Popular Science Fiction

As I was sitting in my first class yesterday listening to my professor introduce himself, I had two thoughts. One, this is going to be a fun class. Two? well, that was spawned by watching his powerpoint slides as he talked. He discussed the class, pointed out that one fun thing he likes to do in this class is to make fun of science in the media, who always get it wrong. He rattled off the names of a half-dozen TV shows, then popped several science fiction movie posters up onto the screen. I haven’t seen any of them – not a film geek – but I’ve heard friends I trust talk about them. He’s right, you know. They do butcher science.

But the thought I had was – no books? He didn’t mention science fiction in written form at all. Now, this is a man who spends an inordinate amount of his time reading, I realize that. Just he’s reading science, papers, journals, books… evidently his idea of relaxation is a night at the cinema and I can’t blame him there. Two hours not having to work at all for your entertainment is easier than several (I know, I know, for me it’s usually just 2-3 hours, but I’m not normal) spent reading and having to use your imagination for special effects. But I have to wonder if it’s more than that.

We just don’t have a lot of best-selling science fiction out there. Yes, I realize that I just published a SF novella and have been working on a novel. Many of my friends and colleagues who write are working on, or have published, science fiction, and some darn good stuff. But it’s not widely known. Certainly not on the level of a Hollywood movie.

When I go to look at the top sellers on Amazon, Hard SF category, I get the Martian (twice!), which belongs there. I also get Clarke, who is hardly still writing, Crichton, whose science is highly suspect, Howey’s Wool (haven’t read all of it, didn’t enjoy the bit I did read), a couple of cyberpunk books, and a space opera that really doesn’t belong in this category. No wonder readers aren’t finding what they want. Hard SF

Can we change this? Well, I can give my prof one of my books, if I get to know him well enough and think it would be an appreciated gesture. If he liked it, I could easily recommend more books like it, written by authors who I trust to deliver quality stories. I do that here on the blog with my lists. It’s still not quite enough. I share books I like on social media, write reviews, tell people in person that the Martian was the best hard SF I’d read in recent years, even before it became a Hollywood movie. I ride the wave of ebooks, knowing that I can see the future of reading from here. The problem is, the genre we love is laboring under the burden of having been co-opted for message fiction for the last thirty years. The ‘science’ in science fiction became social engineering, and most readers, seeking entertainment more akin to the two-hour blockbuster movies, became bored and moved on to more exciting options.

Readers are still out there. We just have to find them, and lure them back to the place where science, imagination, and possibilities collide in glorious explosions of the imagination.

What else can we do?


3 responses to “Popular Science Fiction”

  1. Martin L. Shoemaker Avatar
    Martin L. Shoemaker

    I was counting on a wave of new hard SF readers brought in by The Martian.

    To quote the great Shatner: “It hasn’t happened yet.”

    But “yet” could be the operative word. Every one of my immediate coworkers has read The Martian. One loves to talk to me about it, and is on his second reading. I make sure to point out other authors who are in that mode, Steele and Bova being two in particular. (I also point out that Shoemaker guy, of course.) So maybe the wheel is turning, just very slowly.

    If Hollywood would get behind another big hard SF project, that would help a lot; but again, it hasn’t happened. Yet.

    1. I’d hoped for that, too. Perhaps as the accountants watch what the Martian is doing, they will start looking for ‘more like that’ since it seems Hollywood is always happier on the (well)beaten path.

    2. I’d love to see an adaptation of William Forschten’s “Pillar to the Sky,” or Michael Flynn’s Firestar series, or even that nearish-future space story David Burkhead wrote whose title escapes me at the moment.