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 The Decline of Science in SF
 Does the public know what Science Fiction is?
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The Jarillion

United Kingdom
18 Posts

Posted - 06/22/2007 :  17:52:47  Show Profile  Email Poster  Visit The Jarillion's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Obviously the blunt answer to my question is no. Most call STAR WARS science fiction. Flicking through SFX magazine they referred to the Dallas episode where the devil appeared as science fiction. The same magazine actually criticized programmes for including real science, and this is one of the UK's leading Sci-fi mags!

I don't believe that the definition has changed. The Oxford English dictionary still uses the old extrapolation of science terminology. The problem lies with the publics notion of what is possible and what is not. Often I find that the under 40s think of science fiction as a look rather than a genre. A wizard in space counts to them. SF means wierd stuff, but no understanding is applied to the underlying concepts.

When it comes to blame I see two prime suspects; Education and Entertainment technology. In the UK in the 1970s a new method of teaching English was experimented with. Children were taught to associate whole words with the sounds that came with them rather than the slower old fashioned method of phonics, giving each letter a sound so the child can decode the text. As a result many taught this way have literacy problems. Also there is a general agreement that standards are slipping generally. Leading Universities complain that A level passes in top grades at Maths are no longer a guarantee that a student at college can cope with a degree course. Technology in entertainment has at the same time steadily increased so that reading has an awful lot more to compete with, especially the computer game. Between the two a generation seems to be developing with a superficial attitude to the world in general, a dire situation for science and literature. For confirmation of my above statements, please look at who the country has been electing recently.

www.jarillion.com

specfiction

203 Posts

Posted - 06/23/2007 :  11:12:03  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
We couldn't be in greater agreement as to the statement of the problem: SF as a genre today has little to do with the "culture" of science. I don't think this was always the case. As you pointed out, looking up the definition of SF in the dictionary, or looking at what the public thought of SF at the time of Verne, Wells, and Clarke paints a very different picture than the one we see today. It just may be that people, in general, do not have a natural affinity for science. As Matt Young says in his book "No Sense of Obligation," a book about religion and science, "Many people feel comfortable believing that something is true simply because they believe it."

Marketing, at least in the US, has capitalized on that "truth." They have based a strategy for selling on people's "tendency" toward fantasy. The thing that puzzles me is why they bothered merging SF with Fantasy. They (publishers) could easily develop a market solely based on fantasy. Perhaps the strategy was to "bring along" much of the "already" existing SF market from the 50's through 70's. At this point literary SF is all but gone except for a few old timers. And again, as you point out, this reflects the trend against the culture of science in society.

I started this website from responses to my own book from prominent publishers and agents. The critique was not that the book was poorly written or that the story was bad, it was that it was too technical--too real. One prominent agent told me: "People who read SF don't want to learn anything."

That is why SFR has "tried" to promote what we think SF is, a genre that can, through intelligent speculation, both illuminate and entertain.


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Specfiction
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The Jarillion

United Kingdom
18 Posts

Posted - 06/23/2007 :  17:32:42  Show Profile  Email Poster  Visit The Jarillion's Homepage  Reply with Quote
I sometimes think that the problem can come down to faith versus reason. That makes me sound like I'm against religion, which is far from the truth. Good philosophy should be able to survive questioning though, and science and sci-fi are all about questions, and a spot of problem solving. We do seem to be seeing a lot of familiar ideas doing the rounds in popular fantasy at present. Vampires and other monsters behave much as the public anticipates them to in the media. Terry Pratchett manages to kick this trend, even using references to real science that are rare in popular space fantasy. On TV or in film though everything is archetypal in nature. A safe financial bet.

www.jarillion.com

Edited by - The Jarillion on 06/23/2007 17:33:54
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The Jarillion

United Kingdom
18 Posts

Posted - 07/02/2007 :  18:38:29  Show Profile  Email Poster  Visit The Jarillion's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Frequenting the odd low-brow site I am often horrified by the superficial nature of the general public, the number of people who judge a new film firstly by the quality of the toys made for it. This is a serious problem for science fiction as a certain chunk of the audience didn't really get the story in the first place, but their purchasing power is great enough to eliminate the bulk of SF media in favour of the fantasy which they cannot tell from Science fiction in the first place.

To me this leads to the conclusion that to achieve major financial success one must be unworthy of victory. In advertising I remember the point being made that more A group people would watch a game show than would view a documentary, even though the A's would be the majority group for the latter and a minority of those watching the former. There are of course a lot more game shows than documentaries. So what is to be advised? Should writers pander to the less sophisticated, or is it better to have nothing than something sullied?

www.jarillion.com
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specfiction

203 Posts

Posted - 07/03/2007 :  08:47:58  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
Just as a practical matter, I think you've hit on the key point. Success is measured by how many people "buy" something. As a reality proof, I started SFR. I wanted SFR to be a site that promoted "excellent" written speculative fiction by new authors rather than the "least common denominator" stuff you see in most places because I think that excellent, creative written Speculative Fiction is the kernel that feeds other media--film, TV, etc. And now most of what you see on these media, including the net, is LCD stuff that's pushed by mass marketing pandering to whatever audience is willing to sit through most of the mind-numbing stuff they pump out.

So what is the result of the experiment? Well, if you go to almost all major search engines and type "Speculative Fiction," SFR will come up on the first page. Yet we get about 50-100 hits (occasionally we've gotten as many as 500, but that's not sustained) per day--not hundreds or thousands--and most of what we offer is free. Occasionally, we get someone like you (The Jarillion) who has interesting, insightful things to say--but it's not You-Tube. So I am left to conclude that mind-numbing stuff, pushed by LCD marketing is what most people really want.

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Specfiction
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The Jarillion

United Kingdom
18 Posts

Posted - 07/03/2007 :  16:51:04  Show Profile  Email Poster  Visit The Jarillion's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Curiously I find that the problem we face is in of itself a likely subject for a science fiction story. The public is over-stimulated by cheap effects and the growing sophistication of technology is making the nature of the world more and more mystical in nature to the common cretin. Decades ago if your car broke down you might be able to fix it yourself, nowadays the motorist is presented with a mass of sealed computer units.

When you point out an impossibility that reduces a space series to the fantasy level, watch out, you can be labelled a science snob because to many it is all stuff they cannot understand and consider boring, I always find the word boring used as a criticism to be a freudian admission of stupidity.

I think in the UK science fiction, fiction and drama generally is actually in a greater decline than in the states. America has a larger marketplace and so a reliable profit can be made. I'd hold up the film of Minority Report as an example of good work, but I have to go back to 1998 for a decent bit of SF in the UK on a TV screen (the Last Train).

In truth I believe that the problem lies not specifically in Science Fiction, but in dumbing down in general. Casanova, history's most celebrated rapist is treated as a hero on TV and film, the BBC is reducing its top documentary series in length, and burying its astronomy series The Sky at Night at a post midnight slot, sometimes referring to it as an astrology show in the listings. Be pleased you are not one of the mass I say, better to be irritated than know the serenity of the bovine.

www.jarillion.com
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