pulps and Doc Smith

1940s -- Campbell and Astounding

1950s -- H.L. Gold and Galaxy, Anthony Boucher and F&SF

1960s -- The New Wave

1970s -- The Women

1980s -- Cyberpunk

1990s -- New space opera, the British writers

All the labels are arbitrary. The 1980s had a fair number of long, slow eco-feminist novels by women, along with cyberpunk by new, mostly male writers: Always Coming Home, The Door into Ocean, A Woman of the Iron People among others.

I think of the 90s as new, improved space opera, much of it by British writers. Maureen thinks it's slipstream.

All the usual, traditional kinds of SF writing continued through the decades: hard SF, the techno-problem story. People are still writing and selling deal with the devil stories. Sub-genres die slowly, if at all. When we label decades, we're talking about what's new.

So the question is -- is something happening that Maureen and I aren't seeing? Is nothing happening? Is SF finally fuzzing into the mainstream, which is (at the same time) fuzzing into speculative fiction? Or is SF splitting in so many directions that we can no longer think of it as a single genre?


Blogger Gerry Canavan said...

One of the big trajectories right now clearly seems to be presentism, as articulated by William Gibson in his Rolling Stone interview.

It has to do with the nature of the present. If one had gone to talk to a publisher in 1977 with a scenario for a science-fiction novel that was in effect the scenario for the year 2007, nobody would buy anything like it. It's too complex, with too many huge sci-fi tropes: global warming; the lethal, sexually transmitted immune-system disease; the United States, attacked by crazy terrorists, invading the wrong country. Any one of these would have been more than adequate for a science-fiction novel. But if you suggested doing them all and presenting that as an imaginary future, they'd not only show you the door, they'd probably call security.

10:48 PM  
Blogger David B. Ellis said...

The 2000's---Post-singularity SF.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Haddayr said...

My prickly reaction to this, and a discussion we had at Sycamore Hill, is a perfect example of what I'm going to say: Generation X writers don't like to think of ourselves as joiners, even when we are. We are individual snowflakes, dammit! We will not be categorized!!!

So that's what we'll be doing, then, ruggedly individual individualist fiction?

11:52 AM  
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