Why hasn't sci-fi made the same leap forward ?

Hand of Fear

Journeyed there and back again
#1
I haven't long got back into reading and I have only ever really read fantasy with a bit of sci-fi mixed in, the fantasy genre has been making big waves and has moved forward a lot recently over the years.

I'm sure I don't need to list any examples, so my question is why has sci-fi taken a backseat and where is the next big thing going to come from ?

The sister site to this one seems less popular to, again is this due to it not moving forward enough or is it just that sci-fi isn't as 'cool' as fantasy ?

It would be interesting to here your views on this.
 

João Ribeiro

Journeyed there and back again
#2
While I'm both a fan of fantasy and sci-fi, the first thing that comes to my mind is that sci-fi relies more on the eye candy than fantasy. You have an historical visual reference for the medieval and this doesn't apply to sci-fi so it needs to be seen and not read.

For example, I read "Songs of distant Earth" from Arthur C. Clarke and didn't get an actual mental image of the ship in the book, I always "saw" the Home One Mon Calamari cruiser from Return of the Jedi.

Note that I haven't read many sci-fi books.
 

Derk of Derkholm

Journeyed there and back again
#3
Hmm, maybe because the "Great leap forward" for SciFi was in the 60's - 80's of the last century?
Or, if you consider, e.g. William Gibson and virtual reality, in the 90's ?

If I remember correctly, fantasy was rather dormant during that era ...

Best regards,
Andy
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#4

Amaryllis

Journeyed there and back again
#5
I imagine it's a less popular genre than fantasy to read for the same reason that it's a less popular genre than fantasy to write. There's less of an investment required in terms of how exactly the world works (although if some people have their way, every series will become Malazan, and that would be...unfortunate), and a - within reason - suspension of disbelief is both expected and assumed. So there's far more room to customize and make the story 'yours.' You can say that your world is actually flat, that the sun is a giant creature, that grass that retreats into rocks if you touch it can exist, that animals that could not physically exist in the world (e.g. huge flying dragons, giant bugs) totally do, etc. and people will accept it if you make it sound cool. Nowadays, try to say anything in sci-fi, and you will have nerds correcting the hell out of you, and constructing entire websites to laugh about the scientific inaccuracies of your book.

See, sci-fi has 'leapt forward,' just like fantasy. In fact, it has leapt forward in exactly the same way as fantasy. In decades past (one of which would arguably have been sci-fi's heyday), sci fi just kind of meant adventures or moral/psychological arguments involving space ships and futuristic concepts. People could assume that light speed+ was a thing, without needing to have 10 pages devoted to telling you how it worked, because that violates the laws of physics man. Nowadays, people want realism (the same as they do with fantasy), and that brings the hammer down on sci-fi pretty hard, because unless you're writing science fantasy (which doesn't really have a literary audience), or making an anime devoted to robots blowing the shit out of each other, then you'd better be able to explain every concept you want to introduce, at least enough to make it SOUND perfectly plausible. It makes the act of writing sci-fi very intimidating, even if you're really into science (because there's almost certainly going to be SOMETHING in your book you won't be an expert on, and will say something dumb about, and you best believe people will sniff it out), and it severely limits the amount of ideas you can make work. How many newer books are on the top 25 best sci-fi novels? How many recommendations that are new aren't blatant 'homages' to older work (Daniel Abraham's The Expanse > Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, Greg Bear's City at the End of Time > William Hope Hodgson's The Night Lands, etc.)? I am not a deep sci-fi reader, I fully admit, but every original one I have tried to read published since the late 90s has been boring and uninspired, or like a 'gritty reimagining' of an older book, because that's mostly what gets under the hate-dar.

My thoughts at least!
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#6
Nowadays, try to say anything in sci-fi, and you will have nerds correcting the hell out of you, and constructing entire websites to laugh about the scientific inaccuracies of your book.
That's why I don't read much science fiction. I have far too much science education to suspend disbelief when it comes to anything remotely biological or chemical (sometimes physics, too). The last thing I tried to read was Anathem by Neal Stephenson and it was all I could to to keep from throwing the book across the room (I did finish it, though). I do have tolerance for Octavia Butler but she incorporates enough elements that could be interpreted as "fantastic" that I can sort of overlook the flaws.

