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What is the Future of Sci-Fi Books?

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These days science can be stranger and even more advanced than science fiction. While it is true that many ideas and dreams from classic sci-fi have been fulfilled, or even surpassed, sci-fi has rarely been about the prediction of an exact future; it’s always been about the dreams and anxieties of the present. H.G. Well’s 1895 Time Machine, was not a prediction of the year 802,701 A.D., rather a sorrowful contemplation on the implications of class, industrialisation and war. With this in mind, what does the future hold for printed sci-fi?

Considering the current trends, somewhat ironically, sci-fi has been looking to the past lately. It seems that nostalgia sells best, with many readers preferring movie tie-in novels, sequels and familiar series. The Atlantic tells us that nostalgia is so paramount that even minor tweaks become grounds for think-pieces and canon questioning. We only need look at spinoffs and reboots of forty and fifty-year-old franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek to see what appeals to the mainstream sci-fi community. Dozens of books by various authors have created new microcosms within these franchises.

While it can be argued that relying on franchises to sell novels limits the reach of original work, injecting new life into popular old stories does introduce them to a new generation, while providing the necessary dose of nostalgia to the older fans. Many books that are based on famous science-fiction franchises have been able to expand and explore in-depth, elements of the stories that fans want to know more about. Star Wars is a prime example of how fiction expanded the George Lucas universe. The famous Mos Eisley Cantina in A New Hope is a good example of this, as characters from the bar have been featured in the short story collection Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina. The famous bar’s status in pop culture is so established, that PartyPoker even list it in their top fictional pubs to play poker in. No wonder fans wanted a book based around it. It is due to these continued stories that franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek will never die.

The days of printed sci-fi are not over, as the past few years of Hugo award winners will attest. Science fiction continues to be a dominant genre in literature with new and exciting stories emerging every year. Many are, or have already been, adapted for the screen with mixed success. William Gibson’s sci-fi classic Neuromancer is getting a film adaptation with director Tim Miller at the helm.

As mentioned above, literature can help expand a cinematic universe. However films based on sci-fi novels and short stories also do the science fiction genre a service by exposing new fans to the original works. Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s loose 1981 adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, has achieved cult status along with the latest iteration, Blade Runner 2049. While 2049 may have had abysmal box-office numbers it still provided an outlet for fans to go back to Philip K. Dick’s original novel, and perhaps encourage them to read more of his work.

Sci-fi these days is increasingly futuristic and speculative. It is a genre that explores possibilities and has the potential to expand our horizons. On our page Books & Other Published Work it is put that the reason to write is to order, to entertain, inform and involve readers in invented worlds. This is what defines science fiction. While the mainstream may prefer their sci-fi in the form of on screen entertainment, many still pine for the classic sci-fi of Asimov, Heinlein or Bradbury. The future of science fiction books will always be strong, as fans look to explore new worlds and expand on known universes.

20 Responses to “What is the Future of Sci-Fi Books?”

  1. Melanie Roussel

    This is a really thoughtful post. It made me think about the push and pull of old and new sci-fi. I sometimes worry we’re constantly returning to old stories as though we have nothing new to say. But what you said about the Hugo awards gives me hope! And you’re right, these popular stories remaining in the mainstream is going to drive new sci-fi fans into the genre in the same way that Harry Potter did for fantasy. Before J.K. Rowling, I was the only one in my class reading fantasy and sci-fi – afterwards, suddenly everyone was a geek 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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    • stuartaken

      Anything that gets folk reading is a real plus. Anything that encourages readers to try science fiction and fantasy, much misunderstood genres by the general public, is a great move. So thank you, Melanie, for your positive comments.

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  2. Jonathan Scott Griffin

    I very much enjoyed reading this post. Here are some of my thoughts regarding the future of science fiction.

    First off, I think we are going to see more retro-style science fiction. Tomorrowland at Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom is a good example of this. Disney just can’t keep up with the fast pace of technology, so in the end, Tomorrowland instead of predicting the future (which Epcot does now) became a retro 1970s/80s science fiction land. And it’s glorious. I could see some good retro science fiction stories.

