The Curse of Science Fiction
Some friends of mine recently restarted Michael Moorcock’s classic SF magazine ‘New Worlds’ as an online subscription mag, and encountered the usual prejudices that seem to bedevil SF literature. They commissioned work from a number of authors (including, rather bravely I thought, me, with a new story called ‘OFF’) but are struggling to hit the target figures which will allow them to continue. Small independents have little clout against the might of the soft SF juggernaut (read ‘kiddie-friendly films) from Hollywood. You can however get each issue for a few pence here.
While many would regard SF as having its golden era in the 1960s and 1970s, there’s a ton of terrific SF being written today, but it’s fighting to find audiences who prefer to watch their SF in watered-down formats on TV and in films.
But literary SF remains the motherlode – a place where ideas can be richly expounded and a sense of galaxy-spanning otherness created. As a child I loathed ‘Star Trek’, which simply felt like a retread of old SF concepts, mashed down to a juvenile level wherein the villains largely appear in a version of blackface and speak in absurd cod-Elizabethan declamatory prose. I don’t feel much different about TV SF now. Friends raved about ‘Battlestar Galactica’ but to me it felt like one idea – the old chestnut about the difference between fallible humans and ‘inhuman’ aliens – endlessly reworked.
Instead I grew up with the incredible outburst of paperback SF that appeared then, including Alfred Bester, JG Ballard, Arthur C Clarke, Brian Aldiss, Joe Haldeman, Ursula LeGuin and a hundred other wonderful writers who seemed something more treasurable than watching Californians in lycra self-consciously discussing big themes with forehead-people.
Iain Banks was one writer who bucked the UK decline by carefully drawing across his more mainstream readers into his other persona. But generally publishers don’t help readers by presenting SF as a closed world which has distinct demographic walls around it. I’ve always favoured the subversive approach of packaging good SF to look like mainstream speculative fiction – instead we usually get the restrictive images of spaceships and distant worlds, which suggests a lack of humanity – why not faces, as in other genres? ‘New Worlds’ and ‘Interzone’ are among the few not automatically using these tropes. Crime novels suffer from it too, endlessly using fences, moorlands and jetties – I’m one of the few authors at work who insists on putting my detectives on the cover.
Interzone magazine features around six stories an issue, along with some of the most perceptive reviews of SF books, films and media that I’ve ever read. They also monitor national press disdain for SF very amusingly, noting that the press feel now climate change is known to be happening, it should no longer be written off as mere SF. You can subscribe here. I think if you were keen to encourage new writing right now, though, ‘New Worlds’ would be worthy of your small change.