Is SF Too Obsessed With Its History?

Illustration for article titled Is SF Too Obsessed With Its History?

Click to viewThe problem with science fiction is that it cares too much about the past. Or, at least, that's the argument being put forward by SF writer Ian Sales, who's growing more and more concerned about the reverence that SF fans have for "classic" SF that's possibly past its sell-by date. Ready to see some of your favorite SF authors put in their place? Check it out, below.Sales' problem with much of the science fiction often referred to as "touchstones" of the genre isn't necessarily with their quality - although he has problems with that as well - but literally their age, as he explains:

Readers new to the genre are not served well by recommendations to read Isaac Asimov, EE 'Doc' Smith, Robert Heinlein, or the like. Such fiction is no longer relevant, is often written with sensibilities offensive to modern readers, usually has painfully bad prose, and is mostly hard to find because it's out of print... holding up Foundation or Second Stage Lensman as good introductions to sf will no longer wash. They're historical documents. In those days, science fiction was a different place; they did things differently. And many "classics" of those days do not fare well when compared to modern works.

He accepts that such an opinion may be controversial ("I can hear howls of outrage across the tinterweb," he notes in the post), but he sticks to his guns, specifically pinpointing Asimov's "Nightfall" as an example of a particularly unworthy classic before concluding,

I don't think we should refuse to read old classic works, but we must recognise that they're historical documents. And add that caveat to any such recommendations or commentary. Further, modern sf readers shouldn't need to be aware of everything which has gone before, but modern sf writers certainly ought to.


Here's the thing, though: Surely he's obviously right? Not necessarily about the quality of earlier works, but if there's any genre that shouldn't be married to the idea of some untouchable canon of classic, must-read works, it has to be science fiction. There's still a lot of enjoyment and entertainment to be had from yesterday's visions of tomorrow, but once they become quaint and outdated, they fail at their original purpose - So why do fans still cling to them so tightly? Don't Look Back In Awe [It Doesn't Have To Be Right...]

Share This Story

Get our newsletter


One of the reasons I love the Blues is that loving one style will lead you to other styles. I started with Clapton and StevIe Ray, which led me to Freddie King, T-Bone Walker and Elmore James. From there I moved through east Texas to Louisiana blues and on to old-style Delta (Tampa Red, Son House) and followed them up the Mississippi through Memphis (adding arrangements), Kansas City (adding Jazz) and Chicago Blues(adding electricity). Each style was a mild evolution that led me backward and forward in time and all over the U.S. Science Fiction developed in similar leaps and explosions, but the pieces don't necessarily fit together as well. That's OK. You don't have to love Robert Johnson to be a Blues fan, but if you do, it's easier to see WHY the parts fit together, which makes it much easier to find new sounds to love.