Monday, December 10, 2007

SciFi rumbles

Scalzi, Heinlein and more.

As Scalzi says:
Science fiction is and always has been a consumer genre; its roots are in engineering and pulp magazines, not in academia. This is why sales matter in science fiction; more directly than nearly any other genre, the people who eventually write science fiction are the people who grow up reading science fiction. People start writing literary fiction as they tumble through writing programs at Sarah Lawrence or Bennington or Iowa because that’s what they’re expected to write and they want to impress their professors and fellow students; people start writing science fiction, on the other hand, roughly ten seconds after they set down The Star Beast or Ender’s Game or Snow Crash because they get done with the book and think, holy crap, I want to do that. Academia generally wants you to show you can write; science fiction generally wants you to tell a story. It’s the storytellers who get picked up by the next generation of science fiction writers, and whose work is used as the blueprint for their own works.


  1. Scalzi's coming to Philly on 12/14.

  2. There's an ongoing struggle between putting real science into fiction (not just using it as a prop) and the world of mainstream publishing. This is perhaps best summarized by Dr. Frank Ryan, an already popular author who worked for years to get a non-fiction general reader book about the curing of tuberculosis published. (Too much science in it, they said). The book finally was published and became quite successful. When Dr. Ryan turned to putting science into fiction, here's what happened:

    "In spite of the fact that every expert reader (recruited by at least ten different publishers) raved about it, the editors all said, no. One very nice editor of a major international house confessed to me that his in-house reader wrote a eulogy, then concluded: Your novel...many wonderful aspects...but, well, it’s a little out of the ordinary...frankly too much science."

    Dr. Ryan headed at that point towards self-publication - along with the trials of getting noticed that this represents. The full story is at A similar story is recounted at article/83.

    I pick up a science fiction book periodically, doing some research first to look for the "hard sci-fi" kind, and I'm typically disappointed to find little real science. Speculative or future fiction is perhaps a better name for the genre. I'm not sure if the general struggle towards putting science into fiction applies to SF, but I have my suspicions.

  3. "its roots are in engineering and pulp magazines, not in academia."

    A very interesting comment. I've always wondered about "hard" SF--that is, I'm fascinated by science fact, and I'm fascinated by Speculative Fiction (Heinlein, Bradbury, LeGuinn, Carde, Asimov, some Clarke). Somehow, though, when people start talking too much about science I get bored.

    I guess my roots are in "pulp magazines" and not "engineering."