Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Has Science Fiction "Lost its Stones"?

Rick Remender and Tony Moore's Fear Agent is the best new comic on the shelves, and... it's ! Been awhile since that's happened. The comic speaks for itself, but Rick speaks, too, in an interview at ComicBookResources:

Let's not mince words-- science fiction has lost its stones. For me the high water mark of sci-fi was in the 1950's. Back then all of pop culture was obsessed with the genre. The communists had reignited our xenophobia and science fiction exploited and mirrored that fear. Monsters from Mars, mutants, killer robots and giants were locked in a constant struggle with lantern-jawed American spacemen in rickety rocket ships. They were the rough and tumble men who fought World War II, and these aliens were the next threat to be dealt with. They explored unknown worlds kept alive by two vacuum hoses feeding life-giving oxygen into their dome-shaped glass helmets.

As the decades passed, sci-fi became so interested in explaining how it could all really happen that it stopped giving us those fun, balls-to-wall, exciting stories. Instead, it became the stomping ground of nerds who would rather know exactly how the warp engines actually work than have high adventure. They focused on trade federations and on the intricacies and politics of alien worlds. However, when done right, this offered us a momentary reflection on our own society, but it wasn't very fun. They took away the tooth and grit and made it sterile. Though in some circles 'Star Wars' and 'Star Trek' are loved by people whose love of the genre allows them to overlook their lowered expectations, sci-fi has long since lost the collective mainstream conscience and it lost me.

Despite my love of Fear Agent, I'm not sure I agree with Remender. SF could definitely do with a shot in the arm of pure, uncut pulp, but why lose the hard elements (how things actually work), or the character/soap stuff (Star Trek) in the process? I'd like to see SF that has matured to the point that it's not ashamed of any periods in its past -- a literature that could draw equally on Wally Wood, Gene Rodenberry, or Richard Morgan; Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, or Kelly Link.

"Everything is good," is probably a naive formulation -- and sure, not every story can be all things to all people (a narrower focus can deliver a more powerful dose of what certain readers crave) -- but I am starting to see the emergence of the sort of fiction I mean. David Moles' Planet of the Amazon Women takes one of the pulpiest of pulp tropes and polishes it up with a bit of far-out extrapolation, and the kind of thoughtful characterization that once was associated exclusively with literary fiction. Benjamin Rosenbaum's Biographical Notes to ‘A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes’ manages to be alternate history, science fiction, fantasy, and metafiction, all without sacrificing a sense of pulse-pounding, pulp-style adventure. And, I suspect, Fear Agent itself will come to deliver everything SF can, including social and political situations relevant to the real world, plausible (or at least internally consistent) explanations of how things work, and the sort of nuanced characterization not generally found in the SF of fifty years ago.


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