Bewildering Stories

Letters: Is space travel passé ?

Thomas R. writes:

I’d like to thank Kevin for his response. I am all to glad to have more print stuff discussed in SFW. I’d be tempted to write them every other week if I could.

I think my main problem with his letter at SFW had been the assertion that no one has published science fiction in the last half century that millions of readers have related to. I think that’s a bit hyperbolic, but perhaps appropriate to the audience and in least got people discussing the print stuff. Still that SF has become perhaps too self-referential and cliqueish is something I’ve been concerned about for years. So neat hearing from you.

As for recent issues, alas! I got quite ill last week so didn’t read all of 67. Still neat story by Coombs and good luck as always!

Copyright © 2003 by Thomas R.

Good to hear from you, Tom! We all hope you feel better soon. Just don’t overdo things, take your vitamins, keep warm, (everybody send us tasty soup recipes). As usual, you raise some good points. There’s been considerable overlap between print, film and television in the second half of the 20th century. Is there anything to be gained in debating whether that’s good or bad? I’m not sure.

Also, has the science fiction world become ingrown? From some comments Gardner Dozois has made on the Asimov’s forum, I gather it’s less of a “country club” now than it’s ever been: it’s just too big for that any more. Besides, mainstream authors such as Margaret Atwood and Doris Lessing have begun to write science fiction. Some of them may have an condescending attitude and an outdated notion of the genre, but at least they’re writing it.

The more, the merrier, sez I. And I have a reason: much as I like 19th-century poetry, I can’t find a more exciting time than the 18th century. Look how its literature completely changed civilization: the great names of that age worked wonders, and they’re still with us. And you know what I say about Cyrano’s Voyage to the Moon: if it hadn’t been suppressed, the Enlightenment would have begun a century earlier than it did. Science fiction is well placed to do the same in our time. All it needs is half a dozen towering geniuses to change the world.

John Thiel writes:

Dear sirs:

Regarding Kevin Ahern's letter in this issue [issue 67], I think modern sf may have “spaced itself” too much as far as the standard tales are concerned. They all have to be on other planets or in transit to them. A lot of good science fiction takes place upon the earth, but it seems doctrinal presently for them to be elsewhere. Is astronomy the foremost science and NASA the prime mover? This brings a lot of sameness to the tales that are being written, and somewhat diminishes conceptual creativity. Of course they are settling on the “far out” for this stagnation, but something should be done about the stagnative effect itself.

Copyright © 2003 by John Thiel

Oh I dunno, John. Space travel in some form has always been with us. Homer’s Odysseus knocks about the Mediterranean in a ship for twenty years; today he’d jet from one star system to another. Medieval knights were forever finding themselves lost in enchanted forests or guests in spooky castles; today they’d land on a mystery planet such as the Mars of C.S. Lewis or Ray Bradbury. The list quickly becomes very long, and it goes back to early modern science fiction: where could Cyrano have found the beings and society he does but on the Moon and Sun?

Jonathan Frakes (“Commander Riker” on Star Trek: Next Generation as we all know) once pointed out that Star Trek is a collection of 20th-century morality plays. He’s absolutely right, of course. The main difference between the medieval theater and today’s television series is the stage: we can use visual effects that were as unavailable and unknown 20 years ago as they were 800 years ago.

One problem is that visual effects are perceived as realism unless the film is an animation or abstract art. In a way, then, the medieval audience saw plays in a kind of visual “radio” mode, where they had to use their imaginations to supply the settings; we do not. Neither mode — imaginative or visual — is necessarily “better” than the other; they’re just different.

Space travel — and its variants: time travel and alternate universes — have always been and will always be with us as literary devices. Our ways of perceiving travel may change. We no longer discover enchanted islands, forests or castles; and the time may come when space is so familiar that we have to find our “other worlds” elsewhere than on the Moon.

Copyright © 2003 by Don Webb, for Bewildering Stories

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