Bring Back That Wonder Feeling

Over the last few years I’ve taken part in more than a dozen panels in science fiction conventions where the question came up “Why is there no sense of wonder in science fiction?”  Or “Where have all the young people gone?  Why aren’t they reading science fiction?”

The excuses are always the same.  The foremost and most favorite is “The age of wonder in SF is between 12 and 14.”  The second is “They’re living in a science fiction world.  They don’t need to read it.”

On this I’m going to call bullsheep and oh, yeah, bullsheep again.

If the age of wonder is between 12 and 14, then YA SF should be healthy and thriving, right? Instead of non-existent in comparison to YA fantasy. And while there’s something to say for that, psychologically – I remember reading sf as a young kid and being filled with a sense of amazement, but actually my most fervent reading age for SF was between fourteen and about twenty five or so.  Partly because at 22 I came to the states, and I found a whole plethora of work that had never been translated.

As for the “they’re living in science fiction.”  Oh, PLEASE.  This is the part of the blog in which we say “your age is showing,” and also “Get over yourself.”  Admittedly the age at which sf/f was most popular was around the forties and fifties.  Not respectable, but popular.  Well, it could be far more accurate to say that they lived in science fiction, at least by their lights.  Most twenty year olds then, probably remembered a world where cars were very few, and where oil lamps and candles still had a place in many houses, but they were living in a world with an interstate system and electrical lighting and indoor plumbing, and the beginnings of computers.  Compared to that jump, the one from the seventies to today is nothing.  Oh, yeah, the computer is starting to make it different, but it’s not the thing that people DREAM of.  In fact, it’s so unromantic, and came on so slowly that most of us have trouble realizing how fundamentally transformational it is.

Recently two more excuses have been brought in.  One is “the boys don’t read.  They’re watching TV and playing games.”  We’ll go into this again later.  And one that is almost right (almost) which is “We had all these great things, but we didn’t pay up.  There are no flying cars, or moon rockets.”

They’re almost right on that one, but not quite.  The people saying this are ten to twenty years older than I, and they’re right that there’s a generation that is disgusted at this – but that’s my generation.  And those of us who still read sf tend to read off beat stuff, or older stuff, not the stuff that’s “pushed” or considered “high quality” by most of the houses.  (Baen, as usual is its own little world and therefore exempt from these discussions.)

The kids alive today don’t know about those broken promises.  Though I’m here to tell you they still get excited about going to space and the future.  It’s just that this is no longer what SF is about.  And (see what I did here) this means that they go play games, which do have mega fighting robots, and space colonies, and the other things that once made them read SF.
This is not even particularly important, except insofar as there are things you can learn from written stories that are harder to come by in games.  I think empathy is one.  And good reading skills is another.  Both of these are useful in life, and we’re shutting a generation out of them.  Beyond that, science fiction has the chance to make kids THINK about the future before it gets here, and also to have them try on new ideas.

So, who killed the sense of wonder?

You’ll forgive me, since I know a lot of my readers belong to this generation, but it was boomers moving into the publishing houses.

I understand WHY it happened.  I just don’t have to like it.  Boomers came of age at a time when population was supposed to keep expanding indefinitely (note to the brainless bunnies who commented on my war is Hell post, no it’s no longer doing that.  It might actually be contracting.  We only have highly dubious counts, from countries who get aid per capita to believe it is still expanding.  We also thought the USSR was expanding, until it collapsed.  There’s lies, damn lies and statistics.)  Youth was the way of the future.  You only have to re-read the Heinlein of the sixties and seventies to get this feeling.  The older people were kowtowing because they expected to be vastly out-numbered.  So between that and a bunch of other cultural things, that one generation grew up thinking they were something special and that they should make everything different.

Also for some reason and I honestly can’t think why, unless it is a combination of their parents’ experiences in WWII AND Soviet Agit Prop (yeah, I know.  I blame a lot of things on it.  But they were GOOD), the boomers thought that they could create a perfect world.

Unfortunately this meant that when they moved into SF, right after Heinlein had exploded out of the ghetto of crudely colored magazines, they decided it was their mission in life to make SF accurate, respectable and, above all RELEVANT.

This is when the problems came in.  They came in because every generation’s idea of “relevant” freezes at around the time they come of age.  The burning issues of the day get resolved and gotten over, but they’re still the ones that formed them.  And some of those issues weren’t even, really, issues by the time they came of age, but they were part of what was being struggled with while they were growing up.

When the boomers swept away the old order of SF and brought their stuff in, suddenly SF became obsessed with gender issues (mostly defined as a rather pat feminism), race issues (the burning issue of their day), and misunderstood economics (that to be honest is still relevant.  their kids fail to grasp economics in exactly the same way.)  The idea of being “cool” made them worship “literary” only since most of them wouldn’t know literary if it bit them in the fleshy part of the arse, “incoherent” “hallucinatory” and “pointless” had to do the turn.

Then came my generation who, btw, are not boomers, though we often get aggregated onto the end of it.  We’re also not gen xers, sorry.  Some people call us the lost generation, though we were mostly found – at work, trying to claw a space for ourselves while being told we weren’t cool or “socially conscious.”  We’re the band of kids born somewhere between 59 and 68 or so, though these things are fluid, and I’ve met “us” stretching all the way back to 51 and them stretching all the way up to 70.  A lot of this had to do with how old your parents were when you were born.  Our current president, for instance, despite being only a year older than I is very much fully integrated in boomer culture, being the child of a very young mother and raised mostly by her parents, and therefore more as her little brother than her son.  Also, for some of us on the cusp, we CHOSE.

