Thursday, March 31, 2016

Back to Basics

The cover of one of Jules Verne's early scientific
romances, The Voyages of Captain Hatteras
at the North Pole
, as published by
Pierre-Jules Hetzel in 1864 
Today, I came across this article by author Darren Beyer.

I can't begin to describe how sad it is to me that an article like this is even possible, though I confess it's not at all surprising - and perhaps Beyer isn't to be blamed.

Beyer is right that science-rooted, story and character driven SF has been around for a while, and even right that for some time now it has been something of a niche market. 

But the sad thing is that he seems oblivious to the work that came before Campbell - the works of the 20s, 30s and 40s - and even earlier if we count the speculative scientific romances of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells - that, while not scientifically accurate by modern standards, were as scientific as the authors could achieve.
Oh, sure, there was a pew pew pew element right from the beginning I suppose - though even the heat ray riddled Martian invasion imagined by Wells was conceived as a serious speculation as to just how horrible war could become.  Even there, recent developments suggest that pew pew pew may not have been so much fantastic fluff after all.  But even so: I don't think any reasonable person would say that Wells and Verne and Shelley were obscure niche interests...would they?

The thing is that these pre-Campell authors were working in the dark - they were starting from nothing and "logicking up" their visions of the future from what they saw at the Worlds Fair or in Radio Magazine.  Sure, we wouldn't recognise some of their ideas as realistic today, but in many cases they seemed realistic at the time.  And many fo the "scientifiction" stories were being published in perfectly mainstream serials of the sort that were so popular in the 20s and 30s, not a marginal "ghetto" by any means, even if the maturing of the genre in the 50s and 60s led to it becoming one.  Remember: Hugo Gernsback didn't attempt to take scientific romance into an obscure (not really) dedicated pulp magazine named Amazing Stories until 1926 - and he did so specifically because of the requests he was receiving from readers of his more general titles for "more of this sort of thing."

Sure, the early Amazing era SF came along with a healthy dose of Buck Rogers, John Carter and Flash Gordon - but no: "smart science fiction" isn't "an emerging sub-genre" at all. It's a return to first principles.

I'm glad that Beyer and Weir and other authors of their frame of mind are enthusiastic about bringing "scientifiction" back - making strong speculative science futures that can be of interest to a wider audience.  I think the market is ripe for it - interest in new technologies and enthusiasm for their potential to change our world is at a high point like it hasn't been for decades.

But if Beyer and Weir and the others dismiss Verne and Wells and their descendants who published in the early pulp era as mere fantasists I think they're doing themselves a deep disservice.


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