In Which Charles Stross Beats Science Fiction With A Big Shitty Stick

May 23rd, 2012 | researchmaterial

I like it when Charlie gets on a good rant.  This time, SF Signal asked him a question which was basically throwing raw meat to a cranky alligator:

Are SF writers "slacking off" or is science fiction still the genre of "big ideas"? If so, what authors are supplying these ideas for the next generation of scientists and engineers?

And off he goes.  You should really read the whole thing, but here’s the core of it:

…those people who are doing the "big visionary ideas about the future" SF are mostly doing so in a vacuum of critical appreciation. Greg Egan’s wonderful clockwork constructions out of the raw stuff of quantum mechanics, visualising entirely different types of universe, fall on the deaf ears of critics who are looking for depth of characterisation, and don’t realize that in his SF the structure of the universe is the character. On Hannu Rajaniemi’s brilliant "The Quantum Thief" — I have yet to see a single review that even notices the fact that this is the first hard SF novel to examine the impact of quantum cryptography on human society. (That’s a huge idea, but none of the reviewers even noticed it!) And there, over in a corner, is Bruce Sterling, blazing a lonely pioneering trail into the future. Chairman Bruce played out cyberpunk before most of us ever heard of it, invented the New Space Opera in "Schismatrix" (which looked as if nobody appreciated it for a couple of decades), co-wrote the most interesting hard-SF steampunk novel of all, and got into global climate change in the early 90s. He’s currently about ten years ahead of the curve. If SF was about big innovative visions, he’d need to build an extension to house all his Hugo awards.

So what’s at the root of this problem? Why are the innovative and rigorously extrapolated visions of the future so thin on the ground and so comprehensively ignored?

…We people of the SF-reading ghetto have stumbled blinking into the future, and our dirty little secret is that we don’t much like it…


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  1. You can find Warren on Twitter: @warrenellis