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The Lies SF Fans Tell Themselves by Guy Hasson
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Date: 01 May 2011

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The Lies SF Fans Tell Themselves

by Guy Hasson

Being an SF author means that I am, first of all, an SF fan.

I love SF. I always have. But the problem with being an SF fan for so long is that you come to realize that what was once true no longer is. Like many SF fans, I go to the store, find a new book (or ten), smell the pages, read the synopsis, read the first few pages, and see the wonderful and exciting picture on the cover. Yes, this is what I want! A book with the feeling like the one in the picture! Worlds unknown! Adventures! Please, book-store guy, may I have some more?

But the dream I buy in the bookstore is rarely fulfilled when reading the book. Even when the book is good and enjoyable and truly terrific, the dream I had when buying it and looking at the cover is rarely realized.

That is because there are lies I tell myself about the genre, lies we all tell ourselves. Here is a list of the lies we SF fans tell ourselves:

Lie #1: SF Is About Something New

Well, there's "new" and there's "New". Today's SF is new. Yesterday's SF was New.

Once upon a time, when SF was young, almost every book had a completely New experience. The images of the strange things that may yet be possible (a submarine, an elevator to the sky, spaceships, new life-forms, new civilizations, nanotechnology, etc.) provided a feast of newness. But the Newness was elsewhere: in the knowledge that every book may bring ideas and concepts that will challenge everything you know about your world.

SF books were rife with political, social, and philosophical ideas that challenged the reader's intellect and beliefs. They were New, and they challenged and threatened the reader's world.

That is the New of old.

Today, the new is almost exclusively found in new variations on old themes.

Back when SF was young, they didn't use variations on old themes to create classics; they created new themes. You may think that there are no more new ideas. But that's false. We just need to find them, as authors. And you need to want to demand them as readers.

Lie #2: The Best SF Challenges Us

There's "challenging" and then there's "Challenging".

Here's how you tell the difference. When you pick up a new book today, one you bought because you think you'll like, you're excited to find out what's in it. Once upon a time, when SF was new, when you picked up a new book, one you bought because you thought you'd like it, you were slightly frightened to find out what was in it.

SF books used to Challenge us by threatening our belief-systems, by thinking about the unthinkable, and by defying us to look at the world from a brave new perspective.

SF books today challenge us by being smart. And that's it.

We can change that. But to change it, we need to stop being scared of being challenged. In fact, we have to want it.

Can you do that? Do you want your favorite author to challenge your way of life, and perhaps to lead you to see something about it you never saw? Are you brave enough to read such a book? Are you brave enough to want to read such a book? Are you brave enough to want to read ten such books?

Lie #3: SF Is Relevant

There's relevant and then there's irrelevant.

SF used to be relevant. It used to be in the forefront of new opinion, new philosophies, and new thoughts. Books were political even if they didn't mention the day's politics. SF tackled social issues, by imagining them at their extreme, or by imagining how things would proceed if they went in a certain direction. Time was, the books didn't talk about dystopias (to name but one) just because the author thought of a new kind of dystopia; the books talked about dystopias to talk about today.

SF tackled global issues, being the first, for example, to tackle global warming, overpopulation, and so on. SF tackled political issues that were taboo, tackling sexual issues, morality and immorality, talking about a nuclear holocaust in the midst of the Cold War, and so on.

Not only did SF talk about hot-topic issues, it led the charge in many of them, tackling them ahead of their time, when they were not popular.

Not only did SF lead the charge, it influenced people. SF influenced its readers not only by planting new social and political ideas in their heads. SF influenced kids and teens by the sheer weight of its imagination. These kids then grew up knowing glorious things could happen, searching for a way to make these dreams real. Back then, the imagination of SF was about what the world could be and what we could be or do in that world.

Today's SF is almost never political, social, satirical, or biting. Not only that, but the imagination of SF is used to create variations on old themes rather than creating something we can imagine about the world and how to make it glorious.

I think we SF fans tell ourselves that SF is relevant simply because we don't take the trouble to look at the difference between what exists today and what existed yesterday. We're carried away by the promise of glory in the picture on the cover, and then ignore the fact that the follow-through in the book itself does not consistently deliver on the cover's promise.

Lie #4: SF Is Understood Only By Me and a Few Others

Now that can't be a lie, can it? It's a fact, isn't it? It's a fact that SF genres are segregated, that most people don't read them, don't understand them, and don't want to read them. It's a fact that there are certain good people who read more and more SF, and then there are the square people who don't touch it and don't get it.

Sure, that's true. But there's a problem with that.

The problem is that almost all children's stories are SF or fantasy in some way. All kids understand SF and fantasy, they live it, they breathe it, they know it and understand it. Every. Single. Kid.

Well, if all kids get it, why is SF segregated? It's true that many grownups shun imagination, and don't want to peer too much into some fantastic or imaginary or futuristic world, and would rather keep living and thinking about their drab lives. But could it be that we have a part in that? Could it be that SF books are no longer written for everyone, but only for those in the know? Could it be that we no longer write books to bring in the normal people, but only for ourselves, who already have prior knowledge of the worlds, the fantasies, the characters, and the genres?

Everyone used to get SF. Why don't they get it now?

In Conclusion

I think it's important to face the lies we tell ourselves. Especially as SF fans, we shouldn't fear things that threaten our belief systems. We should welcome them. At the very least, they'll make us think and reevaluate. It's what SF is all about, after all. Isn't it?

About the Author:

Guy Hasson is an Israeli writer, playwright, and filmmaker. His fiction is predominantly written in English, whilst his stage and film work is written in Hebrew. He is the author of two books published in Israel—a short story collection and a short novel—and he wrote and directed the science fiction feature film Heart of Stone in 2008. He is also a two-time winner of the Israeli Geffen Award for science fiction short stories.

The Lies SF Fans Tell Themselves © Guy Hasson, May 2011.


Our Readers Respond

From: Benjamin:
This seems to me to be a selective way of viewing the history of SF. After all, for every Samuel R. Delany or Harlan Ellison, there were a dozen writers of pulp adventure and wish-fulfilling entertainment. We just don't tend to remember the second rate authors. Furthermore, there are plenty of challenging, original authors still writing if you look. The work of Ian McDonald, Paolo Bacigalupi or Paul McAuley are as fresh, challenging, provacative, and original as anything in the Golden age of SF. In a few decades, all the schlock of today will be forgotten, and the classics will remain behind. Someone will undoubtedly compare these classics to the popular works of that day and conclude that SF has gone downhill; this is the danger of comparing history to the present.

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