On the other hand, yeah, if the rules of your world allow shooting fireballs out of your fingertips, that's so far removed from real life that I just kind of go with it. (Not that I recommend fireball-shooting fingers be included in fantasy novels, mind you -- it's a rather tired concept, as magic goes, and nearly always reminds me of either Terry Brooks's Shannara books or of Emperor Palpatine and his finger lightning.)
 

moonspawn

Journeyed there and back again
#7
Sci fi is much harder to write than fantasy. You have to get all of the (physics, science, etc) accurate or like Amaryllis said the nerds will deride the authors work. In fantasy the author makes up their own rules (hopefully logical of course) instead of relying entirely on the rules of the known universe. Brandon Sanderson is the best author I've seen at developing a logical world. Fantasy also requires far less technical details, thus making it easier to read and write since the author doesn't have to understand or research scientific concepts. Of course, lots of impossible things exist in Science Fiction and implying otherwise is lying. For example in Hyperion the whole thing with the Time Tombs going backwards from the future is just as impossible as a lot of the concepts in Fantasy. Speaking of which Hyperion shows that science fiction can push the boundaries pretty far.

The 2000's era has so far been the golden age of Fantasy; a lot of fantasy authors in the past 13 years have bent the envelope pretty far - Steven Erikson, Brandon Sanderson, and China Meivelle for example. From the 60's to the 80's when science fiction was the more dominant genre of speculative fiction, fantasy was still a very underdeveloped genre. Not as many authors were pushing boundaries like they are now a days. Good vs Evil and the medieval setting were still the norm. Some fantasy authors pushed boundaries during the time period, but not nearly as many as nowadays. The tables have turned and now fantasy is more dominant than science fiction. Honestly I don't think epic fantasy was a good genre until Robin Hobb and George Martin came along. Obviously George Martin was the author who played the biggest role in developing modern fantasy.
 

Hand of Fear

Journeyed there and back again
#8
So basically when it comes down to it fantasy is easier to write than sci-fi ? Guess I never thought of it that way !
 

Amaryllis

Journeyed there and back again
#9
I think that's an oversimplification, but I suppose it works if you're looking for something that fits on a twitter update.
 

blitzburns4

Owns a Ring of Power
#11
One has to keep in mind that Fantasy has much deeper roots in storytelling as well compared to Science Fiction. "Epic Fantasy" as we know it didn't actually start with Tolkien, but much, much earlier. In fact, it can be argued that the very foundations of Western literature are due to "Epic" Fantastical worlds. (Epic Poetry, Mythology, The Bible, Arthurian Romances, Icelander Sagas, and The Songs of Heroes [Roland & The Cid, for example])

Fantasy is literally thousands of years ahead of Science Fiction. Quite ironic, all things considered.
 

moonspawn

Journeyed there and back again
#12
I thought the statement “Science Fiction is harder to write than fantasy” is a truistic statement, but evidently that’s not the case. Hopefully I can transmogrify that “oversimplification” as Amaryllis so succinctly put it into an equivocation. First of all we have to think why science fiction is or isn’t harder to write than fantasy. I was just stating a generality. Of course, all generalities go out the window when looking at specific novels and are wrong in most cases when looking at an entire genre because generalities imply stereotypes and we all know that science fiction and fantasy are anything but stereotypical. Someone could look at A Game of Thrones or Malazan, book of the fallen and say fantasy is really hard to write or look at Shannarah or the riftwar saga and say that Fantasy is really easy to write or all fantasy is really simplistic. However, one thing to think about is the fact that writing about old technology is much easier than writing about futuristic technology. Sure there’s some interesting technology in the Malazan, book, and in Shannarah a little bit, but these books don’t delve into sophisticated scientific detail about how precisely these technologies operate. Fantasy is mainly focused on story telling versus science fiction which is more focused on grand ideas. Obviously this doesn’t mean that science fiction can’t be focused on characters and story because it is most of the time, just not to the same extent that fantasy is.
Incorporating sophisticated technological details without losing the reader’s attention is very difficult to do, and if the reviews on amazon.com are to be believed a lot of science fiction writers drown their readers in too much technical information, thus making their work unengaging. Fantasy novels suffer from other issues in many cases such as trying to make an implausible concept plausible, but a lot of technical details are usually unnecessary in fantasy. As long as the reader doesn’t feel like they need to understand the unfamiliar details then this is a positive thing because then they can read seamlessly without too much interruption from the story; technical details should never take over a story. A good example of a fantasy author who utilizes a lot of technical details is Paul Kearney, particularly about sailing in Monarchy of Gods. However, I find these details enlightening to the reading experience. In one scene during the first book one of the main characters opened a journal written by a sailor that’s been dead for hundreds of years (this is significant to the plot so won’t give away any more than that); much of it was written in sailing jargon so is difficult to understand upon first glance. Here is an example of what I’m talking about from page 130.

