I am a huge science fiction nerd and have been since I was a small boy. Apparently we nerds are growing in number around the world, at least in the realm of e-book sales. In a recent Wired Magazine article by Graeme McMillan, the big publishing houses are taking notice. It appears that with the success of science fiction in television (The Walking Dead, Falling Skies, Battlestar Galactica) and the fact that science fiction/fantasy films are the biggest of blockbusters these days (Man of Steel, Iron Man 3), novels of this genre are more popular than ever, and the geeks are coming out of the woodwork.
But what is causing this sudden influx of people who might not be fanboys like me who happen to like science fiction? It seems to be a cultural thing (at least in the United States) that is taking over the entertainment marketplace. Adam Hadhazy over at Space.com will give a very lengthy answer, but it all boils down to the fact that this kind of fiction tends to rise up in tough economic times…or maybe not.
Here are some reasons I think it is so popular right now, and will continue to grow in popularity.
Science Fiction is poignant. Science fiction is the one genre that allows the writer to explore an incredibly wide range of topics from what it means to be a human being to current politics to more controversial issues. All of these issues can be discussed in a science fiction format without stepping on toes because, after all, these are aliens or future events we are reading about and not real life events. Right?
Look at The Hunger Games for example. Sure it’s a tale about teenage angst and it’s a love story and it’s a lot of other things, but it can be seen as a statement about the current feeling that some people have in the United States about the working poor and about the idea that possibly the one percenters are the ones calling all the shots. One could make a very strong case that the novel is an extreme representation of what happens when a wealthy elite control every moment of the lives of the masses or one could make the case that it represents Hollywood’s pull and influence on how the world sees us (if the districts are the masses and the people of Panem represent the wealthy elite/Hollywood). I’m not sure if Suzanne Collins intended these interpretations, but she has managed to write a science fiction story that is not only engaging on a primal level but is capable of being analyzed for more lofty messages than simply being a teen pop novel.
Science fiction also is limitless. It is the one genre which is able to stretch the imagination to its furthest edges, limited only by what we know about science and what we can only speculate. No one has invented warp travel, but people have sure theorized about it. I am currently writing a book about a man pulled out of his timeline along with a younger and older version of himself and then placed in a replica of his home town on a desert planet populated with pseudo-clone robots who look like the people he knows as part of some grand alien experiment gone wrong…all to make a statement about the poor choices we make in life and how they can shape who we are.
Science fiction is also inspiring. Look at how much tech has been inspired by science fiction: the cell phone, nuclear fusion, computers, iPad, XBox Kinect. The list is nearly endless, but you can find a list of ten recent gadgets and their direct link to science fiction here. Who knows what kind of tech will be inspired by current science fiction? It would be weird to invent some kind of device in one of my novels and see it in reality later on in life.
Science fiction is exciting. Some of the best action stories came from science fiction concepts. Most people in the U.S. are in need of excitement for whatever reason, mostly because they are bored and because the information age has possibly made them feel like they have “seen it all”. Whatever the reason, the main complaint about a science fiction film heard by test audiences is “not enough action”. Pacing of science fiction films for example were much slower in the ’70’s (2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek the Motion Picture) versus today (Transformers, Oblivion, The Hunger Games). Best selling science fiction is no different, with all parts of the novel that do not further the action being cut out in favor of more peril, more action scenes and more cool technology that is beyond imagination.
What is your favorite current science fiction story or novel or other media? List it below, but make sure to list why you like it so much. Perhaps if enough people post about it, then we can get a random cross section of why it has become so popular. Until then, I’ll be writing my own science fiction novel.
3 thoughts on “Science Fiction Is On the Rise”
I feel like everyone is a science fiction nerd at heart to some degree. There are those of us who love science fiction and those who just haven’t discovered it yet. There seems to be a very fixed image in a lot of minds of what science fiction is or must be but the genre spreads far and wide over so much subject matter. I’ve met a fair number of people who totally dismiss scifi without realizing that half of the tv they love falls into exactly that bracket. I often find that it takes a good cross-over book or show to turn the no believers. I have a friend who read a lot of military fiction and turned his nose up at my scifi collection until I pointed him in the direction of some good military scifi, now he’s all about it. I recommended Casualties of War by Bennett R. Coles. That book is just fantastic science fiction writing that I think could convert just about anyone to science fiction. That has been my most common recommendation this year by far so I’ll say it again. Go get this book, you won;t be able to put it down. http://www.bennettrcoles.com/works/casualties-of-war
Fave sci fi books/series at the moment (i.e. ones I’ve finished recently, they may have been out a while…) –
Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. First two are great. Last of the trilogy is good, but lost steam towards then end (reliance on action rather than plot). Some high concept (albeit unoriginal in many cases) ideas but backed by incredibly solid characters and witty dialogue. Like reading a Joss Whedon TV show. One done on a high budget.
John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. Again, not highly original but so easy to read and the action flew along and moved the story along. Found the perspective intriguing, filled with the cynicism of a long life but the wonder of being young again. Plus some crazy alien ideas. Second one (Ghost Brigade) not so good, last one (The Last Colony) back to form.
Lives of Tao. Sci Fi meets Bourne Identity. In a good way. Again, a book that puts story and characters first, the action lifting it up.
Peter Hamilton’s Great North Road. Bit long winded in usual Hamilton style with far too many characters, but some actual originality in the story.
The Martian by Andy Weir. More Sci than Fi, but simply a damn good read. First time loud out funny has been true for me in a long time.
My worry is some books are starting this trend of ‘more action’ in place of actual plot. When its integral to then story, its fine. I love great action scenes as much as the next person. But there is a worrying trend, like the movies, to just place action in as something to fill up space.
Take the Expanse trilogy by James S. A. Corey I mentioned above as an example. First up, two great sci fi books. High concept stuff, witty and engaging dialogue and packed with action – but action that is integral to the story. By this I mean that the action is a way of moving the story forward in an exciting way. But the third book was comparatively disappointing (that said, it was still hugely enjoyable), and mainly because of the last third of the book. By around 60-70% the story was done, but the remainder is padded out with a huge action sequence that seems to exist simply to fill the book out. On the plus side its a very well written sequence with some great character moments, but it serves no purpose to the story. Time and a place. IF it had been a couple of chapters, or the story had been revealed through the action (much like the first couple of books) then fine. But this had a filler feel to it.