Whatever Happened to Science Fiction?

“I write in a couple different sub-genres of speculative fiction. Fantasy, science fiction, and historical fantasy to be precise.” So says a writer at Wicked and Tricksy, a new blog.

I guess I’m getting old and out of date. For me, speculative fiction has always meant science fiction that speculates. It has at least a minimal scientific basis, not necessarily hard science, but with a concern for social issues, technological developments, and the various ways that those might impact on individuals and cultures. That may be a bit more restrictive than necessary, but I’m not really in a writing or thinking mood, so this is shorthand for what should be a nice long blog post.

Speculative fiction, almost by definition, did not include fantasy elements. But more important, science fiction wasn’t a subgenre of anything. If we have to talk about subgenres, then speculative fiction was a subgenre of science fiction. No fantasy, historical or otherwise.

On a recent list of the ten most popular genres (don’t ask where it is, because I don’t remember), science fiction was absent. I already knew that sf isn’t exactly the most popular genre (maybe because too much of it requires the ability to read well, and to think), but I had no idea it wasn’t even low man on the totem pole. Somewhere under the pole, apparently. Maybe it’s that lowly popularity status that’s responsible for its becoming a subgenre lumped together with other subgenres with which it has absolutely nothing in common. Just a feeble niche shoved off into a corner and unable to defend itself.


12 thoughts on “Whatever Happened to Science Fiction?

  1. I think two factors are at the root of Sci-Fi’s low estimation in the masses:

    * The need for intelligent reading

    * The inclination to relate to new contexts and environments

    Of course, I’m a maverick who lives pretty far out on the fringe and my big concern is that more people who actually like Sci-Fi don’t like my favorite author, C. J. Cherryh.

    One example: she’s not on this list of 100 Top Sci-Fi books (even though she’s written over 60)

  2. Oddly, I’ve never read anything by Cherryh. I’ve always had the impression she wrote fantasy. I’ll have to check it out. (Time out, here.) Looking at her Amazon listings, most of them do seem to be fantasy, which I rarely read. I downloaded the sample of Deliverer, though.

    I read much less SF than I used to, sticking mostly to fact-based near-future stories. One of my favorite novels is David Brin’s Earth.

      1. I noticed that she has some very long series. The sample I downloaded made me feel as if I’d been dropped in the middle of a story. I guess she doesn’t bother with any backstory. I don’t generally go for series, but I might look up the first one some day. Have such a huge TBR pile I don’t know when I’d get to it.

  3. You wouldn’t know there’s a deficit of sci-fi from the writers groups I’ve attended. They are all dominated by sci-fi writers. But with the exception of a very few of them it’s all bad writing. Chicks in silver space suits. People driving machines that are hooked into their bodies. People with implants that make them super human.
    Supposedly it’s really hard to get sci-fi published because there are so many sci-fi writers and not much demand for it by readers. Hard to fathom, because you would think the writers are also readers of the genre, but apparently not.
    Interesting post, Catana.

  4. I agree that most of the non-professional SF is pretty bad. When I have time, I skim the new listings at Smashwords and it’s all very cliched stuff, most of which was outdated 40-50 years years ago. If a book doesn’t have ideas and complex, realistic characters, it won’t work for me, regardless of the genre. SF and fantasy seem to be a breeding ground for writers who think all they need is a plot.

  5. Well, that is bad news for me.

    I noticed several years ago that speculative science fiction started to disappear off the bookstore shelves and was replaced by, what I would call, fantasy fiction. Now, even zombie stories are called science fiction. Perhaps, sf gets a bad rep, because they lump so many things in one pile.

    I like speculative, fantasy and even zombie stories–but there has to be a story there, and not just another freaky reality.

    Often too, I think they make these science fiction movies with no writer in site. Just a director and some actors get together and dream up one slamming scene after another…boring. At the end of the day, what do you take away? Just visuals and noise.

    1. I read a little fantasy, but I avoid anything where the plot depends entirely on magical or super-powers. Love His Dark Materials. I’ve read LOTR, but skipped huge swathes of it. Good story, but Tolkien could have used a heavy editorial hand.

      Visuals and noise — yup, that’s about it for most SF movies. They’re fun, though. I admit to enjoying Wanted. Much prefer movies like Cypher, Fahrenheit, or Quiet Earth. A lot of SF movies are really a blend of SF and fantasy, like Reign of Fire. If they’re well done, they can be even more enjoyable than books because modern FX means there are almost no limits on visual creativity.

  6. A great series that fits under the “speculative” category (mixing sci-fi AND fantasy) is Robert Stikmanz’s Hidden Lands of Nod Series. It’s offbeat, quirky, intelligent writing. It’s easier to understand than some sci-fi books I’ve read. The characters are rich and developed. There’s five in the cycle but only three out right now. I really wish the other two were available!

    Here’s the web site if you want to check it out:


    It’s available on smashwords for like 4 bucks. I’m sad that Sci-Fi is so underrated!

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