On leaving Abrusia, steer west-south-west with the wind on the starboard bow. With the Hebrion trade, it is 240 turns of glass or five or five kennings to the North Cape in the Hebrionese. Half a kenning from the shore the lead will find white sand at 40 fathoms. Change course to due west and keep on the latitude of North Cape for 42 days more of good sailing. Thereafter the trade veers to north-north-west. With the wind on the starboard bow it is 36 days more on that latitude before sounding will find a shelving shore from 100 fathoms and shallowing. At 80 fathoms there will be shells and white clay, and land will be kenning and a half away. Keep a good look out and at 30 fathoms there will be sighted green hills and a white strand. There is a bay there one league north of the latitude of North Cape. Behind it stands a mountain with two summits, clothed in trees. Stand off and let go anchor in fifteen fathoms. Low surf, high water when moon is north-north-west and south-south-east. A sixth of a league in land there is a sweet spring. Greenstuff is to be found all along the shore, and fruit. Winds freshen coming onto late autumn. Use the best bow and a stern anchor or else she is liable to drag in the soft ground.
 

moonspawn

Journeyed there and back again
#13
Part of what makes this passage so brilliant is the fact that the character reading the journal didn’t understand the jargon either so as a reader it is easy to identify with him. This detail added a high level of depth to the novel, unseen in most mainstream fiction. It takes knowledge to add high levels of detail like that. As a writer I appreciate that. However, in the case of Snow Crash I felt that I had to understand most of the technological details and computer jargon to follow the action of the novel. Thus making the novel much harder to reader. There’s a lot of other intellectual concepts integrated in Snow Crash as well about language and Sumerian Mythology and how that parallels to programing and viruses which was far easier for me to understand. During Hyperion I felt like Dan Simmons was pretentiously flaunting around his knowledge of science and history. It’s focused a lot on the characters and their stories, but I often felt like I should understand the technical details although not nearly as much as in the case of Snow Crash.
Integrating so much sophisticated details in a novel is extremely difficult no matter how you look at it. Since Science fiction is a genre that requires the writer to not only have a lot of understanding about science and technology, but also a lot of general knowledge about the laws of the universe – I think it’s safe to assume that Science Fiction is the harder genre to write in. In the Fantasy genre readers are mostly just making up stuff such as magic, creatures, societies, and magic items without applying scientific rules although there should be some rules, however, the rules are often vague. The best fantasy needs to have some real world concepts applied to the novel and there should be a certain amount of logic, but the amount of research is minimal by comparison. After all the differences between Fantasy and Science Fiction is that Fantasy is about the impossible while Science Fiction is about what could potentially be possible (but unlikely). This is a simplistic dichotomy considering that there is so much overlap between these two genres. Read C.S. Friedman and China Meivelle to see some of that overlap. When juxtaposed it seems as if there is a stark difference between science fiction and fantasy although I think there is less differentiation than is often portrayed. Brandon Sanderson uses logic to a very high extent and it made Mistborn seem very science fictiony even though it’s technically a fantasy novel. City and the City had a science fiction feel to it. In fact it could be argued that city and the city is both a fantasy and a science fiction novel. Great science fiction needs to apply complex logic to a higher extent and on a more consistent basis; it is called science fiction for a reason.
One needs to keep in mind that writing in any specific genre is a mindset. Some people have the mindset for science fiction. I don’t as I don’t have a clear grasp on science and my understanding of advanced technology is poor. Following the complex plot of Malazan, book of the fallen is much easier to me than understand some of the scientific stuff from Hyperion and Snow Crash. I have the mindset for writing fantasy…. and maybe horror, but that’s about it. I don’t think I could write a romance, mystery, or science fiction novel to save my life. Even coming up with a good idea for a children’s novel would give me a headache (I would probably end up making it overly-complex too). So what’s hard for one person to write is obviously going to be easier for another to write; very few writers can adroitly genre hop. I’m sure most science fiction authors would not be able to write romance. Handling complex plots and character relationships is a very different thing from juggling unfamiliar scientific concepts. So while science fiction would probably be the hardest for most people to write, it is easier for people who have a full grasp of science and technological concepts. All good writers have their own niche to fill. Trying to fill someone else’s is folly.
 

Derk of Derkholm

Journeyed there and back again
#14
I have yet another theory that might account for the popularity of fantasy ...

