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Monday, November 26, 2007

Aldiss and Ridley Scott on Modern SF/F

(A lot of this applies to fantasy as well, so that's something to consider when reading this post)

As per usual it seems like there is plenty of criticism of science fiction out there, especially amongst those who have some pull in the world of literature. Brian Aldiss has brought up the interesting question of 'why are science fiction's best writers so neglected'? Why indeed? We have all headd of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, etc., but what about all those others who may have once written superb works that seem to have been lost in the wake of more prominent authors? And what exactly constitutes something being ignored? Does Aldiss mean works that aren't discussed but still sold relatively well? Or does he mean any work that is actually good but for whatever reason never got any attention from sales or from the public? I think for this we'll have to assume he's mostly talking about works that have sold at least decently, but are forgotten.
No matter how you look at literature there will always be something that is ignored. I think it would be impossible for any one person to read every single SF or F book that is printed in the United States alone. Maybe it could be done if such a person had no job or personal life. In any case, all SF books published can't sell millions of copies or be critically acclaimed. So I think the crux of the matter is how books are chosen to be remembered. Do we remember Isaac Asimov because he was better than Kornbluth? Bradbury because he was better than Bester? Perhaps what makes authors like Asimov and Bradbury into science fiction icons is the stories that they told. Asimov developed the laws of robotics, which even today we consider with great interest as our technological achievements in robotics and artificial intelligence flood the market with new technologies. Bradbury presented us with a world where books are burned and it is illegal to read or own them. Do any of us remember the worlds of Kornbluth or Bester? What about Del Rey, Lafferty, or Gernsback? And why don't we remember?
Perhaps some aspect of this has to do with the fact that science isn't taught as readily as it should be in schools. If high schools (or whatever would be in the equivalent in your country of origin) brought SF and F to the front, we might see a wider appreciation for the genre. More people will read Bester and Kornbluth, Asimov and Bradbury. College programs could really address the golden age of science fiction, an era that seems so forgotten in this 'age of style'. For some of us the authors I mentioned are remembered, even if we have not read their work, but they aren't remembered the same as the bigger names and I wonder why that is. Any thoughts?
Any idea why we have forgotten Wagner in literature, but remember Tolkien? I'm interested to know what you all think out there.

On a side note, Ridley Scott recently criticized the state of science fiction in film, which I found to be rather amusing. First, I have to make a point in saying that Scott didn't write the novel that Blade Runner is loosely based on. Philip K. Dick did and it was called "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" On the subject of forgetting SF authors has Scott forgotten who is responsible for Blade Runner? All Scott did was bring the story to the big screen, and in a very artistic manner, which had to have been difficult back in the day. Regardless, it's not Scott's story and for him to pretend that it is, which he makes it very clear he thinks he wrote it in the above link, actually disgusts me. Maybe Philip K. Dick wouldn't care, but I know I certainly would.
But, that's a difference discussion than what I was originally talking about. Now, Scott brings up a good point about how science fiction on TV and film is becoming almost repetitive--like horror films you might think. In a lot of ways this is very true. With shows like Battlestar Galactica and Bionic Woman, both remakes of originals which, while I believe different from their origins, still fall prey to common problems in science fiction film. Then there are the many Star Trek incarnations and the different Stargate series. We are seeing a lot of elements repeated in today's SF that were original, or at least seemingly original, so many years ago. As Scott says, "where do all the writers go?" I don't know either. I think there is a lack of truly deep SF right now in the media. We need to work on that.

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