Someone has again scratched a pet peeve of mine, that old pseudo-literary bugbear “relevance.” As in, SF is losing it, and it better get some quick or else be declared “irrelevant.” This is a bit of an oversimplification of the essay by Jetse de Vries, Should SF Die? But it pretty much encapsulates my problem with the statements made therein:
My viewpoint is that SF is becoming increasingly irrelevant, and that lack of relevance can be attributed to developments and trends already mentioned in the points above, and SF’s unwillingness to really engage with the here-and-now.
We go from there, to a laundry list of SF’s faults, and ultimately ending at a conclusion pretty close to that of the Mundane SF movement. We end with the admonition that:
SF does handle urgent, near-future topics like climate change, pollution, environmental degradation, overpopulation, biodiversity loss and more. However, it almost exclusively shows how things will go from bad to worse to worst, and almost never comes up with the merest hint of a proposal to a solution.
Boil it down and it comes to the value judgement that SF has a proper purpose that amounts to something other than producing a good story well told. To which I say, bollocks. I think it comes from a deep-seated insecurity that dates from the primordial days of the pulps and continues to the present day, from people who work in the genre but are deeply embarrassed about doing so. This need to justify some perceived deficit or immaturity in the genre is behind the desire to say to all the literary snobs “this is important, it has a purpose!”
All of which makes me scratch my head and say WTF? I’m sure that other genres have their impulses to validate themselves, but in SF it seems particularly strident and, at times, pathologically arrogant. While Romance critics strive to point out, rightly, that their genre can have the same literary merit as any fiction, I’ve never heard anyone assert that Romance must try to save the world or die trying. Must a Horror novel be “relevant”? Is The Road a lesser novel because it offers no solutions? Is it less relevant, less deserving of literary attention?
While the post has some points, primarily about failures of vision on the racial and cultural front, and those can be ascribed to either endemic cultural prejudices (which infect all media and genres to some degree, and should probably be addressed in that context) or bad writing (which is just bad writing) which isn’t a SFnal problem, but a general literary and artistic one.
When it comes down to sales, it all depends on how you define SF. If you define it solely as stuff with SF on the spine, sales may be dropping. If you add in all the spillover into other genres; YA, Romance, Thriller, and even Literary fiction (see Michael Chabon), the news isn’t even close to dire.
So to answer the post’s question, Should SF die?
I’d like to see you try and kill it, it will kick your ass.