From what I’ve read science fiction as a genre is at a bit of a low ebb, which as a writer of science fiction is not the best news. On the other hand if my twitter feed is anything to go by erotic, romantic and historical fiction are more and more popular (or to hit the real jackpot; erotic, romantic, historical fiction).
One piece of science fiction that has done well recently is ‘The Martian’. I saw the film last week and read the book a few months ago. Both have been successful and I would guess have been seen and read by people who are not devotees of the genre.
When I look at the above I start to ask why? As a writer of science fiction, I also read a lot of science fiction (despite my wife trying to persuade me to read a wider range of books – and yes I know she’s right). And most of what I read is about wars of one sort or another, either between humans or between aliens and humans. Now I know, generally, at the base of any good story you need conflict and what could provide more conflict than wars, invasions etc. I just wonder at a time when the world is once again in a scary and uncertain place, more so than it was ten years ago (or at least it seems that way to me) and the future seems less certain, that readers don’t want to be confronted with the same in the books they choose to buy. Perhaps, they want a bit more escapism from the current realities of life? Maybe that’s, partially at least, why ‘The Martian’ has been successful. It’s a story of one man’s determination and battle to survive but not in a war situation. He and everyone else are working together for a successful outcome, including two nations (USA and China) who are in competition with each other.
So, when I ask ‘science fiction writers – must try harder?’ I mean that we have to rely less on wars, battles and fighting to be the cornerstones of our works. It’s not that they can’t be there, it’s that the wars, battles and fighting should not only be what the stories are about. The stories need to work harder than that, be more than that, if they are to appeal to wider modern audiences. For me the best science fiction does that. Asimov in the foundation and Empire series achieved that. Also, in the last year or two I have read most of the work of Michael R Hicks and the Kreelan Empire series. They deal with a violent marshal culture of an alien race and the conflict between them and humans. And yes there are battles, there is war and fighting. But where it works for me, is that it goes beyond that, delving deep into the lives, history and culture of those aliens, explaining why they are as they are.
So perhaps, it is a wake-up call for the writers of science fiction to try harder when it comes to engaging with a wider reading audience. Oh, and I include myself in the ‘must try harder’ bracket.
As always comment are welcome.