Don't Look Back In Anger
There’s nothing wrong with old skool sf. There isn’t even anything wrong with old-fashioned Star Wars style sf, if that’s what floats your boat. But if that’s all science fiction has to offer, then it will no longer be a vital genre: it will have become a museum of taxonomy. Because retreating from the present into the familiar comfort of the past means giving up on something that makes science fiction distinctive. It means no longer dealing with the shock of the new, no more wild extrapolations or metaphorical constructs ripped from the bleeding edge of science and technology, an end to pushing trends to their limits, and explorations of the limits of what makes us human. Goodbye to all that; hello to a little cell that’s getting smaller by the minute, padded with worn-out tropes from some mythical Golden Age, inhabited by catatonics.
Science fiction isn’t going to win a new and wider audience by turning its back on the world and talking to itself. It has to engage. It has to produce novels that are part of the world’s conversation. Paul Cornell is right. If someone somewhere could write a definitely great populist but finely imagined science fiction novel, it would not only be a lovely thing in its own right; it would, like a supernova, make the science fiction galaxy more visible. But I’d go further. One singular novel, or one lone author, is in danger of being traduced by the too-good-to-be-science-fiction brigade. If we’re going to get our mojo back, we need a shelfload of good books that connect the present with fabulous futures, weird worlds, and even weirder ideas made as real and plausible as any armchair.
So if you’re a writer, write from the heart as well as from the mind. Aim for an audience if you like, but know this: at best you’re going to hit nothing more than a temporary, here-and-gone demographic. Wouldn’t it be better to try to write the book that means more to you than any other book? You’ll probably fail. But you can always try again, and fail better. And, dear reader: buy books. Tell people about the books you like. Spread the word. Behave like you have found the best and finest secret in the world. And who knows? Perhaps you have.