Bruce Sterling: “People don’t pay attention to novels”

The BBC has an interview with Bruce Sterling and, despite being a man with a new book to plug (which I’m about 0.25 of the way through reading, incidentally), he doesn’t have much faith in the power of science fiction novels to change the world, despite their greater modern relevance:

“People don’t pay attention to novels. The socially important parts of American communication are not taking part in novels. You can write them but they are not changing public discourse.

“You can also say that everybody in society has moved up a notch and everybody just wants the executive summary.”


Science fiction, he says, has as much relevance in today’s world of seemingly relentless scientific endeavour across many different fields as it did in the past when the perception of the pace of change was arguably slower.

He says: “Science fiction writers are not suffering from the pace of development. We’re suffering much less than stockbrokers and financiers from that pace of change.”

That makes a certain amount of sense; after all, an sf writer is trying to steer his imagination through the currents of the near future, while a stockbroker is trying to steer an intangible and evaporating block of digital money that in many respects doesn’t really exist at all… I know which job I’d rather have. 😉

6 thoughts on “Bruce Sterling: “People don’t pay attention to novels””

  1. Right, because Harry Potter, Eragon, Twilight, etc. have not changed public discourse at all. Not one bit. This is the first time I’ve ever seen him say something truly moronic. Maybe he’s just bitter because of the falling sales in SF…maybe he should write a fantasy novel :P.

  2. Do you want to explain these changes in public discourse that HP, Eragon and Twilight have wrought, SMD? I’m not seeing your point there, I’m afraid, but I’m sure you have one.

  3. It does seem as though Harry and Twilight have at least given every pundit (and, er, blogger) an opportunity to go on automatic pilot for at least a couple of column-inches.

    Arguably, a novel hasn’t had a great deal of short-term political or social impact since Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Dickens. OTOH, maybe novels have pretty long fuses. Look at all the early rocket scientists who were inspired by Wells and Verne.

    (Novels possibly replaced by all the many Star Trek viewers who became inventors and NASA engineers … hmmm … I may be making Bruce’s point for him.)

  4. Tom: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair certainly had lasting social impact, if not of the sort that Sinclair was aiming for….

  5. I’d completely forgotten The Jungle — thanks.

    Of course there’s this wingnut meme — “Going Galt,” thanks to the author of Atlas Shrugged.

    I forget which European socialist said that most of these so-called indispensable people would be better viewed as candidates for Douglas Adams’s “B” Ark.

    Not to pile on Bruce Sterling, but didn’t a friend and collaborator of his coin some word in some novel … a word we now use so often that we don’t even notice it anymore? (“Cyberspace,” that is. : )

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