Over on the Shine Anthology's weblog, editor and writer Jetse de Vries has posted the deliberately provocative essay "Should SF Die?" Jetse covers the full range of issues facing the genre, including a lack of racial and ethnic diversity, how international SF is snubbed by a WASP-dominated genre, a general lack of readers, and a lack of imagination among today's SF writers.
I'm really looking forward to Jetse's new anthology of positive SF, and in general I support his calls for more positive SF. I differ with him in some regards (as I mentioned the other day, instead of placing SF's failures on a lack of positive answers to the world's problems, it is more likely the genre's negative outlook on life turns away readers). Still, I can't fault the goal he's pushing toward.
But his "Should SF Die" rant is simply too much. Yes, all of the issues Jetse addresses must be dealt with. But his words remind me of the mundane manifesto from a few years ago, and how that was also the answer to what ails SF. But then the mundane SF issue of Interzone came and went without any love from readers, and that was that.
The reason mundane SF disappeared quietly into the night is because it was merely an intellectual exercise. People debated the issue, threw angst left and right, dangled their philosophical thoughts proudly, and what happened next? Nothing. Because the stories produced under this manifesto failed to stir readers.
Stories are what matter first and foremost in any writing genre, and no amount of intellectual debate can ever change this. No one sits around bemoaning what is wrong with the fantasy genre, or saying that fantasies could be even more successful if only they were more relevant to today's lives and/or provided the answers people need. Instead, fantasy authors produce the best fantasies they can, and readers either embrace the stories or they don't. If SF wants to have a future, it must do the same. The genre must embrace works by writers from all parts of the world, and embrace new types of stories, and embrace new readers by giving them exciting stories they can't find anywhere else.
I agree it's a problem when SF writers avoid writing about today's issues, and that the imaginations of genre writers are often limited. But the answer isn't more talk about the problem. The answer is for authors to write stories which address these concerns. For editors and publishers to publish stories without regard to a narrow WASP outlook on life. And for we as a genre to put up, or shut the hell up!
If we write exciting SF stories relevant to a multi-cultural and ever-changing world, the readers will come. If we don't, then the genre dies. And no amount of intellectual back and forth will ever change this basic fact.
So I look forward to Jetse's anthology. I hope it contains some great stories. Because if it doesn't, all this debate will have mattered for nothing.