Science Fiction is Devouring Itself

I’m a lifelong fan of the science fiction genre. Novels, short stories, movies, art, comics… all of it. When I started writing fiction again a few years ago, most of the early stories I wrote were SF. My first published short story, “Remodel With Swan Parts,” was near-future SF.

For a while, that’s what I thought I wanted to focus on. I loved the way science fiction lets you invent some story element, whether it’s a social shift or a new piece of hardware technology, and use it to say something about where we are, where we’re headed. I wrote stories about genetic modification, artificial intelligence, space travel and colonization, alien contact. All kinds of stuff.

I’ve drifted away from writing SF, in favor of weird fantasy and horror. I never really thought about it, just started writing more of what felt right, and following my inspirations. This morning, though, listening to a podcast discussion about where SF came from and where it’s headed, I realized why the genre lost (for me) its sense of possibility, of limitless potential.

So much of the SF community, meaning established authors, reviewers, editors, and outspoken fans, seem to agree upon lists of things that are no longer acceptable to do in science fiction.

Don’t write about the “singularity,” because nobody really believes that any more. Brain uploads, robotic carriers for human intelligence… not gonna happen. Kurzweil’s a crackpot, right?

We really shouldn’t write any more stories about colonizing planets outside the solar system. It would take too long to travel there, would cost too much in terms of energy expenditure, so it’s not worth talking about.

Writing about artificial intelligence just shows a writer’s naivete. Who really believes we’ll ever understand the human brain sufficiently to model it? Of course it wouldn’t be possible to use computation to emulate a learning system.

The list goes on. Time travel. Free/clean/safe energy sources. Faster than light travel. Post-scarcity. Lately all the smart, outspoken people in SF fandom seems to turn up their noses at every technology that can’t be easily, directly extrapolated from what we currently know and understand. Sure, there are still a few of the old guard writing trans-galactic space opera, but none of the opinion leaders seem to take those people seriously. There are endless debates, in blogs, in podcasts, on panels at conventions, and everyeone seems to agree there’s a whole list of things that have been invalidated because “we just don’t believe that’s possible any more.”

I find this puzzlingly restrictive, and so unbelievably dull. I don’t want science fiction writers to stop writing stories that use a bit of handwaving.

An element of fantasy, a bit of “what if?” — what’s wrong with that?

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