This article at The Guardian has got me thinking about British sci fi writing and how we have lost the social criticism that was at its core for so long, especially during the period that John Christopher made his name (mobile link).
I find it sad when we think of his death in the terms of the article above (the end of a tradition). I can only think of two British writers of that generation still going and they are Michael Moorcock and Brian Aldiss. Neither man is a big name outside of the genre in the way that John Wyndham or some of the others might have been. If anybody can think of any more, please leave a comment. For the American writers of that generation and style, only Ray Bradbury remains and he will live forever figuratively if not literally!
Not, by the way, that I think science fiction is in a bad way right now. On the contrary the modern powerhouses of Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Greg Bear, Peter F. Hamilton, Ben Bova and others are pushing the boundaries of hard science fiction more than any other generation.
But they write hard sci fi. Where are the social sci fi writers (I hesitate to call it soft sci fi) asks The Guardian? Well, I don’t think you have to look very far. Kim Stanley Robinson treads a delicate path between hard and social. China Mieville dips in, Paulo Bacigalupi writes about a post-capitalism world with one eye firmly on the crisis of the last five years, as does Dan Simmons in Flashback. Modern celebrated works such as The Dervish House by Ian McDonald examine the relationship with Muslim east.
British sci fi is doing well, we have a lot to celebrate right now. Mieville is seemingly taking the world by storm, Reynolds and Hamilton are as strong as ever and McDonald’s novel has won awards. Where I think the article stumbles is that there is a far more global approach to life and this is being reflected in fiction. Is there really such thing as “British sci fi” or “American sci fi”? Or is it now science fiction that happens to be written by people born and living in those countries?
Playing devil’s advocate here for a moment, we could argue that British writers dealing with issues specific to our country is just as vital today as it was then, the changes that have come about through Thatcherism and Blairism ought to be addressed, the necessity of politicians to feel that we ought to emulate the USA in every way imaginable, the covert dismantling of the NHS, and our increasing secularisation in a world noted for an escalation in religious bullying, trying to keep a British identity in the EU which itself is on wobbly legs, cuts to public services, a loss of industry and talk of the “lost generation” of young people with seemingly little hope be they graduate or without qualifications.
I agree there ought to be a place for that but our outlook has become so global, it would take an impressive writer to compile such a work and not make it seem parochial and quaint.