I don’t know whether William Gillis wrote this little screed about the changing face of science fiction as a response or reaction to Jo Walton’s piece about the reading protocols of the genre, but it certainly serves as an interesting counterpoint to it. I like to read the viewpoints of smart readers coming from outside the loose tribe of fandom, because it enables us to see some of the stories we tell ourselves about the genre’s evolution in a different light:
… the modern age has given rise to a very distinguishable modern clique of SF authors interested in worlds with recognizable causal connections to our world. In a world deprived of anything more than an anemic NASA how we get there matters (or, alternatively, how it diverged). The other hallmark of the internet age is the density of the snarkiness, reference and speed of ideas — if Blade Runner signified the beginning of the shift away from abstraction with advertisements referencing real corporations, today’s authors plaster their prose with injokes. Rather than trying to abstract away, they embrace our inherent ties to the world as it is in order to milk a higher density out of our shared language. The internet has given everyone the sensation of having passing knowledge in every field, and modern SF authors are expected to be versed and deliver on many if not all fronts.
There simply isn’t the patience for limited-focus authors. And while I still heart Delany and Le Guin, I think this is a good thing. Nothing’s worse than sitting through a work full of intellectual spark on one front to find it dead on another. A great mathematics twist matched with a ridiculous carbon copy of the author’s culture transposed upon a ridiculously different environment. A finely constructed anthropological or psychological thesis with cliche and implausibly-portrayed tech.
Perhaps Gillis has hit upon the reason that the enthroned classics of the genre frequently fail to move new readers in the way they moved us when we discovered them… but having typed that out, it feels like a tautology. How about you – did the sf classics from before your time hold up to their reputations, or were they interesting in the way that archaeology is interesting?