I’m not saying all the boomers did was bad.  Largely I’d rather praise them than bury them.  But in SF they’ve been an unmitigated disaster.

Not as readers, as such.  Readers still wanted the same thing – fun.  Not as writers, so much.  Some of the still readable writers – Dave Drake, possibly Weber (I don’t know his age) and many others in the Baen stable ARE boomers.  Connie Willis is also a boomer.  I think so is F. Paul Wilson (though he looks about my age.) – are boomers, but as editors and critics and the people who set the culture.  Maybe it has something to do with the liberal arts culture of the time.

I didn’t notice, because my exposure to SF was limited by what was translated into Portuguese, what was going on until about five years after coming to the US – five years spent catching up on favorites’ books that hadn’t been translated.

And then after a while, I started realizing that these books were… odd.  The new stuff coming out, in the ever-shrinking SF shelf at the local bookstore in Charlotte NC, was… strange.  Not the SF/F I remembered at all.  Well, the fantasy was mostly quest, this being the mid eighties.  I can take or leave quest.  It doesn’t do a thing for me.  A lot of the SF was cyber punk which bored me.  The more serious works were… uh…

And by “Uh” I mean, I’d get to the end and either not remember the book at all or throw it against the wall.

And please understand that while in Portugal, in despair I had resorted to reading NOT JUST typical seventies SF of the “We all have tons of odd sex and then we die” or French SF (check out Pierre Barbet sometime.)  Or even French SF Romance (which was very funny, as it was written by people who’d never read SF.  the one thing I remember, for whatever reason, was the woman being showered by a floating ball-robot that sprayed her with water.  I’m still trying to figure out WHY.  World building was always funnier than heck, as tech made no sense.)  I even got hold of a mag called Panspermia which was French SF and I THOUGHT was devoted to the theories of Fred Hoyle.  Turns out I was wrong.  Who knew?  The fact it came in a plain brown wrapper should have given me a clue, but I was innocent.

So, my tolerance for bad is very high.

But these books were POINTLESS.  They either had meandering non-plots, or they had an endless repetition, of the hit-over-the-head type with … not even social controversy but social markers of that time and class.  You know “Women are better than men.”  “Every culture is better than Western” (or what I call Ashram anthropology… or more likely hashram anthropology.)  These were soon joined by newer and stranger talking points as boomers realized that the world was more difficult to make perfect than they thought, “The human species is a blight upon the Earth.” and “We should go back to eighteenth century tech and die out.”

Sometimes, rarely, you came across a book that bowled you over all the way to the end when, I guess in an effort to stay relevant or interesting, the author killed every character.

Like Amanda who talks about his over at MGC today, I thought that people simply weren’t writing the good stuff, anymore.  And then I wrote it.  And I sent it out.  Do you know the MOST common rejection for DST, back thirteen years ago, was that I had “illogical world building.”  No one could ever explain to me WHY this was so, but mumbled explanations ranged from the fact that “In five hundred years we won’t even be human anymore, and we’ll have all sorts of computer augmentation.” (Rolls eyes.  Why if we get better at bio?) And “it’s too cheerful” or “It ends well” or “The state will be far more efficient and everyone will be happy” or…  I SWEAR I’m NOT MAKING THIS UP, from my agent at the time, “Perhaps you can make it believable if instead of the Good Men, you have the Catholic Church rule the world.”  (WHAT?  No, seriously, WHAT?  I’d never talked about any religion to this man, so I can only assume that the Catholic Church was his own personal bete noir.  Who knows why?)  And yes, most of the time my sf was rejected by agent and never sent out because “no one wants to read that” and “you lack a big idea.”

At that point I did what everyone else seemed to have been doing since the seventies, and moved over to fantasy.  Only fantasy was even then falling victim to the same nonsense.  It seemed, for instance, that having heroic males was out.  And you had to have a certain amount of allotted whine per page about the evils of patriarchy or praise of the great goddess.

So I took refuge in the past and wrote historical stuff – fantasy and mystery.  I’ll note at this time both time travel and alternate history were getting very popular, I think for the same reasons.  But there’s only so much you can do in the past, and most people don’t want to work that hard (Regencies, arguably the most successful historical subgenre – of romance – aren’t really.  They have a few historical details, but, by and large, are modern people in costumes and following outdated rules.)  Also, well… going into the past might be a sense of wonder of a sort, but not the kind likely to appeal to young people.  Particularly since, with few exceptions (Frankowski, S.M. Sterling, Flint) people didn’t do Connecticut Yankee things in the past, making it modern.  Instead, they just struggled along there, and more likely than not died in the end.  (I’m not casting aspersions on Doomsday Book where the death is natural and makes sense and it’s NOT the main character.)

