Course Correcting The Science Fiction Genre

Usually we post our own mad ravings in the rants category. But we think [Paolo Bacigalupi’s] take on the meandering focus of the Science Fiction genre worthy of the deviation. He discusses the course correction that happened in the 1980’s and makes a case that it’s time for another nudge in the right direction.

We’ve done our own extensive reading of the Sci-Fi that’s out there. And it’s not hard to agree that the pillars of the genre (Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke) feel dated. We remember the thrill of reading Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and other cyber-punk offerings with new enthusiasm. But we never really put it together that this was a course correction. The older novels were focused on forecasting the future of older technology, and as the digital world develop those predictions didn’t mirror the reality of “the future”.

So what about now? Do the Tessier-Ashpools secretly govern that majority of the planet from a lofty orbital platform? Is it time for another reboot? Of course there’s never one single pivot point for these things, but we think it’s already happening in novels like Ready Player One. We haven’t read [Paolo’s] award-winning book The Windup Girl (pictured above) yet but he thinks that biopunk may be one of the new directions for science fiction literature. What do you think?

[via BoingBoing]

41 thoughts on “Course Correcting The Science Fiction Genre

  1. If you want a believeable cource correction, read “Rainbows End” (2006) by Vernor Vinge. It gives an excelent feel for how we would feel coping with future technology, just as our parents / grandparents are trying to cope with ours. [His short story “True Names” is a good peak at what virtual reality is likely to be like.]

  2. I just finished Daemon and Freedom™ by Daniel Suarez. Daemon was just unreal especially since I was talking the AI/robotic car class online. Freedom™ was more political but there had to be an end game.

    I am glad he(Paolo Bacigalupi) did not get into the whole Singularity fad, just not my thing.

  3. I just don’t think biopunk is a big enough departure from cyberpunk.

    Body modifications aren’t anything new in cyberpunk. While biotechnology is FAR from (vaguely described) simple modification, it can never be anything more that just an elaboration on that literary element. The majority of the audience (even the seasoned reader) won’t notice anything new but more elaboration on how the tech works.

    The name “biopunk”, while a bit more descriptive, is ultimately also bit pretentious. It sounds too much like a buzzword to sell books and movies.

    In summary, biopunk seems to be a sub-genre of cyberpunk, and will simply be assimilated into future cyberpunk novels.

    Furthermore, this article can be summed up as “would you like to hear more about the science of bio-tech in your cyberpunk?” and we all said HELL YEAH!

  4. Ready Player 1 was a great book. I Read Neuromancer recently, and thought it was pretty funny when the main character was trafficking in like 3 MB of “hot RAM”…

    That being said, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books are probably my all time favorites even if they are a bit allegorical. Too bad the movie didn’t live up to it.

  5. The new sci fi has been around us for a while already: Alastair Reynolds, Charles Stross, Vernor Vinge, Neal Stephenson, Peter Hamilton.

    I highly recommend them. They rekindled my love for sci fi.

    1. Peter Hamilton creates some really complex universes that I find intriguing, though most of the resolutions are kind of Deus ex Machina.

      Still recommend checking him out.

  6. Peter F Hamilton has nailed a lot of the future changes already in his work, from climate change to mega mergers and total internet connectivity.
    His ‘Cyberfax’ creation described a lot of current and planned smartphone functionality.

  7. I ingest any and all sci-fi and I’m always up for something new.

    Side note: Funny how people don’t complain about a post being off-topic when it’s something they are interested in. ;)

  8. As far as the take on science fiction – seems a bit myopic. It depends on what you want. If you only want to look at short term, then limit self to cyberpunk, global warming, whatever. (And what sort of scientist you are.)

    Also misses out on some of the better SF writers, like Andre Norton. (Again – are you interested in SCIENCE fiction (e.g. Charles Sheffield’s McAndrew ) or in science FICTION.)

  9. Stopit. Stop renaming things that already exist under the pretense of it being a ‘new’ or ‘unique’ genre. Genetic modification has been done again and again by the classics and many authors since.

    It is cyberpunk. It fits the definition, and that’s where some of the first such stories and ideas came from. Calling it ‘biopunk’ doesn’t change this any more than changing the name of a bridge alters its weight capacity.

    I read the first few chapters, or whatever the ‘preview’ amount is on the Kindle. I couldn’t even finish it. The descriptions were so redundant and dragged on forever, and yet I stillcouldn’t picture what he had been describing for the previous page and a half.

    The world he describes sounds a whole lot like Gibson’s Sprawl world, except substitute the word ‘gene’ for ‘chip’ and ‘fruit’ for ‘deck’.

    1. can’t remember what book it was bat it was called “wetware” at some point too. Yep, everything old is new again. Actually, I guess it goes a whole lot further back than cyberpunk. I guess you could say H.G. Wells was doing it too in the Island of Dr. Moreau.

  10. That story was ripe for adornment with some amazon associates links. I think you missed an opportunity to earn some extra cash from all the readers using adblock (and the content scrapers).

  11. eh, just try looking in unexpected ways…try Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. Magic? check. Science fiction? check. Alternate world theory? check. It’s a mind blower.

  12. How about folks just write what they enjoy writing about? If others don’t read it, so what? I have verrrrryyy specific tastes in scifi, so a lot of scifi (to me) seems to be recycled memes/tropes. Another bag of tricks would be nice, but I also don’t think it would help the author’s voice to have to conform or pander to this new audience. Somewhat like the conversation (or my silence) when my wife went on and on about The Hunger Games and I (snickered to myself) told her great, that getting women into scifi is great. She figured out by the third episode of Tripods that THG was far from original or groundbreaking… Just a cycle of a new generation that is ignorant. Similar to folks that didn’t remember seeing tablets in 2003, that all have iPads now lol. So write what you like, there will be another, even more ignorant generation, to buy whatever ideas that happen to be recycled. :)

  13. Great book!
    I love the dual message, on one hand, please to ruin the world, on the other, don’t be squeamish about fixing it – and consider people to be a fixable problem.

  14. funny but the big difference I see between Asimov, Clarke, and the other classics and now is a sort of a return to fear and self loathing that was seen a lot in the books of HG Wells. I doubt that a book that shows a better future can be seen today as anything but naive.

  15. The 1970’s were a pretty “dry” time for science fiction. Star Trek was done, there wasn’t any SF on TV (at least not American TV). No big budget blockbuster SF movies since “2001”. There was a lot of junk published in “Analog” that I wouldn’t consider science fiction at all. One short story that for some reason has stuck in my head was about a boy born without arms or legs who dreams of being a circus performer. WTF is science fiction in that?

    By the end of the decade, Star Trek was going to get a new series, then along came Star Wars. It wasn’t really all *that* special. The story was a mish-mash of ripoffs from . But for some reason it got gobs of attention, people flocked to the theaters. The distributor for “The Wizard of Speed and Time” yanked it from theaters after about a week to make room for “Star Wars”. Paramount made one of the stupidest decisions ever – figuring “Star Wars” had sucked up all the possible demand for SF so they axed the new Trek series and (oh the inhumanity!) stretched one of their new series scripts into a movie. Should’ve just gone ahead with the series as planned.

    Somewhere in an alternate universe there must be that Trek series… where FOX wasn’t also idiotic mucking about with “Firefly” and canceling “Sliders”, “Space: Above and Beyond”. A universe where the networks never do stupid tings like only ordering 6 episodes of a series then only broadcasting four of them, in the wrong order, with the first one shown last! (That would be “Space Rangers”!) A universe where there’s a Science Fiction Channel – not SciFi or SyFy.

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