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Aug 21 2008

Saving Science Fiction

If you’re a movie-goer rather than a big reader, that title probably looks silly. But for all the success of science fiction in broader media, science fiction publishing–both short fiction and novels–isn’t doing so hot.

Why? Well, everyone has their pet answer. SF Signal, in their Mind Meld feature, asks seventeen authors and editors in the field what one thing they would change about science fiction publishing. Most of the answers are attempts to broaden the appeal of the genre. One (which I read as tongue-in-cheek) is rather the opposite, and Kelly dismembers the notion at Wyrdsmiths.

My take? If I could change one thing about science fiction as a genre, I’d make it get over its obsession with not repeating itself. Science fiction is the only genre I know of where someone will look at a story and say, “Oh. I saw XX do that in a short story in 1977. Never mind.” What?

When was the last time you heard someone say, “Oh, but Shakespeare did that already”? Bzzt. Doesn’t happen. Anywhere but science fiction, repetition is homage or exploration of a theme.

Yes, science fiction the genre of ideas. Got that. But it’s the story that puts the idea across. Without that, well, the idea might as well be a blog post. Telling the same story in multiple ways will get the idea across to different audiences: different generations, different ethnicities, different stylistic preferences, different levels of background reading in the genre. If we’re not willing to occasionally retell a story a bit differently, we run the risk of alienating all these different audiences, and we run the risk of running out of things to say.

And yes, someone already wrote that story. I just don’t remember who.

Update: For anyone who thinks “saving” is over-the-top, Bill runs the numbers on the “big” short story markets at Wyrdsmiths. Ouch.