And Fantasy went the same way, till it became “unbearably long feminist screed on the evils of men.”  Look, I’ll take some of this.  Mercedes Lackey and a bevy of other fantasy writers of the eighties did a bit of this. The father was always wicked (eh.  I have that too 🙂 Which is weird since I’m very close to my dad.)  There were some evil guys.  BUT most of the men were still decent, and even if the main character was female (and that wasn’t always) she would find either love or decent male friends.  But then that changed.  I actually had a book rejected for being “insufficiently female centric” despite the fact the main character is female AND she’s a take charge female (a police woman) AND she rescues her man (Think Athena’s little sister in urban fantasy.)  Why?  Well the explanation had something to do with her falling in love with a MAN.  (The horrors!  Shudder.)

And that’s when I started realizing what was wrong – though it took Amanda to solidify the thought into words – the thoughts we were getting for lack of a better word “pushed at us from the over culture.”  This was the way they wanted us to think, the way that not only were news stories slanted, and narratives framed, (the Duke Lacrosse case) BUT the stuff they were teaching our kids in school.

Was my biggest problem with it, then, that it was blantantly a-historical and counter-factual.  Well, no.  I lie for a living.  My morals are weak.

My problem with it was IN FACT that it was boring.  If I wanted to get these points pounded into me until I got sick, I’d read the newspaper, the advice columns, the fashion mags or watched sitcoms.  There was nothing new THERE.

Meanwhile, btw, TV and movie sf continued doing very well by bringing in much of the feel of the pulp era to the screen.  For instance, you couldn’t SELL Stargate (though I wrote a short story which even called them stargates back a year before it came out.  It’s okay, it’s a very bad story) as a book or a story.  Why not?  Not plausible.  We know humans evolved on Earth.  You can’t violate what we know in science.

Between the bands of political correctness, the bands of “relevance” and the bands of “we want to be literary” science fiction was strangled in the crib by people who didn’t care if sales numbers kept falling because, well “kids aren’t reading.  They live in science fiction.”  And their bosses believed them.

But this is neither a dirge nor a despairing article.  And I MIGHT write dystopian societies now and then, but my characters still manage, by and large, to fight through.

This is to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way.  Ric Locke’s book is full of the sense of wonder.  I haven’t read much else recently, because I’m busy trying to finish contracts so I can put some stuff up myself, but I have a feeling if there aren’t other books like his out yet, there will be.  I’m looking forward to being delighted, shocked and titillated (get mind out of gutter.  You’re leaving me no space) by heretical notions of human history, strange thoughts on human future, and fun rides along the way.

The readers now have control, and I think they want their sense of wonder back.  Do you have a space opera you wrote years ago, which got rejected everywhere?  Dust it off, look it over, unmuzzle it if you tried to make it acceptable to the establishment.

And then put it up.  The future is free.*

(*With the purchase of another future.  Said purchase, as all purchases of liberty might entail the pledge or actual payment of your life your fortune and your sacred honor.  You will only keep the liberty you’re willing to fight for.  The establishment is always the enemy of the future.  You have been warned.)

114 thoughts on “Bring Back That Wonder Feeling

  1. There is definitely a counter-current today. As a reader, I’m enjoying that. As a writer, I try to do my part. One of my motivations when I started writing as a serious effort was simply, “I don’t see enough stories like this, so I’ll have to write my own.” But I’m starting to see more of them. Brad Torgersen is one of the new crowd whom I really enjoy; and he has stated plainly that his goal is to take the “new cliches” and turn them on their heads, rediscover the sense of wonder in them. And the sense of possibilities and hope. I’m trying to follow his example.

    1. Good. And I’ll check him out. Also, I will have more to say on this. I’m actually mulling a longish piece for Otherwhere gazette, and so, these serve as my “notes.”

  2. I want to start a new literary movement! I call my sf, half-jokingly, “two-fisted tales of space adventure” but I’m sure the marketing folks wouldn’t approve. Maybe “human-optimistic”? The credo being:
    – humans are not inherently evil.
    – Using technology to survive is a good thing.
    – Nature is stupid( but big and persistent. )
    – It’s fun to win 😉
    – Science is cool.
    – War is hell, but it sure answers the question “How are you gonna stop me from eating your face?”
    – the laws of physics trump good intentions or membership in a grievance group

    And stuff like that. Then we can proudly proclaim we are THEM and people who want to have a sensawunda experience can look for our books.

      1. Yippee, I have a friend! I wonder what I should wear… 😉

        Let’s Do This Thing. “Human Wave SF” is excellent. Meeting of the Escape Committee tonight! I never liked this ghetto much anyway.

    1. I’ve been calling my niche “Blue Collar Space”: ordinary working-class people working and surviving and thriving in space. Whatever we call it, sounds like a good movement to me!

      1. Human Wave SF — Sabrina, are you serious about dress code? We can’t take pajamas, I do that for my non-fic. And we can’t write naked, because I write FOR Naked Reader Press (no, it’s NOT porn) (Actually I write most blog posts in my undies, as I roll out of bed. Deal.) BUT yesterday I was wearing a shirt ALL the guys said was Star Trek New Generation, alternate universe. We could wear that. (Makes me look really… uh… gifted in the mammary dept, and gives me super powers of talking to computers, I guess.) I anxiously wait your decision.

        1. Where’s the Manifesto? Aren’t all new SF movements supposed to have a Manifesto?

          I propose something modeled on Barry B. Longyear’s Circus World books. A major plot element in the first several stories was that this shipload of stranded circus performers — freeks, geeks, barkers, roustabouts, etc. — wrote their First Law (the law for making laws) so complex that they were sure there would NEVER be a Second Law. Which suited them just fine.

