[LMB] Old SF

Tony Zbaraschuk tonyz at eskimo.com
Sun Sep 27 20:15:23 BST 2020

On Sat, September 26, 2020 10:05 am, Howard Brazee wrote:
> I love to think of fiction as being eternal, but most isn’t.   And SF
> suffers a lot.   I re-read SF novels from my youth, and they show their
> age.
> But then I read non-SF novels from my youth and they show their age as
> well.

Most fiction drops from publication into the memory hole after a few
years, a decade or two at most.  Some stuff escapes that doom to be
reprinted; the ones that are reprinted generation after generation are
what we call the
'classics'.  (Sturgeon's Law applies to all genres, not just SF.)

> With SF, we have science and the dearth of any characters who aren’t
> white and male and straight and basically U.S. American.

One may, perhaps, note that for the first few decades the predominant
SF form was the short story, and if you're trying to get across a
scientific or fantastic idea you have to work within your space limits.
It's not at all easy to get multiple new ideas in fully realized form
into shorter fiction pieces.  (It can be done, but it's really not

> With non-SF we have women and blacks, but playing roles that women and
> blacks were supposed to have.

Also in SF (e.g., Crane's Japanese manservant in SKYLARK THREE); again,
some of this is deliberate narrative choice (leave the social structures
familiar so the reader's attention on the Idea in the story can be
maximized.)  That said, there probably is a lot more stuff with non-
standard social roles and backgrounds than we remember.  It's easy to
see (now) just how cardboard Wade, Darcy, and Morcot are in JW Campbell's
stories, or how New-York-Centric Asimov's early robot books mostly are,
but there's a lot more to the story than that.

One may also keep in mind that even authors who want to change the
world toward some goal may have limits placed on their storytelling
by what the editors, or the publishers, or the audience are willing to

> TV shows certainly are dated, as well as most movies.

Visually, if nothing else.

> There’s a fallacy to assume that we finally have things right, and that
> who we are is now is who we *really* are.   This applies to individuals,
> but it also applies to societies, including our fiction.

It's very easy to assume, and take pride in the assumption, that We are
Right and Enlightened as opposed to those blithering morons of the past,
but how many generations have felt that way, only to have the next
generation point out various issues.... it would, perhaps, be preliminary
to assume that we've somehow solved this problem.

Tony Zbaraschuk

Et vocavit Deus, "Fiat lux!"

More information about the Lois-Bujold mailing list