Same Old War, New Twist

April 6th, 2006 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

Ron Hogan of GalleyCat is taking a deeper look at science fiction and fantasy. After this week’s column in Publisher’s Weekly (also featuring a column by the inestimable Gwenda Bond), Ron continues to explore the idea of science fiction, reviews, and respect.

We will forgive you if you find that many of the pro and con arguments of reviewing science fiction in the New York Times sound familiar. Substitute “romance” for “science fiction”, or insert the word “mystery”, and you’ll realize it’s another phase in the genre fiction wars.

Only…only this time, genre fiction has advanced the field. The New York Times has added a regular science fiction column to its hallowed pages. Needless to say, the notion wasn’t well-received. By the science fiction community. Who felt the columnist, Dave Itzkoff, wasn’t, well, one of them. Possibly because he posed a key question: “Why,” he asked, “does contemporary science fiction have to be so geeky?”

He dissed our genre, you can hear them saying (much in the way that any criticism of romance is met with anger). Genre fans, by and large, do not take well to frank comments from within the ranks. It is almost scary how the reactions of industry insiders sound so familiar.

Jaime Levine, a senior editor at Warner Aspect, says it was unfair of the columnist to criticize an entire genre based on the shortcomings of one book. “There are always going to be people in science fiction who are so enamored of the science that they lose sight of their story and their characters, but science fiction has become so much deeper and so much more interesting than it used to be,” she says. “If you look at some of the old dystopian novels, like Brave New World, those were much colder than current dystopias, like Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, which have so much more personality to them, and characters that are much more developed.”

Not surprisingly, John Scalzi takes Itzkoff’s question seriously:

The question is not why science fiction is so geeky — really, that’s like asking why romance novels are so kissy — but why SF does only a so-so job at best at trying to convince people who have the equivalent of Star Trek communicators and 17 jukeboxes in their pockets via their cell phones and iPods that science fiction can speak to them.

File Under: The Business of Publishing

1 response so far ↓

  • James Aach // Apr 6, 2006 at 10:24 am

    Regarding the more general concept of how real science is portrayed within fiction, the online magazine covers this item extensively. (That includes my own essay on why good science and technology may be lacking in today’s novels.)