Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Maybe The Fun Is Gone From Science Fiction

Sam Riddleburger and I have been having a private exchange regarding The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. Sam wrote me to say he recalled liking the book when he was a kid. He also said,

"I just wanted to point out that the great Stanislaw Lem, who wrote an extremely detailed "realistic" account of space travel in "Fiasco," frequently used the "jump out of a rocket and meet an alien" technique for other books. And they're a lot more fun than Fiasco." (Links added by me.)

Sam's mention of fun got me thinking. Last year while I was on the Cybils scifi/fantasy panel, we didn't get a lot of science fiction books. Maybe only one. I've also read that true science fiction isn't very popular with kids these days. Maybe now that we are so science literate (I'm sure scientists would say we're not) that even young children have some basic knowledge of the reality of conditions in space, computers, gene therapy, artificial intelligence, and God knows what all, science fiction no longer has enough fun to attract young readers.

Or certainly it can't have much magic when it's loaded down with reality. Now, I know a lot of science fiction readers like and want reality. But I'm guessing most of those readers are over the age ten. It may be a lot harder for today's eight-year-olds to imagine themselves loaded for bear with space travel equipment than it was for eight-year-olds of old to imagine themselves dropping down onto the moon with nothing more than a couple of sandwiches to hold them over until tea.

I'm not saying that that is the case. I'm just raising it as a possibility.

By the way, Stanislaw Lem also wrote Solaris, which, when I saw it as a movie, I did not understand at all. Perhaps I'll try again now.

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Blogger samriddleburger said...

Uh-oh, if I've talked you into reading Solaris, you may think I'm all wet about "fun" sci-fi.

For great sci-fi fun, read Lem's Cyberiad.

Very silly stories about bickering robots that are packed with satire, vision and more silliness.

Kidlitters would especially love the chapter about a poetry-writing computer.

8:38 PM  
Blogger gail said...

No, no, no! I meant I might try watching the movie again. You're giving me way too much credit if you thought I'd try to read the book.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Becky Levine said...

I read the Mushroom book to my son when he was younger, and he liked it. I don't know that he'd read it himself now, because it's got that slower pacing of the (our!) old days! But as a read-aloud, it was a big hit.

I think, what he may have liked most, was the adventure of two boys who could just take off (oops-pun!) by themselves and do whatever they wanted, without parent supervision.

11:52 AM  
Blogger gail said...

That probably happens more often in older books in which moms thought nothing of the kids doing something outside by themselves for hours. Particularly if the books are set in small towns where you actually could walk somewhere, which is hard to do in the suburbs.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

I think there's a lot more demand for science fiction among kids than supply. I work in a book store and we get requests for it daily, but rarely have much to offer. It's sad, really. Since this is an industry where the publishers pay more attention to what they think will sell than what is actually practically in demand (I know of only one publisher that uses focus groups for anything), there are often strange gaps like this one. There are difficulties with trying to publish to demand because of the limitations of what is submitted and the quality of that, but I think you see where I'm going here. Hopefully there will be a resurgence in science fiction sometime soon.

10:37 PM  
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