Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Why Science Fiction Sucks the Big One: An Expository Essay

Good lord I hate science fiction.

I tried to keep an open mind, I really did, but the first sentence that goes a little something like "and then we ate some freeze-dried meatloaf" or "you walk through this portal to get to the next planet" and my mind just slams firmly shut in a stunning display of superiority and snobbery.

I guess my main beef with stupid science fiction is that the authors' imaginations are always so limited. Space travel quickly becomes a bore: the aliens always look vaguely like humans, but maybe their skin is green, or their craniums are disproportionately large (as if all intelligent creatures are humanoid by default!); travel is quick, but somehow it's always done by a variation on the theme of rocket ship which is totally improbable (we move everything else virtually, or by fiber optics, but somehow for outer space, we like to travel by tin can); humans invariably start colonizing other planets, which are always conveniently similar to earth, even their atmospheres are amazingly not a problem for human lungs.

You can usually tell what decade a sci-fi story was written in. In the 70s, writers apparently believed that in the future, even centuries or millennia into the future, there would still be disco, but this disco would just have a lot more lasers and holograms to it, and the platform shoes would double as moon boots.


But science-fiction writers appear to be even less able to imagine the future than the average cat. In the eighteenth century, science fiction consisted of: we travel to places quite quickly with our new hover-horses, and we wear hoop skirts with many pockets in them, convenient for storing our super-cool gadgets, like the combination garlic press\candle stick that comes in handy ever so often and we have no idea how people used to live without them, and a loaf of bread costs a whole 90 cents these days! Science fiction today is pretty much the same crap, with different hover crafts, and slightly different gadgets, but never different by much, and slightly different spellings, like putting a K where a C belonged.


Science fiction writers seem to only be able to predict, say, the next 20 minutes or so. I just finished reading Snow Crash, for example, which was a pretty decent read, except the entire novel was discredited for me by its constant referral to videotape. I mean, this story was written in 1992, which means that videotape was obsolete about 46 days after publication. How can I possibly envision this future when I already know that tape is a relic of the past?


It's painful for me to read this crap. It's also painful that this stuff is labeled 'science fiction'. Better possible names for the genre:

stunted imaginations
nerd alert!
books that will make fools of their authors about 30 minutes after they're published

God I hate science fiction. of my all-time favourite books is The Handmaid's Tale, which seems misplaced to me in the science fiction section, but there it is. What's the difference?

Well, for one thing, it doesn't emphasize silver parachute pants as the major fashion statement of the year 3287. Gadget talk is kept to a minimum. The usual trappings that only serve to stem and date an author are cast aside for what's really interesting about the future - I mean, who cares how much storage my computer will have 15 minutes from now? Instead, Margaret Atwood tells us of the human experience, the psychology of the future, the moral implications of living in an ever-changing world. I was much, much less in love with Oryx and Crake. It hurts me to say that my favourite author may have fallen prey to the sci-fi formula that I find so repulsive.

But as I think about it, I realize I have also read and enjoyed a lot of Isaac Asimov's work. Normally, the merest mention of 'robot' would have me running for the hills, but Asimov has more in common with Atwood than you might first think. While she writes about human morality (or lack thereof), he writes about machine morality (or lack thereof). These are equally compelling when done right, and equally appalling when done wrong, which it so, so often is.

Dan Simmons, I am sorry to say, you are a moron. Your "frightening alien" seemed more to me like the recycling of "swamp thing", only with sharper fingers.


Douglas Coupland, I am not sorry to say, I seriously doubt that the future consists solely of people getting gayer. Why are all the men of your future nerdy metrosexuals?


After you read a few of these books, you quickly get the impression that these guys live in mouldy basements with the same curling Star Wars posters on the wall, and tatty underwear in their drawers, and underused toothbrushes drying out by their sinks. Science Fiction is often paired with or synonymous with fantasy, which is ironic, isn't it? I mean, what kind of fantasy is pretty much like reality, except with slightly smaller cellphones with slightly better reception?

Dream bigger, boys!

I know, I know, I'm being awfully hard on science fiction novels here.
If it makes you feel any better, there is one thing I hate more than reading science fiction, and that's watching it. George Lucas, you'd better know you're on my shit list too. I'm coming for you, baby.


Gloria said...

So glad to see someone else who feels the same way I do! I like The Handmaid's Tale too. I wouldn't really call it science fiction, but this is a look into a future which could be possible. That's what nails it for me. IMHO, good science fiction tells a story that MIGHT possibly happen. You might want to check out Lucifer's Hammer. It was written in the 70s, but the plot is what happens to a bunch of people when a huge comet slams into the Earth and they have to figure out how to survive. The theme of the novel is trying to survive, when pretty much all of today's modern conveniences are wiped out. And that includes medicine. I enjoy re-reading it every so often, because it's genuinely a good book. Plus, it sort of pounds down the observation that no matter how much money you have, if money ever becomes meaningless, that won't help you either.

And I really have to agree with you about the "humanoid" creatures who look like people, but they have green skin, or some sort of ugly mutation. My ex-boyfriend was really into Star Trek, which I thought was completely hokey. I much preferred the first three Star Wars movies (1977, etc.) and he wanted to know why I liked them so much. I don't think about them every day, but I just thought they were better written than any ST episode, and I gave a damn about the characters. Yes, they had tin can travel and what the hell was Chewbacca supposed to be? A BearWolf? Anyway, it was nice to read your essay. My ex was also a huge Firefly fan, and that was absolute torture. I watched all eleven episodes and can't tell you the plots of ANY of them. Plots were vague, and the characters unrelatable. And Malcolm was the wimpiest ship captain ever! He couldn't be zone manager of a Target in real life. Oh well. P.S. have you seen The Hunger Games and if so, what did you think of it?

Andrew said...

I hope you realise how ridiculous and unfair everything you just said was.

I'm not a fan of romance novels but you won't hear me claiming that its readers are the stereotypical bored housewives too old to pursue new romances so they chase delusions bound in paper. It's unfair and untrue.

Science fiction isn't about predicting the future. It's about humanity. How a new concept (regardless of its scientific validity) would affect humanity.

Also, I advise you change the font you use on this blog (if you still use it). I have perfect vision and I had to copy and paste this essay onto Microsoft Word to read it.

TheSimonoid said...

You Should read some books in the genre instead of watching the hammy TV shows and sub-par movies.

Philip K Dick, Arthur C Clarke, Peter Hamilton, Larry Niven, Kim Stanley Robinson and Frank Herbert spring to mind.

Go for Mid century 'Hard SF' its the golden age of the genre.

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