          I’m not into Manifestos, as they strike me as pretentious and silly; but if we have to have one, I recommend that it say something about “We don’ need no steenkin’ Manifesto!”

          1. How about “I like pie!” That’s a Manifesto I can get behind…
            Hmm. Since I seem to be magically in front of this marching horde, I suggest we have a “List of Encouraged Mischief” in the spirit of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s “I’d Really Rather You Didn’ts” (not commandments!). That way Human Wave SF writers can pick and choose as the muse inspires.

            1. I think this marching horde has a loosely defined “front” at best. You’re not marching in front, they’re just going the same direction but a little behind you.

                  1. Said to the Spouse, ‘She seems to be feeling better, must have finish re-write.’ (I hope you have.) He asks why do I say this. So I read him this post. He comes back:

                    ‘Not only do they use jesuitical, they use it properly.’

                    1. Nah, still working on the rewrite, but I must confess I feel better now trolls have receded. While Hammer Of Trolls Amanda did quite well with the influx, they left blood and brains all over the walls, and it’s going to cost a fortune to clean.

        2. The dress code was more of a riff on the “friend” thing, implying I didn’t know how to behave in this new social setting–I have NEVER had to wear a uniform for any job and I don’t intend to start now. Maybe we could go with “pants optional”? I do try to encourage the males to wear kilts, plus I hang out with Ace’s Morons a lot and it *coff* rubs off. Wait, that didn’t sound right. Um, introduces a subtext to the underlying metaphor? I don’t want to restrict anyone’s sartorial expression. Well, except for chain mail bikinis–those are RIGHT out.

            1. Kilts are nice. Many of the men at the Anime Con I staff were kilts. Particularly like the one who is all in black, something about the Ninja clan…

                  1. The problem is that come the full moon they turn into something else and year peoples pants to shreds…

            2. I have a bad tendency to confuse kilts with quilts. So in my world, war-like Scots walk around with wedding ring quilts, or such, around their fervid loins. (Sorry, I’ve been reading romance while having tea.)

              1. Oh. Um. I suspect they would go for a bit more macho a pattern, like Double Sawtooth or Jackknife. Kinda creates a Monty Python image. I can see it, a unit silly walking over the ridge…

          1. Ah, come on, didn’t you ever what to be a Frazetta girl. You know the one with a pet sabertooth tiger and a spear? But I would want silk linings.

            Two things:

            1)Secret handshake, should any of the members meet in public.

            2) For anyone who has seen old Betty Boop cartoons, how do I get the Wanna be a member? song out of my head?

  3. While first learning to live on my own and supporting myself as a waitress I discovered Analog — there was magic in those stories and I was hooked. I used to walk a couple of miles to a small newsstand in an old hotel to buy each issue of Analog when it came out.

    The daughter, a voracious reader, was raised on golden age material. She doesn’t just read American works, for a while she would search out any-and-everything she could find of Stanislaw Lem’s SF work. She also discovered Japanese animated SF. But SF with a generous side of the current polemical? Not really what she reads for.

    1. Heck, even in 1980 I used up a month of my allowance to subscribe to Analog. It was already a little odd, but let’s face it, analog is still the most readable of the SF Mags. (Asimov’s will have one or two stories a year that knock me on my can, but most of the others I can’t read. Analog has few “WOW” stories, but more I can read and enjoy at the “nice” level.)

      Boys raised on golden age sf too. Hey, if she’s interested in bio, buy her James White’s Surgeon To The Stars series. Robert spent about a week enthralled back when he first discovered them.

      1. The spouse pulled out an old copy of the one James White we have, All Judgment Fled On the back is copy:

        In such books as Hospital Station and Star Surgeon, James White has built an enviable reputation as a writer of science fiction about the future of medical science and what it may be like to treat and care for a staggering variety of alien life-forms. He has an extraordinary talent for creating believeable but utterly alien extra-terrestrials.

        When combined with your recommendation, it looks very interesting.

  4. Thank you so much for this post! I now fully understand the rejections I received in the late 80s and early 90s–personal rather than form letters, with vague excuses for why my stories wouldn’t work in their “current publishing model.” I finally get that I had it all wrong, from their perspective: heterosexual male heroes; background villains that were neither churches nor patriarchies but “mother hen” governments who wanted to overprotect people and stick their noses into everyone’s private business; major female characters who *gasp!* made mistakes and/or who loved men; no weird alien sex or sometimes no sex at all. The horrors of my level of ignorance in these matters! (>.<);;

    Thank God for self-publishing and ebooks, though the establishment and many traditionally published writers seem hell-bent upon belittling, dismissing, and devaluing any book that is not published by a traditional print house. They can decry us all they like, though, for we are the true wave of the SF publishing future.

    I look forward to your next posts on this subject!

    1. Yep. that’s why you were rejected. Sabrina, is planning some sort of meeting, (No meetings!) and apparently there’s a dress code. It’s all very confusing, but we are calling this Human Wave SF.

      1. Human Wave SF…I like it. Meeting in the singular is lovely. Too many meetings can get tiresome. As long as I can wear some silly hat with a feather in it, I’m good on just about any other dress code requirements. Well, except nakedness. I’m too shy for that. *(^o^)*

          1. Now you’re just funnin’ with me. Asking a fencer to dress as a musketeer? “Please don’t throw me into that briar patch!”

