Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Gibson, Hamilton and the losing battle for science fiction

A paucity of recent blog entries (plus his own admissions) tells us William Gibson is apparently deep in novel writing mode, good news for every sf fan like myself. He surfaced briefly on New Year's Day to throw out an effortless reference to Borges to whet the appetite. I wonder what sort of blogger Borges would have been? I suspect his essayist style would have lent itself beautifully to the blog format. He certainly wouldn't have been part of anything as gauche as Brat Pack 2.0.

On sf, I'm currently about two-thirds through Judas Unchained by Peter F. Hamilton, and loving it more than is wise in this knockabout world. Galaxy-spanning visions of vast destruction in the manner of L. Sprague de Camp and E.E. "Doc" Smith are what Hamilton has fashioned in the Commonwealth saga, and damnably enjoyable it is too. Nevertheless, I have this sneaking suspicion I may be let down by a cheesy ending, as Hamilton has been shown his cheesy chops in selecting Al Capone as one of the major characters in a previous novel, as well as an off-putting taste for sexualised violence and nymphomaniac nymphette protagonists. Along with Richard Morgan, British authors are pushing mainstream sf in interesting directions.

And thank god that someone is still writing sf, as most of the other writers in the area seems to have succumbed to the dark lure of fantasy. Tracts of tomes tumescent with Tolkienesque trash clutter up every bookshop from here to Mordor, usually in ever-increasing series that the publishers have colour-coded for instant brand recognition. Meanwhile, apart from the Brits, the only current spark of innovation in sf is based around the "singularity", which seems to me to be a complete nonsense. It's hardly a cogent response to the genre's move towards fantasy to start writing about a magical time when all the futuristic crap that sf authors have been banging on about for decades suddenly comes true, as if Heinlein himself has come down from Mt Olympus and waved a magic wand so that we all "grok".

Perhaps Gibson's next novel will show us who's full of shit and where the real future lies, just as he did with The Gernsback Continuum and the Neuromancer trilogy respectively. I suspect he's not the person for that job, though, incisive though his newer novels are. I don't think it will be Cory Doctorow, even if he has given up his day job, since he's part of the singularity crowd. We'll have to wait for some other gang of young punks to make their mark on the world. They'd better hurry up before fantasy completely outmodes sf.

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