Who Killed Science Fiction?
A.R. Yngve points to the posting of a one-shot fanzine from 1960 called Who Killed Science Fiction? which put the questions Why?, How? and What Do We Do About It? to genre authors and fans. Some choice quotes:
Robert A. Heinlein: “I don’t know what all the bitching is about. Twenty years ago we had three leading science fiction magazines, plus several marginal ones, period. Now we have three leading science fiction magazines-whose editors are always screaming for copy-plus several marginal ones…plus television, movies, radio, pocket books, anthologies, trade books, book clubs, foreign rights, and a wide open market in all the general magazines. What the hell do they want? An egg in their beer?”
Isaac Asimov: “Beginning in 1938 (with Campbell, of course) there was increasing stress on literary quality in stories. This was accelerated from 1950 on and at present the literary standard required by the better science fiction magazines is as high (and higher) than those required by the slicks. Good!”
Alfred Bester: “I don’t feel that magazine science fiction is dead, but I do believe that the public interest in science fiction, as we know it, is dwindling. The inexorable progress of life is responsible for this. The tremendous strides that science has made in the past decade fill the public with so much wonder and amazement that the headlines of the daily newspaper now provide what science fiction used to offer. Fiction has been supplanted by fact.”
Some more responses after the break…
Anthony Boucher: “Of course science fiction is not dead. It’s always been a small part of (particularly Anglo-American) literature, and doubtless it always will be. Whether we’ve succeeded in creating an economically satisfactory market for it as a specialized labeled category (comparable to the mystery or the western or the historical) is another question. The necessary converting of new readers once looked like a hopeful project; I doubt if much conversion is going on right now.”
Ray Bradbury: “I believe we’re in a period of transition, when science fiction, under that label, may vanish, to reappear in the guise of realistic fiction everywhere, as indicated above. I believe the Space Age itself, the beginning of it, might be responsible for this period of uncertainty we’re going through. But once we’ve assessed our goals, set up some ways to get where we want to go, established values, I see an influx of talent into science fiction from all sides. We need more good writers and writing. Ten writers, and there are about ten really excellent writers in the field, cannot do all the work. They need help.”
Marion Zimmer Bradley: “Science fiction is not dead, even in the magazines. It is being read, even the poor stuff which is passed out today. But it is perilously sick from malnutrition. Who is keeping it on this starvation diet? The writers. And a worse damned bunch of incompetents never lived. All of us…and I include myself in this indictment…are directly responsible for the state of science fiction; and if we want science fiction to boom again (and the time is ripe for such a boom as you never heard) it is going to be up to us.”
John W. Campbell, Jr.: “It isn’t science fiction that’s in trouble—it’s fantasy fiction!”
L. Sprague DeCamp: “…the audience has dwindled, mainly, I think, not because of anything wrong with the stories, but as a natural result of scientific progress. Stories of pure science fiction (that is, of things that might happen in the future) inevitably date as science catches up with them.”
Frank Kelly Freas: “Science fiction is dying of old age. Granted, we are currently enjoying a relatively productive (if mediocre) and respectable (i.e.-slightly fatigued) middle age—how can you stop getting older? In a very few years more, the loss of the elder generation is going to start being felt…then the present one will start dropping off. Oh, yes—there is a younger generation…ever notice how much smaller it is?”
Hugo Gernsback: “Throughout the years I have made my position clear about the decline of science fiction. The science fiction now in existence is no longer “science.” Usually the material consists of fairy tales.”
James E. Gunn: “We can never agree on more than a broad definition of science fiction, but perhaps we can agree on what constitutes the mainstream of science fiction and where we have wandered away from it. As a beginning, we must accept the thesis that the mainstream of science fiction is entertainment; and if science fiction is going to be popular, it must be popular entertainment. Whatever else science fiction is, it should be entertainment first and other things in addition, on other levels or other depths…Science fiction has been betrayed in many ways: by those who have sought to capitalize on its presumptive popularity and sought its least common denominator, by those who have underestimated the reading and viewing and listening public and the appeal and excitement of the drama of ideas, but also by those of us who should have known better. We have had our delusions of grandeur; we have committed the unpardonable sin of the storyteller—we have been dull. We have sought art for its own sake. Our primary function is to hold our audience and to add to it; we must never forget that.”
Check out the fanzine for many, many more good responses.
Filed under: Books
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