            (And boy is it great to be part of a disorganization where quoting Uncle Remus isn’t the kiss of death…)

  5. Agree on all counts – and yes, I’m a fellow Lost Generation – too young to be a Baby Boomer (not to mention I don’t identify), too old for MTV. I have a love-hate feel for the Boomers – they did break down a lot of structures that needed breaking, but they also broke just about everything else, and left little in its place, and my generation had to deal with the wreckage. As a professor of mine said, the pendulum always swings too far.

    The boring literary problem also applied to movies in the 70s – they were dreary awful things with POINTS, and no one went to the theaters much, and everyone said tv had replaced them forever. And then Jaws, Rocky and Star Wars came out and people flocked to the theaters again.

  6. Let’s Do This Thing. “Human Wave SF” is excellent. Meeting of the Escape Committee tonight! I never liked this ghetto much anyway.

    YES! Do we need a blog for it ? 🙂

        1. Since this seems to be rapidly transforming from grins and puns to something quasi-real — and since I strongly support the underlying idea, because I’m sick of dreary, cookie-cutter science fiction and really like some variety — I have just registered, and I offer it up as an aggregate URL. If you would prefer to have yourself or Sabrina or whomever control the domain name, contact me offline, and I’ll arrange to transfer registration. Otherwise I’m happy to maintain the registration as part of my contribution to this effort. In that case, contact me offline so I can arrange to grant hosting permissions as needed.

          Serious or joke, this speaks to me. I look at certain markets and just despair that I could ever be published there, because I just cannot bring myself to write what they seem to be buying. I’ll keep pitching what I choose to write and keep hoping that they’ll buy it. If they don’t, I’ll assume my stories simply weren’t good enough. But sometimes I look over what they’re buying and see a depressing sameness of theme and mood that I just am not interested in, as writer or as reader.

          1. Martin, you rock. And when I referred to your comment as jesuitical I was *of course* speaking in the Pickwickian sense. I’m totally serious about spreading Human Wave SF as a concept–just let me know how I can help out.

            If we spread the word and more readers clamor for positive SF maybe even the publishing dinosaurs will take notice and our market options will open up. Could happen!

            1. OK, I’ll offer hosting space as well, at least until this somehow blossoms into so much traffic that it exceeds my hosting plan. (And really, would that be a bad problem to have?) I probably can’t set it up before the weekend. My day job is heating up, and I’ve promised a bunch of reviews for contestants in Writers of the Future.

              1. You mean we’re not already the cool kids?

                But how do we define Human Wave SF? What are it’s essential elements? Who are some authors (besides our host) who typify the subgenre.

                (I’d throw Niven and Pournelle in that particular pit, Larry Corriea and Mad Mike too)

                1. well, I’ll put out some general principles, and then we’ll compile a reading list between us. AND the recrui… er… writers “enrolling” can link their blogs to a general page. AND of course we’re cool. But now we’ve got to show it.

                  1. I suggest a slogan:

                    Somebody wins.

                    One of the aspects of the boring, nihilistic crap is that nobody ever actually achieves anything. The protagonists certainly don’t, and even the villains rarely or never get anywhere — “Ah, well, another day, another bug squashed. Ho hum.” It isn’t necessary to Save the Universe, but somebody needs to come out better at the end than at the beginning.

                    And in the “reach should exceed grasp” department, let’s make it our ultimate goal to acquire a time machine, which we will use to strangle Herman Melville and James Joyce in their respective cradles.


                    1. Somebody Wins? Heck, I’ll settle for The Bastards Lose.

                      I’ve no problems with a hero pulling down the temple pillars on his own head, so long as it achieves the greater purpose.

                2. Interesting you should mention Niven and Pournelle. I think they already wrote pretty close to a manifesto, at the end of “Oath of Fealty”:

                  “No, that’s not MY lifestyle.”
                  “Not mine either—”
                  “Why does it have to be? A Venice boatman would go crazy in there. So would a Maori tribesman, but that doesn’t make him right. What would a Roman Legionnaire think of your life style? What would Thomas Jefferson think of me? There are a lot of ways to be human.”

                  Pournelle, Jerry; Niven, Larry (2011-02-01). Oath of Fealty (Kindle Locations 6159-6163). Kindle Edition.

                  I envision Human Wave SF as encompassing the FULL range of human experience and ideas. I honestly don’t think there’s anything wrong with those “other” books Sarah described (except when they’re boring). The problem comes in when those are the ONLY choices due to some arbitrary selections by gatekeepers and tastemakers. When I open a well-known magazine and all the stories have similar themes and tones, that’s not the full range of human experience and ideas. It’s great that there are those who want to read that and those who want to write that, but there needs to be stuff that appeals to other and broader cross-sections of the audience as well.

                  In some sense — and in homage to our hostess’s occasional political observations — it’s “libertarian” SF in the sense that each should be welcome to do what she or he will, but not to restrict what others can do. In Open Source terms, it’s the bazaar, not the cathedral; but there’s room for cathedrals in the bazaar. (It’s a very BIG bazaar!)

                  Just my opinion, naturally. This is still a very nascent idea, and I’m just a follower (albeit one with a large mouth and an ego to match).

            1. OK, email me with the DNS info and I can repoint it over there. If Sarah can’t get you my regular email address, you can always use my first name at my full name (including middle initial) dot com.

