Why I Occasionally Want to Punch Science Fiction in the Face

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “how do you punch a genre in the face?” The answer is: with great force.

I love science fiction, don’t get me wrong. I am fond of several different subgenres, from space opera (or fantasy in space, as I like to call it) to dystopian to even the occasional hard science fiction tale. But science fiction tends to have a rather lofty opinion of itself at times.

Not always, mind you. There are plenty of scifi tales out there that are poignant, thought-provoking, and well-written without being obnoxious. But then there are some of the others.

Science fiction believes – rightly, in many cases – that it is its job to show us how our actions in the present day will affect the future. This can be a few months from now to several (hundred) years out. Will our blatant commercialism led to us being known only be barcodes? Will our inability to properly manage our resources cause all-out war between countries desperate for fuel? Will we be forced into the darkness of space because we’ve made our planet unlivable?

And so forth.

That’s all well and good. But sometimes you come across science fiction that so strongly believes in its own message that it: a) beats the reader over the head with the message, usually including some trippy metaphor; b) becomes so bogged down in details that its unreadable; or c) feels the need to become utterly incomprehensible, because its message is too important for the average plebian to understand (or, as I somewhat lean towards, the author doesn’t quite know what his/her point is and so buries it in strange imagery).

A lot of it feels so forced. I’ve read novels where I’ve been riveted and, then, in the last few chapters, everything devolves into some metaphor that makes the whole thing incomprehensible and, worse, irrelevant. I’ve seen movies where the director or whoever feels the need to be so experimental with their camera angles that it’s impossible to tell what’s happening.

Kevin J. Anderson said something along these lines at PPWC – that if he had to pick something to never see in science fiction again, it would be stories that are purposefully inaccessible to the average reader.

And come on, Squiders. When someone’s being a pretentious lout, don’t you want to punch them in the face too?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Marc on 2012/04/25 at 1:38 PM

    My biggest complaint about Sci-fi is an attitude I’ve seen of late. I first encountered it during a publisher-sponsored twitter chat with several authors, but I’ve seen it elsewhere since.

    One of these four SCIENCE FICTION authors *stated flatly* that teleportation will never be possible– then went on to state, *as a fact,* that faster than light travel would also never be possible. Others of the group *agreed with him!*

    Whiskey, tango, FOXTROT!?

    I understand that the author in question is also a scientist, but that’s just… wrong! The SF writer’s job is to make us want to *do* the impossible, not to tell us it can never be done.

    I’ve got news for said author: We don’t know EVERYTHING! Somebody might discover something five hundred years from now– or maybe just FIVE years from now!– that changes everything we think we know.

    It’s happened before. It’s bound to happen again. I mean, they told Galileo that it was “impossible” that the Earth moved around the sun, not the other way around. They told the Wright brothers that it was impossible to fly. For most of human history, people believed that it was impossible to go to the moon.

    The SF writer’s job is to make us want to *do* the impossible– not tell us it’s impossible and is going to stay that way, not even in an interview.

    This whole “staples of science fiction will never be possible” attitude strike me as fatalistic, obnoxious– and a terrible, *terrible* thing for a science fiction author to propagate.

    Reply

  2. Hmmmm….maybe I fall into the category of SF you don’t like. I don’t know. I think most SF has moved towards plots and themes that are more fantasy than anything else. IMO, very little tries to have a strong message simply because the market is not that big. But again, that’s my opinion.

    However, as a writer who has attempted to build his book upon a philosophical foundation of sorts, you do lose readers when they simply don’t get the point. I’ve tried to help alleviate the problem by providing a readers guide. It’s a common problem, but I think in an internet driven world, authors have lots of ways to communicate with their audience. The right audience. Moreover, sites like Good Reads help readers thrash out their opinions and get insight. It is my hope that the future allows authors the freedom to explore ideas, even if it’s not easy for everyone to follow.

    Reply

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