The Decline and Fall of Science Fiction

Newsgroup post, August 23, 2006:

A while back I agreed to be an award judge again. This is a stupid thing I keep doing — I don’t really think awards are a good thing, I can’t really afford the time, but somehow it’s so flattering to be asked that I keep agreeing.

In this case, I’m one of a panel of judges reading five nominees and choosing one as the winner. They’re all supposed to be science fiction.

So I read them. Well, some of them; I admit to not finishing all five, which I excuse by saying that if I don’t want to finish a book, it hardly deserves to win an award, does it?

Of the five, only two were actually fun to read.

The others were a slog, all of them over-long, with long, slow stretches and not much in the way of excitement. One’s more or less a near-future thriller that alas, isn’t thrilling. The other two are solidly SF, with all the stefnal accoutrements, but just didn’t appeal to me at all.

Of the two I enjoyed, one’s only SF by courtesy; it takes a standard dark fantasy trope and treats it as a scientifically-explainable secret history, rather than as supernatural.

Of the two I enjoyed, one is slickly written, nicely crafted, but didn’t really engage me emotionally very much. The other’s prose is charming, but a bit clunky at times, and some of the science and setting stuff is pretty absurd.

Both have fairly weak story structure, with oddly flat and predictable endings.

None of the five have vivid characters or genuinely exciting action or wonderful, mind-bending ideas.

If this is the best the genre has to show these days, no wonder SF sales are down and fantasy is eating its lunch.

Addendum, May 2, 2017: I don’t know whether this would describe the state of SF now, but it did seem to in 2006. I have no idea what’s happening in SF right now; I’m years behind on my reading.

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