I’ve read several articles on the net about how science fiction is dying as a literary genre. About how it’s being supplanted by film, television, and video games. I won’t deny that they are probably right, but rather than just identifying the problem, what do we do to reverse the situation?
I grew up during a time when science fiction was perhaps looked down upon,but it was (and still is) truly great literature. The science fiction I read inspired me to explore science, computers, and technology. However the reverse doesn’t seem to be true. Today children have access to technology I only read about, but it doesn’t seem inspire them to read any science fiction.
I will also admit that I have always been a fan of video games, from pong to the latest in computer busting graphics, but for me it is only another aspect of the worlds of science fiction literature. Today though, if I spend any amount of time in a games shop kids will be discussing the technical merits of games, processors, and graphics cards with almost religious intensity, but for them this only leads to more games. It almost never leads to a trip to a bookshop. Why?
I am loath to blame any inherent fault of youth or technology, but perhaps playing too many of today’s games and seeing too many of the latest films has made it difficult for young people to visualise the written word. Reading, like any skill, takes practice and it must be difficult to imagine a great warship in space from a written description, when it is so easy to see one on-screen.
I would hazard to say that there are probably more sci-fi fans now than there ever was before. I would say that a sci-fi fan is anyone that loves the films, television, and games that originate from science fiction, but don’t actually read science fiction. What can be done to turn those sci-fi fans into fans of science fiction literature?
For me one of the simplest solutions would be for the general media industries that capitalise on the foundation of science fiction to start giving a little back. It can be simply done by the writers, directors, and producers of these films, television shows, and video games giving recommendations for real science fiction that viewers and players might enjoy if they enjoyed what they just watched or played; and I don’t mean the horrible film novelisations that have no business being written in the first place.
Take 2009’s Avatar. It is the highest grossing film of all time now, but does James Cameron give any credit to the great stories he based his film on? No. It would be a simple matter to include a book recommendation list on the dvd, but no one has seen fit to do so yet.
George Lucas should do the same thing with Star Wars (1977). Star Wars lifted so many themes and plot devices from literary science fiction that it is hardly an original creation at all. And with the billions of dollars Lucas has earned from Star Wars he has never, to my knowledge, given any recommendation for the books he used to create Star Wars.
The video game industry could provide a huge lift to literary science fiction if they provided such recommendations in their game credits. Halo (2001), perhaps the biggest video game franchise ever, has never made any recommendation for Ringworld (1970). Would we have Halo without Ringworld? Maybe not.
If big media businesses would simply offer a small amount of time and space to point out to young fans that there are some truly great books available to them, I have no doubt that great literary science fiction will make a raging comeback and maybe even be greater than it ever was.