Science fiction doldrums, or a sign of age….

…but doth not the appetite alter? a man loves the meat
in his youth that he cannot endure in his age.

Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing

When I was young– I think Gerald Ford was president– I was an omnivore for science-fiction books and movies. As a teenager I was known to read through entire sci-fi sections of local libraries, and demand more. I would read anything sci-fi, and watch almost anything that appeared to be science-fiction cinema or TV. In the process I read a lot of trashy sci-fi, along with classics many sci-fi fans today have never heard of (how many thirteen-year-olds nowadays have read through Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy? Just saying….), and watched a lot of turkey movies and TV shows, even Space 1999 and UFO, which, at the very least, sharpened my critical faculties.

Doubtless this hunger was driven (in part, at least) by the desert-like conditions of my natal culture, which revolved around westerns and country music. There is only so much Bonanza and Gunsmoke a youngster can watch before there’s a reaction. Perhaps an adolescent rebellion button was pushed, as well, since most of the people around me considered anything sci-fi to be (in the words of my father) “weird stuff”. You have to say it with a Texas accent to get the full flavor.

At the same, there was a genuine love the genre, and where good science-fiction could take me. Unlike my siblings, my imagination flew high and fast with Andre Norton, Heinlein and Asimov, just to name three out of so many. One hour of Star Trek— which I was mostly forbidden to watch in its first run, because it would “warp my brain” (another of my father’s declarations)– charged me like a battery. Even “Spock’s Brain”.

But, over the years, the voracious appetite faded. Doubtless this was inevitable– as we grow older we become more aware of what is good and what is bad, of what works and what doesn’t. But, for me, I seem to lost my ability to suspend judgment of a book I haven’t read. I have, in fact, become enormously picky.

The fact that the genre appears to be in the doldrums doesn’t help. When I go into a major bookstore or the book section of a large store like Target, I see shelf upon shelf of lookalike books– vampires, werewolves, undead, teenage girls with special powers, video game tie-in novels, and usually three or four space-opera series that feature some grim-faced person in a uniform on the cover, along with exploding starships. Everyone seems bent on creating endless imitations of The Hunger Games, or Divergent, or Starship Troopers (only with oodles of sex), or…. you get the picture.

Fantasy is even worse. It used to be that everyone tried to imitate Tolkien. Now everyone is trying to imitate George R. R. Martin. Or Twilight, God help us all (that alone could be a sign that our civilization is crumbling before our eyes).

There is good sci-fi out there– people like John Scalzi and Connie Willis often capture my attention. But they seem few and far between these days.

I still love the genre, but I nowadays find fewer and fewer things to get really excited about. I suggested that the genre is in the doldrums, but I have to admit that it could be, just as much, or as easily, me. For, like Benedick in Much Ado, I have to admit that my tastes, in my old age, may just be changing.

There is, in fact, some evidence of that. I have been seen reading Ragtime and The March by E. L. Doctorow. I just read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time ever. The one fiction series that has managed to capture and hold my interest in recent years has been Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series, in which I have a tremendous store of great writing.

There is even a rumor that I have a copy of Pride and Prejudice in the house.

In truth, I was never exclusively a reader of just science-fiction. I read The Thin Red Line at fourteen and War and Peace at sixteen. I have always loved Shakespeare, and I had a long John D. MacDonald period some years back. My focus, though, for a very long time, was on science-fiction and fantasy, and I’m beginning to suspect that I missed some good stuff. Belatedly, I am starting to redress the deficit.

I’m not giving up on fantasy and science-fiction, but I’m looking to balance out my fictional travels. And maybe I will find as much adventure in Jane Austen as in Robert Heinlein. Just with more tea and less powered-armor….

Lizzie Bennet in powered-armor…wait a minute….

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4 thoughts on “Science fiction doldrums, or a sign of age….”

  1. doug–it is a dark age for sci-fi, because marketing has taken over most every literary venture. in the way everything sci-fi imitates the big franchises, so now all mainstream topics are rip offs of 50 shades of something. there will be no real solution until things return to balance, when good writing is at a premium and safe-bet tropes are exposed as moronic. at least, that is my take, and it is one of the reasons i am working through my own sci-fi material–hoping it will find an audience of those who remember the golden years . . .

  2. Thanks, Jamie, it’s good to know it’s not just me. As far as mainstream literature goes, you’re right, the situation is just about as bad as with genre fiction, the whole traditional publishing industry is in hot pursuit of the safe and the marketable. If I am turning more to mainstream fiction for my reading, it’s not because mainstream is inherently better than genre; it’s just a largely unmined resource (for me), from which I still have to sift the tiny nuggets of goodness….

    Ironically, having said and meant everything in my post, I was at the library this weekend and stumbled across a copy of Andre Norton’s Beast Master’s Planet, which is a collection of both original Hosteen novels. I immediately checked it out. They don’t write them like this anymore– which was, of course, my point.

    Best of luck with your work in progress.

  3. I fell back in love with sci-fi after discovering Peter F Hamilton. No Grey sparkly vampires in sight I promise.

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