  7. I had noticed the trends you had talked about over a long period of time in the Star Trek line. Originall the old Log series of books were interesting little short stories (with some of occasionally questionable content better ignored), but generally stayed in the sci-fi area with fluctuations between hard and soft sci-fi.

    Then came TNG, which while also interest so some extent, was a bit to smug and pleased with itself for my liking. The novels were occasionaly interesting, but 80’s pop psycho-analisys started creeping into it, along with some starting off subtle political commentary that while occasionally annoying, wan’t horrible.

    Then came DS9 and Voyager. To call some of the commentary ham-fisted isa insult to hams. Voyager was also particularly bad and handing off the idiot ball off to the guys while letting either Seven, Janeway or CE Torres fix the problem. DS9 at least had the birture of spreading the Idiot Ball around equally. But even then it got Preachy to an exceptionally annoying degree. I grew tired of it and killed my TV while it ran.

    I later came back and looked in a book store, coming across a Enterprise novel and was curious so I flipped it open. Only to find a diatribe against the Bush Administration on the Preface. I put the book down and never looked back. I read Sci fi to escape the world and havea bit of fun, not to have someones politics shoved down my throat.

    *sigh*…suppose I’ll go read some old H.G. Wells now..

    *tips his hat to the thread*

    1. Clifford Simak — no more socialist than Wells. Heinlein. Phillip Jose Farmer’s hack work (Not the unspeakable Riverworld. Yes, I know. So I’m weird, but I hate it.) The Still Small Voice of Trumpets by Lloyd Biggle Jr.

      1. OO! Yes! Another reason I knew I liked you. The promise of Riverworld was so great, the delivery so … lame.

        This wave needs a motto. We could borrow one from the gunnies — “Come to the Dark Side; we have cookies.”


        1. Shouldn’t that be “Come to the Light Side; we have cookies.”? Since one of the things we don’t care for is all the doom and gloom and darkness so prevalent in current science fiction? 😛

          (I’ll admit, it’s not as catchy. :sigh:)

          1. How about “Come to the Bright Side…” ? All noms taste better when prepared and stored somewhere that is not a dark, rat-infested, moldy old dungeon in a mopey prince’s crumbling post-apocalyptic castle, and “bright” implies “intelligent” as well as “upbeat” and “clean” and “all things wonderful”. (^-^)

      2. Ack … urk … argh … “no more socialist than Wells”?????? NO MORE SOCIALIST than the coiner of the term “Liberal Fascism.” Accurate, I s’pose, in the sense that a Honda is no worse a car than a Trabant, but really! Simak deserves better than such faint praise.

        There are a number of authors deserving of being unforgotten, perhaps not the premiere writers of their eras but quite enjoyable all the same. In no particular order: Mack Reynolds, Jack Williamson, Jack Vance, A. E. Van Vogt, Roger Zelazny, H. Beam Piper, William Tenn and the collaborations of L. Sprague deCamp & Fletcher Pratt. Hardly comprehensive but all providing worthwhile entertaining reads and largely ignored today. There are even some authors successfully writing today with significant overlooked works, such as Piers Anthony (ignore Xanth — Lord he’s milked that cow! — but try his Steppe, Omnivore, the Battle Circle Trilogy …)

        Geeze, I could list a dozen more, all about as good and all writing muah better than almost anything in the last twenty years without Baen on its spine.

        1. Okay, he’s seriously less socialist. I also think I misunderstood some of his books when I first read them, because of my knee jerk anti communism back then and also because I was young and lacked history. For instance, I’m now convinced that Simak wrote They Walked Like Men against fiat currency.

          For the record, even with his odd ideological twitches, Simak is one of my favorite authors. I was actually trying to smack at Wells, whom I’ve come to loathe, and misfired. Sorry.

  8. (Sorry for being long-winded here.)

    Oh YES! I loved this post. It’s also been tremendous fun to read the comments. This reminds me of the essay written by Kris Kathryn Rusch years ago about “the barbarians at the gate.”

    I adore science fiction, grew up on it in the 80’s by reading from the local libraries, which, thank goodness, still had so much of the old stuff shelved with only some of new agenda stuff filtering in. It created a deep love, as did the fun and campy TV and movie science fiction starting with Star Wars, then Buck Rogers, the original Battlestar Galactica (not the new “Shoot them all and put them out of their misery” incarnation), and later stuff in both film and TV.

    But, as a reader, I found fewer and fewer SF books to buy. Finally, by the turn of the century, I pretty much stopped other than a handful of authors. I knew this wasn’t a reader issue, as so many I talked to who enjoyed the genre complained about the same thing. It had to be coming from the editors in charge of the gates. So, as a reader, I reluctantly shifted the majority of my reading to other genres, mostly romances and mystery cozies.

    The thing is, as a writer; I couldn’t write what I viewed as ‘SF depressing please-kill-me drivel’ to get through those gates. Just could not. I kept hoping for a swing towards the fun stuff I remember enjoying, yet the years kept going by without signs of hope.

    As a writer, I kept writing the kinds of stories I loved. Fun adventures, good (and yes, the kiss-of-death happy) endings, main characters who make mistakes, romance, fantastical settings, and a sense of hope. The type of stories I wished I could go out and buy. I knew I couldn’t sell them in the current climate, but the creative side of me didn’t care.

