Speculative Fiction is a Product of its Time

If you remember, last year I acquired and read a short story collection of the best science fiction and fantasy stories from 1959. For those too lazy to click the link, I mentioned that I thought that most, if not all, of the stories included would never be published in today’s climate.

I’m currently most of the way through a volume of the best science fiction and fantasy stories from 2011. Earlier today (while building a snow dinosaur in the backyard) I was pondering the differences between the two collections. The current collection is much more what I would expect to find in a scifi/fantasy short story collection, and I’ve picked up a couple of authors to look more into based on their included stories.

But I think it’s wrong of me to say that the 2011 collection is better than the 1959 one. I think that it’s more of a generational thing, if you will.

Authors don’t write in a vacuum. They absorb the culture around them–pop culture, religion, politics, the concerns of the day. The more modern authors and I probably share a lot of the same influences, so these stories feel more natural to me.

On the other hand, the people in the ’50s had different worries. There was the constant threat of nuclear war, and they were still recovering from the horrors of WWII. It seemed perfectly plausible that an invading alien race could show up at any time.

Those worries have disappeared into climate change, terrorism, school shootings, and government oversight.

That doesn’t make our stories better–just reflective of the times we live in. If you handed the 2011 collection to someone from 1959, it’s entirely possible that they would think it was crap. They might think we take too long to get to the point of the story, that we rely too much on twist endings. They might wonder why we’ve already given up on space travel instead of being excited by the possibilities.

Any thoughts, Squiders? Do you agree that stories are a product of their time? Why or why not?

3 responses to this post.

  1. It’s important to be timely in science fiction. I’m working my way through the Twilight Zone, and it was extremely relevant to that time. None of us can predict what will become a classic. We do what we can.


    • One of the most enduring aspects of scifi, I think, is that not only is it commentary on our future, but also commentary on our present.


      • Very much so. TZ has riots over who gets to be in the bomb shelter. Very poignant for then. Today, maybe we have issues with aliens who resemble ISIS.

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