Yes, there is a world outside the Sad Puppies controversy — and here are a pair of good posts to remind you.
(1) In “Business Musings: Hidden Treasures”, Kristine Kathryn Rusch takes as her starting point the declining awareness of Andre Norton’s work, and spins it into a historical analysis of the changing availability of books to readers over the past four decades, with implications for bookstores, publishers, and libraries.
What happened with Andre Norton happened in a variety of ways to other older writers or writers’ estates. Copyright issues, draconian contracts, inept families running once-valuable estates, the impossibility of selling a book (for some of these writers) in the last two decades of the century caused a lot of beloved works to simply vanish.
If a writer’s work is impossible to get, then it’s impossible to become loved by a new generation.
That black hole, caused by the changes in bookselling and libraries from about 1979-2000 caused two generations to miss out on classic works of the genre. Not old moldy stuff that no one cares about, but really really good fiction that the readers would love if they only could get their hands on it.
It’s now up to us, the readers who grew up with some of this fiction, to revive it for a new generation. We need to ask for it. We need to get libraries to order it or make it available. We need to make websites devoted to older works. We need to give copies to younger readers.
The new world of publishing makes it possible for readers to find these works again. Readers just have to know these works exist and have to ask for them.
Then, when a publisher actually reprints some of these older works, we need to buy those works and give them to friends and family, and recommend those works on all of the reader sites.
We went through a few business cycles which caused an actual Dark Ages in literature. If we’re not careful, we will lose a part of our heritage that shouldn’t have gotten lost.
(2) On nerds of a feather, flock together, check out this two-part “Cyberpunks on the State of Science Fiction, Then and Now” with Rudy Rucker, Paul Di Filippo, Bruce Sterling and Pat Cadigan.
Another angle for changing SF from within is to start writing about a set of ideas that haven’t really been touched upon yet. That’s a true and hardcore kind of SF endeavor. It’s not easy. You have to get yourself to look at the present day world with new eyes—as if you’re a Martian. You pretty much want to forget about all the SF plots and futurist-type prognostications. In the same sense that your characters shouldn’t mirror characters in existing works, your ideas shouldn’t mirror futurist ideas that you might read in magazines.
A good rule of thumb here is that if most people believe something—then it’s wrong. Consider: a hundred years ago, the human race pretty much didn’t know jack shit about science or modern technology. A hundred years from now, just about every single bit of tech that we’re using today is going to be gone.What’s going to replace it? Anything you want. Make up the weirdest shit you can think of. Be optimistic. Why not a new force of nature? Why not aliens from the subdimensions? Why not telepathy with every single object that you see?
Pile on the bullshit and keep a straight face. As the immortal David Lee Roth said, “It’s not who wins or loses—it’s how good you look.” If you and your friends can make your books fun and quirky, then maybe the soggy, stodgy SF ship of state will change its course.
Paul Di Filippo
Rudy does a magnificent job of addressing this viewpoint. He speaks of self-publishing, slipping under the radar of mainstream, creating ezines, etc. I would also mention the great resource of the internet allowing writers to research and communicate beyond anything that has gone before. Imagine how the cyberpunk movement was conducted with paper fanzines! But he does not mention a few of the factors that are making the life of the SF writer so difficult. How to tackle these trends and issues is not something I have an easy answer to.
First is the very lack of gatekeepers and healthy elitist attitudes. The internet has “disintermediated” the hell out of a system that worked, in however flawed and biased a way, to produce the incredible canon of SF that we all cherish. It took Frank Herbert over twenty rejections to get Dune published. Would Herbert’s career have taken off better if he had self-pubbed it with no hassle? Maybe, maybe not (see below). The self-publishing movement, however valid and worthy in some cases, has also opened up the floodgates to a tsunami of crap. Amateurs ruin everything, I’m sorry. When asked if writing workshops discouraged fledgling writers, Flannery O’Connor said, “Not enough.” It’s just Gresham’s Law as applied to SF: bad fiction drives out the good. When presented by Amazon with a hundred new ebooks, 90% of which are shit, and one of which is Rudy’s and nine others of which are good stuff too, guess what the odds are of a random reader buying Rudy’s book, or one of the other nine?
I don’t think it’s “transgressive thinking” that solves your alleged problem there. Actually science fiction doesn’t have “inertia” now. It’s not stuck in place, it’s crumbling, disintegrating, like print media and book retail in general in most parts of the world.
Rigorous speculation isn’t in fashion now because science isn’t in fashion. You’re not gonna get a lot of “science” fiction when science is on the back foot in mass culture. People like product-development now, they don’t much like science — they like “technology,” by which they mostly mean commercialized digital technology.
I’ve been transgressive my whole life, not because I wanted to get in someone’s face but because there was always someone objecting to my being who I was in whatever context: e.g., a cyberpunk; a woman in a male-dominated field. Hell, in high school, I was the only girl in my physics class. That was 1970. I spent the first half of the school year just defending myself–and the teacher was the biggest jerk of all.