... during the "heydays" of Science Fiction, (guess that would be the 50's-70's of the last century), people were very much looking forward in their hopes and asperations. A small nuclear reactor that powers your house, a jet-turbine car and hypersonic planes that could get you from New York to Tokio in one hour were seen as "what the future should bring" (I am not kidding you ... take a look at 50's "Popular Mechanics" or similar magazines), ecologism was not existent yet as a valid concern and everybody had the impression that science and technology could and would solve every problem available, given some time.

Now we are 50 years later, and we see the results of technology run wild - when people dream, they dream of "the good old days", a past where everything was simple and clean (that you would have died from a sickness or wound that would nowadays be treated in a hospital is not so much a consideration) ... so fantasy with lush green forests, clean air and valiant and honourable knights might seem much more attractive to the reader today than science fiction with metal cities on the moon populated with robots and such.

Best regards,
Andy
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#15
A good example of a fantasy author who utilizes a lot of technical details is Paul Kearney
I agree about that. I can tell Kearney is really into the research, and I think it enhances his books -- Monarchies of God as well as Macht trilogy. (By the way, you might want to try a few more paragraph breaks...)
 

moonspawn

Journeyed there and back again
#16
... during the "heydays" of Science Fiction, (guess that would be the 50's-70's of the last century), people were very much looking forward in their hopes and asperations. A small nuclear reactor that powers your house, a jet-turbine car and hypersonic planes that could get you from New York to Tokio in one hour were seen as "what the future should bring" (I am not kidding you ... take a look at 50's "Popular Mechanics" or similar magazines), ecologism was not existent yet as a valid concern and everybody had the impression that science and technology could and would solve every problem available, given some time. Now we are 50 years later, and we see the results of technology run wild - when people dream, they dream of "the good old days", a past where everything was simple and clean (that you would have died from a sickness or wound that would nowadays be treated in a hospital is not so much a consideration) ... so fantasy with lush green forests, clean air and valiant and honourable knights might seem much more attractive to the reader today than science fiction with metal cities on the moon populated with robots and such. Best regards, Andy
I think that's an interesting theory. That'll give me more to think about.... I certainly wish that technology wasn't advancing as fast as it is. How can anyone keep up with it? I feel like society is being dumbed down by all of these unnecessary stuff added onto phones, i-pods, kindles etc.... that people don't need and causes them to waste their time. I want things kept simple, but technology seems to be getting more and more complex.... I'm all for pushing forward, but technology has made more leaps in the last 10 years than in the entire recorded history up to the year 1800 or something like that.... It seems like a lot of sci fi writers are very liberal. Dan Simmons for example hates capitalism mainly because of marketing, but also because capitalism is the fuel that advances technology. We are vastly becoming a society completely reliant on technology. Of course, a lot of socialists embrace this technology every day - this reflects ignorance pure and simple. We wouldn't all have computers in our homes and wouldn't be posting on this forum if it weren't for companies such as Microsoft and Apple. Government doesn't produce all that.

I agree about that. I can tell Kearney is really into the research, and I think it enhances his books -- Monarchies of God as well as Macht trilogy. (By the way, you might want to try a few more paragraph breaks...)

Five paragraphs is standard. I guess I could use more paragraphs breaks though. Now you all know what I'm going to do if someone posts something even vaguely insulting.
 

João Ribeiro

Journeyed there and back again
#17
I feel like society is being dumbed down by all of these unnecessary stuff added onto phone
For example a phone with just one button so "anyone" can use it. I'm looking at you iPhone.

P.S. I am not anti-Apple, I actually like the software. iMovies rocks!
 

Zarien

Knows how to pronounce Kvothe
#18
I feel like fantasy is a little more popular because it derives from worlds that at their center, are an escape for our imagination. Something we wish could be real because of the simplicity of the world, but with the amazement and "wow" factor still intact. Where we can lose ourselves in almost child-like wonder, or a more adult-like glee. While science fiction typically roots in the future, something that could very well be our actual future. Sometimes those plotlines hit a little too close to home and we don't want to acknowledge it. Another theory could be because science fiction is a world we want to live in, we want to live in space and travel the stars and experience those journeys, but our minds rationalize that because of our age, that will never happen in our lifetime. While on the other hand, our minds can fool ourselves into believing that there is still some glimmer of a possibility that the fantasy world or magic or similar could happen still, because we wouldn't love reading the fiction if we didn't believe in magic a little.
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#19