    I still remember a night four years ago in the Forward Motion Writers chat as a group of us were doing word sprints (writers actually writing while in chat. Now, that’s an amazing concept! 😛 ). I was literally crying while writing, sitting in a chatroom full of published writers, telling the others I knew there was no publishing market to sell my work, but I couldn’t stop writing. I was sunk, I knew it, but I just had to keep moving forward because I had to feed the writing part of me that had stories to tell.

    Now fast forward today. I’m glad I kept writing, no matter how heartbroken I was about it in the past. When the world of publishing changed, I was able to join in with a backlist of never seen work inspired by the old sense-of-wonder stories. The stories I thought would never see the light of day are now out there. I’m having the time of my life as a writer!

    I’m ecstatic as a reader, too. Suddenly I’m buying books in my favorite genre again! Not from the traditional gatekeepers, who keep putting out stuff I can’t stand. The works I’m buying from are put out by the authors themselves or the new small presses that have sprung up. I hope they keep putting the books out, too. There are other readers out there like me (and the commenters I see on this post) who are willing to spend money on this type of science fiction. The old gatekeepers can’t fight this rising tide!

    It’s a great time to be a reader AND a writer!

    1. J. A.
      You’re in HW. Also I’m completely with you. And it took me thirteen years to sell short stories and another four to sell novels. And if you’re going to ask, at one point I had sixty stories in circulation. They’ve sold since.

      On the other hand, you’re SO lucky you never conformed to publish. I’m having to unlearn so much sturm und drang.

  9. When you write the rules of this new society please remember
    Rule 4. There is no Rule 4

    Sometime in the late 1990s I noticed that almost all the books I liked (and reread) were published by Baen. It took me a while – I can be slow on the uptake – but eventually I realized the key difference: Baen books were (are) generally optimistic. Even – when squinted at sideways – Drakes’s Hammer’s Slammers.

    I’m glad the death of the incumbent publishers means there seems to be more of this sort of thing in the works. Now all I have to do is find the time to read (and perchance to write)

    1. I’m not writing rules. More of a manifesto. In the fullness of time we’ll find a member from NYC who’ll nail it to the foreh– er… doors of the big publishers.

          1. Nail it to another part of their anatomy – I’m thinking of one that they apparently have difficulty locating ….

  10. And yanno, I want to spend time with characters I actually like. Even though I’m relatively shy, I actually like a lot of people. Why should I spend my precious time with whingers I don’t even like? And in a society that has no redeeming features – not even the sex is good? Noir gets boring after a while.

    1. Pegged that one. The fascination with darkness has gotten mind bogglingly dull. The comic industry went through it’s ‘Dark Age’ in the late 80’s through the 90’s and the themes played holy havok with the industry. I think this is what’s happening with sci-fi and fantasy genres now.

      Everything is being ground down by existential nihilism, become flat and colourless, morose, cynical to the point where everyone wants to scream. There is actually a term for it I found: DarknessInducedAudienceApathy. A result of having equally unpleasant sorts on both sides of the story with no real redeeming qualities to either of them or the fight being so grey that tha audience has no idea who to root for, and frankly. can’t be bothered to care.

      This popped up in the cyberpunk noir writings and has spread like lice to everything it can get it’s hands on. and has trashed so many potentially good stories as a result.

      This might be part of the reason for the Fall of Sci-fi and Fantasy. GrimDark gets told aftera while. While dark tales have thier place, if the majority fo tales are dark, then things get depressing quickly

      and who want’s to read that aside from Emo-ttens or manic depressives? Seriously

      1. On a similar note, and recognizing that you have explained the phenomena that led to this:

        I used to enjoy BBC mysteries as a light escape while doing chores. Then came Midsomer Murders. Liked the leads, really liked the character of his wife. Unfortunately I kept finding myself thinking, ” I have never encounter so many disagreeable people. Why, oh why, didn’t the murderers start sooner and eliminate more of the people?” So I quit watching.

        1. YES. And part of this is what I call Kit Marlowe syndrome. The man was, in many ways better than Shakespeare at technique but he seemed to be good/bad blind. Or perhaps too sophisticated for his own good. ALL his characters were shades of grey. You didn’t know whom to root for, and in the end you just wanted them all dead, dead, dead.

          1. Yes! Root for the empty stage and empty page and then wonder why nobody comes to see or pays to read your work?

            1. Well, in Marlowe’s case he had enough blood, gore and sex to keep them looking. And he died young. But that’s why his work didn’t have the staying power of Shakespeare’s.

      2. I think part of the reason is that Publishing wants to be “meaningful” and they equate meaning and seriousness with being depressing. Also, I hate to say this, but most heads of houses and big editors these days are MUCH older than I.

        1. Meaningful. As the Sage of Butler (Can I nominate him for patron saint of this order? Would he be offended, or merely amused?) advised, remember: you are competing for beer money. But even better, your books should read well when the reader has been drinking beer.


        2. In publishing their ‘relevant’ and ‘arty’ stuff these publishers are driving away at least one prodigious book buyer.

          The daughter has Goth tendencies. She long ago concluded that the world is imperfect, and that that is its natural state. She has little patience for Emo. Why ring you hands and snivel in the corner when you know the joke and can laugh at yourselves?

