Wednesday, June 08, 2011

"Science Fiction May Be a Twentieth Century Literary Form"

I went to Comicon with a friend this year, mostly attending various panels on writing.  On of the speakers was Robert Sawyer, who is one of the big names in science fiction right now.  He wrote the novel Flash Forward, on which the ABC television series was based, as well as a number of Hugo- and Nebula-winning novels.  I have had a suspicion for some time that the science fiction market is dead.  What I haven't been sure about is whether this is a temporary lull fueled by Harry Potter and Twilight mania, or if it's a permanent thing.  I posed the question to Sawyer, asking, "Given that Americans seem to have turned their backs on science in general, do you think science fiction will ever make a come-back?"

He paused and thought about it, then said, "No.  I think science fiction may turn out to be a twentieth century literary form, much in the same way that Victorian fiction was a nineteenth century literary form."  We aren't likely to see a resurgence of Victorian fiction -- no one wants to read that style anymore.  Sawyer doesn't think that science fiction will rebound, either.  His main reason for his belief is that during the middle part of the twentieth century, technology was making huge strides and filling us with wonder every day.  Anything seemed possible.  Today we aren't impressed by it.  We take it for granted that "someone" is making our new technological devices, but as a people, we have zero interest in developing or exploring that technology.  It doesn't fill us with wonder, the key ingredient to science fiction.

I watch trends.  With practice and experience, you can start to see how threads are tied together and the pattern they will likely form (as an aside, this is the inspiration for Elisia's Fate Spell in my novel).  I've seen this coming for a while, which is why two years ago I abandoned my science fiction series in favor of the modern fantasy trilogy I'm writing now.  We are always told as writers that we should not write to the latest "hot trend," and the Wise are correct in that advice.  By the time you finish your book, that hot trend will be lukewarm at best. But if the market for your book is already dead and isn't likely to return, then you're foolish to try to make a career out of that genre.

I'd like to think that I could write the "science fiction Harry Potter" that would turn the nation back to science and science fiction.  I may yet try someday.  But I'm not going to bet my career on it.

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