Has Elvis left the building? Is it time to pack up and go home? Is SF dead?
Not that I want to pack up, but a recent article in LOCUS really got me thinking.
I was reading the interview with Barry N. Malzberg in the recent October issue. He was talking about how science fiction has changed over the last century. His comment was "Science fiction has so infiltrated the culture that you don't need it any more. If you look at it as a familiarization of science and engineering for the larger culture - which is exactly what Hugo Gernsback said he wanted - it succeeded beyond any limit of his ability to envision."
That really made me sit back. Part of the appeal of these funky little stories in the old pulp magazines was that they were describing a foreign culture. SF was a weird sub-group. Most people had no conception of the inner workings of science and technology, and were completely inexperienced in projecting this into the realm of possibility. Now it's everywhere. It's in the local paper, it's on the cable channels: popular science documentaries, science shows.
We used to play this game: Ask someone if they like speculative fiction (usually they say no). Then ask them to list their favourite top ten movies. Invariably they end up listing something that has quite significant speculative fiction elements. The point is that it is so familiar that it has become invisible.
SF - and what becomes noteworthy in the eyes of reviewers (or editors) - becomes highly experimental work that is actually a high-art interpretation of the genre itself. Being part of the 'scene' goes hand in hand with encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, because a good SF story is just not enough anymore. It needs to somehow redefine something that is actually dwindling to non-existence.
Then there is the issue of form. Reading that same LOCUS issue, which was discussing some of the history of pulp, it really struck me that at one point this was the new thing. Has this form of fiction completely lost its relevance in this new world?
My wife recently flew back to Brisbane from Adelaide. The flight had maybe 400 people on-board. Blocked by the trolley, she had to walk through almost the entire length of the flight to find an available toilet. On the way she scanned the people to see what they were up to. In every single row there was at least one laptop and at least one person playing games on an iPhone. These are forms of entertainment that simply did not exist when pulp made its appearance. Of all those people she passed, two were reading a book. Two!
OK. Here is my provocation. Is SF - and the form of fiction in general - dead? What do you think? Do we all need to apply our imagination to neat little iPhone games instead?