Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wherefore Science Fiction?

I remember being surprised when I learned that "wherefore" actually
means "why." So, when Juliet says, "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" she's
asking why did he have to go and be from the feuding clan. Bummer. But
an interesting vocabulary lesson.

I've been thinking of why I would like to concentrate on science
fiction in my new publishing business, Third Flatiron Publishing. It
seems like SF/Fantasy's golden age may have passed. Fewer publishing
houses seem to be out there. Houses like Tor, which used to be minor
players, are just about all you see on the shelves these days. A few
old superstar authors are still around, like George R.R. Martin, but I
don't see any smash hits coming from the likes of Harlan Ellison or
Gene Wolfe. Of course, some have died, like Ray Bradbury, Arthur
C. Clarke, Roger Zelazny, and Kurt Vonnegut.

As a young reader, I was voracious. Books often afforded an escape
from the realities of life and school, and SF in particular appealed
to the nerd in me. I can unqualifiedly recommend SF as a pathway drug
to academic aptitude.

If you want your budding genius child to ace his or her SATs, try some
of these recommendations from scientist and award-winning SF author
David Brin:


Brin has various assorted reasons for liking books on this long list
(for example, "sense-o-wonder"), but to me the salient point is that
this genre builds strong headbones and imparts a vocabulary
nonpareil. (Of course, even I had to keep a dictionary close by to get
through the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.)

Reading literature favored by fellow geeks will also have the advantage of
facilitating better communication with peers:


I recently joined a couple of online fan forums, like Cool Sci-Fi
(coolscifi.com), where I posted a question asking what is currently
popular. I only got one reply, which was a speculation that steampunk
is where it's at.

OK, fine. I'll buy that, and any of Connie Willis' backward-looking
tomes, for that matter. There's nothing wrong with historical fantasy
or swords and sorcery, as long as it's weird and interesting. But the
era of the space opera seems to have been crushed, as hard science
increasingly drills it into our heads that FTL travel just ain't gonna
happen, baby. Hopefully young Cory Doctorow can hold our hands as we stride
into a brave new world.

With these attitude adjustments in mind, I will try to carry the
banner of speculative fiction (Ellison's term) forward.

With your help, I won't have to change "Wherefore" to "Whither."
Please encourage your kids to read some SF in between video games.