Gregory Benford shared this on facebook, asking if this notion was true:
Strahan, Jonathan, “Introduction,” Edge of Infinity, Solaris, 2012. This is just a short introduction to Strahan’s latest book of short stories, but he has some fascinating ideas here. He explores what he calls “the Fourth Generation” of science fiction.
“Science fiction publishing is a somewhat morbid sub-culture. It is rather obsessed with the death of SF and SF publishing.” Not, he says, because the folks with that obsession are particularly depressive, but because “…science fiction is being killed…by science. Not just today, but always.”
My immediate reaction is that of course this notion is not true. Maybe Strahan has different definitions of science, science fiction, and killing than I do. I also don’t have the short story collection with the complete introduction to put the quote in context.
It’s a little reminiscent to me of Buzz Aldrin complaining that science fiction was killing the space program (although it wasn’t “killing” it was “dampening interest” and I appreciate Aldrin’s point that much science fiction makes space travel look easy and fast when the reality is that it’s difficult and slow).
Personally, I think the only thing that can “kill” science fiction is the writers and fans. If they stop creating it and liking it, that will kill it. The worst science does is make some old science fiction look wrong, while there’s a huge boon to science fiction from science, in my opinion.
Science fiction is about creating innovative, speculative stories that are embedded in the reality of the universe as we know it. Stories that are possible. Otherwise I categorize the impossible as fantasy, which is fine, but beyond the realm of science and has not just speculative elements but elements that do not conform to what science has taught us.
Here’s how I see it, taking Mars as an example. In the past, we had science fiction stories like H. G. Well’s War of the Worlds, Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars, and, a bit later, Arthur C. Clarke’s Sands of Mars and Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. Maybe some of these were not intended to be such strict science fiction, but they were grounded in the (incorrect) ideas of the time that Mars might well host civilizations like our own, dying from the lack of water. Blame astronomer Percival Lowell and his canals in part, but educated 19th century beliefs saw intelligent life on Mars as realistic.
Science dramatically changed our views of Mars in the latter half of the 20th century, and NASA has been aggressively sending missions to Mars including Curiosity last summer, which attracted the public imagination. Did that kill Martian science fiction? Not in the slightest! We have Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars and sequels, Mars Crossing by Geoffrey Landis, Moving Mars by Greg Bear, and The Martian Race by Gregory Benford. Oh, wait, also Marsbound by Joe Haldeman, and Red Planet Blues by Robert Sawyer. If I’m not mistaken, there have also continued to be quite a few science fiction movies set on Mars of varying quality (Mission to Mars, Red Planet, etc.).
I think science is breathing new life into science fiction, far from killing it. As we continue to learn more, we can tell new, more realistic stories about what it would actually be like to explore the real Mars. The old Mars stories were fine for their day, and still fun as fantasy. If science changing and recategorizing old science fiction into fantasy is “killing” it, maybe Strahan is right.
And there’s a lot more than Mars going on in science and science fiction. New ideas in science lead directly to new ideas in science fiction. I think it’s never been better for science fiction. What about you? Or do you think that science is indeed killing science fiction?