Thursday, March 02, 2017

On Old Science Fiction and Fantasy

I have a penchant for old Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I am a fan of the old material: JRR Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Andre Norton, with sprinklings of H. Beam Piper and Jerry Pournelle, early C.J. Cherryh and Robert Heinlein.  Essentially, it seems, if it came out before 1990 I might enjoy it.

This may strike you as a little bit odd.  After all, that was really only sort of the beginning of the commercialization of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Since then, the genre has flourished - and really, it has in terms of authors and volume of works (Really.  Go look at any book store shelf).  How is it then that I have found not all that much to be enthused about and that, more often that not, I turn to an old book or old author rather than a new one?

The reason is subtle - so subtle it did not make itself apparent to me until I actually pondered it a while.

The books that I write about treated the future - or the magical might have been - as something that was a complete unknown - and, as a complete unknown, something that did not have any tinge of the present imposed on it.  They were both products of their time and yet timeless.  Having only the models of societies of the past and the author's imaginations, they were truly flights of fancy, often ending somewhere I could have never predicted.

Much of the writing now is a product of our time.  The violence is more gratuitous, the sex far more blatant, and often the worlds and social systems created really extensions of the ones we live in, at least in spirit - indeed, a product of our times as well.  But if something is really a product of my time and I do not care for my times, why should I spend my time on it?

The novels are, I suppose, grittier and more realistic -but to my mind, the magic of why I read them has disappeared.  I read such things to escape my world for a little while, not to engage in a different version of it.

Am I completely adverse to more modern writers?  Not quite.  Glen Cook's series The Black Company is some of the best writing I have read in many years (although see comments about violence above) and the HALO adaptation books are a secret guilty pleasure.  But I am just as happy to wander my way through used book stores to find a treasure that I have never read before from an author I treasure as I am to take a risk on an author I know nothing about.  At least in my reading for pleasure, the known quantity will always outweigh the unknown.


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