          Her choice in entertainment reflects this. What pleasure is there to wallowing in the mire, if you can’t have the satisfaction of blowing some of it to hell?

          1. She might be amused by Voltaire, A Goth musician with a damned funny sense of humor that gleefully puts holes in The Goth and sci-fi set just fora giggle. He did a 4 song mini disk ‘banned on vulcan’ that pricks the Star Trek set just where it needs it.

    2. A lot of my early shorts are like that. I TRULY think it’s a sign of immaturity and of trying to be “deeper” when you don’t know how to. Though the fact I have depressive tendencies and kept getting rejected didn’t help.

      1. Immaturity, yes, and lacking the “Long View” that is the gift of age and the reason for the study of History.

        The present and near future almost always seem dire and to the callow The Past seems resolved and thereby un-threatening. It requires an effort to put yourself into the psyche of an American (or Englishman, Frenchman, German, Russian or any other nationality) on June 5, 1944 and look at the world — and near future — as it appeared to them that day. Or in the minds of the troops at Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Waterloo, the Fall of Constantinople … things tend to be less threatening in the rear-view mirror.

        The travails of the present are threatening because we don’t know how they will come out and lack the perspective to ride the swells of the present storms confident in our ability to surf the waves of History.

        1. One of the things that struck me in Heinlein’s bio was why he didn’t have children with his first wife, because of “the mess the world is in.” If he’d had children, they’d be about my dad’s age, which means they’d have lived in relative safety and prosperity to their eighties. That Heinlein — HEINLEIN — lacked that sort of faith in the future is staggering and tells us our troubles too are just part of the continuous human struggle. I think in part it is also what has tempted me to become more vocal. It is a struggle, civilizational death is always around the corner every generation, and d*mn it, not ON MY WATCH.

  11. Thank you! My husband and I have often discussed how enjoyable books are harder and harder to find, and how depressing SF (specifically) books seem to be, and how often they are self-hating. (I counter with GRRM in fantasy, though. ) i will definitely look for your books, although at first at the library – I see they have DARKSHIP THIEVES on the shelf. (sorry, we don’t have lot of funds to spare.)

    What you’ve been describing in the last few posts reminds me of the enormous blowup a few years back frequently called ‘race fail’ over a Patricia Wrede book. That was my first real clue of the enormous amount of group think going on in the field. Then there was a similar stink over something to do with Elizabeth Moon.

    1. Yep and yep and yep.

      As for the library, don’t worry. I spent year when it was food or books and I discovered a lot of wonderful writers in the library. The main reason I don’t borrow as much now is that my kids tend to take the books to read, and then I can’t find them and end up paying for them anyway.

      1. I caught some of that 2009 race wank storm since Elizabeth Bear is a friend of a friend and someone whose LJ I read but I had no idea it got quite so intense

        (Aside: “and was roundly castigated for calling black people lettuce” is a line that needs a story attached to it though).

        I will note that the general concept of trying to make sure your main characters are not all white, male, 1 each (or even white, female one each) is good. And that movie rule where you see whether there are 2 female characters who a) talk to each other and b) in doing so advance the plot is also good (and can if you want be extended to gays, blacks, esqimaux, squid-like aliens etc.).

        But like the guy says; not every book needs to genuflect towards these particular shiboleths and if you are mining (say) Norse mythology for your plot and characters then the chances of an African or a Chinese showing up has to be slim to none so why stretch it so that one does? Though I note that Dave Freer has managed it so it can be done enjoyably (and in a way that would undoubtedly also enrage any of the sensitive flowers who protest this kind of thing).

  12. It’s worth noting that the rent-a-mob – be they racefail or whore-on-wimmin are probably not book buyers – at least not of the kind of books we write and enjoy. So their input is nearly as valuable as say mine on French sf… Oddly hasn’t stopped the publishing establishment for lapping up every word and taking it as direction.

    Thank heavens for Baen or I would probably have been among the great unpublished.

    You know… if the major part of acquisition in publishing had really been about selling books and not about pleasing the editor’s fine sensibilities… someone would have worked out that books that Jim Baen tossed out to sink or swim (he did put resources into a few, but most new authors got that (and the same happens elsewhere – but they didn’t have the hill of ideological opposition from the book trade to climb. Everyone in it appears to have had a grudge against Jim’s perceived political stance and taken it out the authors) that actually somehow survived the process and sold enough to get bought again… would have outsold their pushed darlings 16 ways to breakfast with same effort, and they’d have been rushing to buy them. Not so. I reckon in the real ‘value as an indicator’ of possible sales of future books in an open market you could take the sales of Baen and multiply them by ten, and halve most of the big six.

  13. Y’a know, there’s something wrong when a computer chip manufacturer can put up an ad with a tiger and two figures in spacesuits dancing on a moonscape, pull back to show a buried Statue of Liberty (aka Planet of the Apes), and a set of Manhattan-style skyscrapers behind that — and toss up the slogan “Sponsors of Tomorrow” BUT SF writers aren’t allowed to be positive about technology?

    That sensawanda. Yeah. That’s what so many are missing. Thanks!

  14. “Over the last few years I’ve taken part in more than a dozen panels in science fiction conventions where the question came up “Why is there no sense of wonder in science fiction?””

    Seriously, do people really ask that? That’s very interesting to me. But it’s more than I can comment on in a comment box, so it’ll have to stay… just interesting, for now.

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