Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Language: A Geek's Genre - Science Fiction

Every so often someone predicts that the genre of science fiction is dead or dying. It's become so cliche to assume that science fiction is not relevant or interesting anymore that Salon has an article entitled Is Science Fiction Dying?. Yet far from being a polemic against modern sci-fi or another death knell for the genre it is instead an example of the science fiction fan's third favourite pastime.

The first is reading science fiction and the second is commenting or arguing over science fiction.

The third favourite pastime of science fiction fans is categorizing science fiction and making endless lists. In the article Paul Di Fillippo surveys some recent books that fall under several categories. Going down that list I've added a few more books to my "to eventually read" list.

Should you doubt that science fiction fans spend time categorizing and listing may I present a perfect example of the lengths to which fans will go. The Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide looks like it hasn't been updated in several years. That doesn't make it any less the resource though. Starting from lists of authors (over 3,200) it includes lists of themes, magazine, and more. There is the obligatory lists of movies and tv shows as well.

One of the real treasures is the science fiction timeline. Starting century by century, and then decade by decade there are long detailed lists to get one thinking and reading. Lists of the major books released, authors who were born or died, tv shows and movies from the decade, and more. Between the book lists and the key dates you have the details to much of the history of science fiction.

While short and succinct there are wonderful little details everywhere. Many of the entries for individual books released in a year have short tidbits underneath. Sometimes mentioning the themes and the ideas involved, other times talking about the authors, and other times just pointing something out you may not have known. Here are a few examples from the 1960s:

1961 Stanislaw Lem: "Solaris" (Poland: Panstwowe Wydawnictwo) Intelligent extraterrestrial ocean is metaphysically beyond the attempts of humans to fathom in this enigmatic novel, made into a superior Russian film {hotlink to be done}
1962 Philip K. Dick: "The Man in the High Castle" (New York: Putnam) Arguably the greatest alternate history ("parahistory) novel. Here, the Germans and Japanese occupy a balkanized America, having won World War II. In a book-within-the-book, a novelist writes about an alternate world where America had won World War II. This Hugo Award-winner was written with the aid of chance or synchronicity (with Dick casting the "I Ching") and it has a nuanced view of Eastern and Western cultures. A disturbing and yet strangely uplifting masterpiece. 
1970 Poul Anderson: "Tau Zero" (Garden City NY: Doubleday) The greatest novel based on Einstein's Theory of Relativity and a modern conception of cosmology. Finalist for 1970 Hugo Award for Best Novel
The Multitude of entries like these are enough to make one realize just how much great science fiction has been written. Even if the naysayers are correct and science fiction is dead or dying there is so much to read and enjoy and think about that it will never truly leave us.

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