    Which brings me to my next point. Because science fiction can grow dated so fast, I think the bigger future is in the fantasy genre. As a writer of both science fiction and fantasy, I think my fantasy books will withstand the test of time more. Fantasy is timeless because mythology is timeless. Joseph Campbell seemed to insinuate as much in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. While on this subject, let’s talk about Star Wars. I’m not trying to be a jerk, so please don’t think I’m ragging on you. That’s not my intent. It’s just that I think Star Wars is more of an outer-space fantasy than it is science fiction. We have space wizards, aka Jedi, who have magical and mystical powers, who go on vision quests and through rites of passage. In fact, the original Star Wars series was highly inspired by Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. The newer trilogy has further solidified this by having Rey go through vision quests and wielding powers that more magical than scientific. Shows like Clone Wars have the Witches of Endor. Even Lucas would call his work more of a fairy tale with mythological themes. Back to fantasy vs science fiction and general, while there may be advanced androids, supercomputers, and cloning, and so forth, there will never be pure magic like one reads about in the works of Tolkien, Lewis, Robin Hobb, Lloyd Alexander, or Terry Brooks with fairies, dragons, and wizardry.

    Last but not least, I think non-retro science fiction will survive to an extent, but it will deal more with space travel to distant galaxies. I could be wrong, and that’s fine, but I think we are a long way off of traveling to different galaxies. We just have too much crap going on on earth that is preventing us from truly aiming for the stars.

    Sorry to be longwinded. I thoroughly enjoyed your peace and I may have to follow your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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    • stuartaken

      Many thanks for a considered and thoughtful response, Jonathan.
      In the past, when the world moved at a human pace, it was easier to keep up with changes and therefore write truly ‘futuristic’ scifi. However, as I discovered while writing my current scifi trilogy, Generation Mars, this is now becoming very difficult. Change (often presented as progress) is so rapid that an advance can easily overturn previously well-founded ideas about a future. As a writer, ultimately it’s your choice whether you decide to publish and be damned in this fast-moving world.
      But, for the future, I’ll probably be looking more at fantasy than scifi for the very reasons you mention. I agree with you about the exploration of other galaxies, although recent moves, with smaller spacecraft being developed for research, do mean we can invest at least some of our capability in longer-term exploration by machines.
      I found you on Twitter, btw, and I’ve followed you there, as I feel such contact can be mutually beneficial.
      All the best with your writing.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
    • stuartaken

      Glad you liked it. I’ve just sent the 3rd in my Generation Mars series back to the publisher after working on the edit notes they sent. Fingers crossed.
      Good luck with your new series, realbeardedpercher.

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  3. John Siebelink

    The future of science fiction will be determined largely by how far science goes. Every new discovery churns up new implications, and those implications are what make story material. If we digress to a Stone Age society as a result of our actions and our descendants forget all about the modern world, we can expect SF to start over again.

    Liked by 2 people

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    • stuartaken

      I suspect science will continue on the inevitable road to improvement: each new discovery raises more questions, and scientists are all about questions, searching for answers, John. And, I think most scifi writers are engaged in the process of preventing a reversion to the stone age by educating and informing others of the potential gains and losses of our current world.
      I agree, science fiction will always be with us.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
    • stuartaken

      Our choices in such matters are always intensely personal, of course, Mohamad. I prefer the written word, as it allows me to use my imagination and create the settings and characters from the clues given by the writer. Movies I use entirely for escapism; the release from a day of hard work, or the relief to be found when the world becomes a difficult place in which to dwell. I think, because I was brought up in a house without TV until my mid teens, I developed a love of reading as a means of both learning and experiencing all those things I would otherwise miss. Later in life, I moved to the other side of the page, inserting words in the form of stories instead of absorbing them. These days, I do both, and still enjoy them equally.

      Liked by 1 person

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      • Mohamad Al Karbi

        It’s amazing how you could develop such a skill. I’m very impressed. Despite my preference for movies when it comes to Sci-Fi, I still love other types of reading. That’s, I have a book near my bed to read almost on daily basis before sleep. I confess I’m not as before on this, so I envy you here. Thank you for the interesting post and detailed comment, my friend.

        Liked by 1 person

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  4. Sally Ember, Ed.D.

    Hi, Stuart,

    I, too, am glad when films or TV series seem to inspire reading, for sure.

    But, I don’t agree with you, here: “Sci-fi these days is increasingly futuristic and speculative.” I think most sci-fi and fantasy authors lately publish pieces that are filled with tropes: rehashing, remixing, rebooting and otherwise cribbing from past authors’ work more than ever. It seems that most sci-fi plots are dystopian, post-apocalyptic and depressing, riddled with military battles and/or teenage/YA love triangles. Fantasies all seem stuck in the royalty vs. serfs in the middle ages or talking animals/superheroes set-ups.

    Maybe the problem is that there are more sci-fi and fantasy authors than ever, publishing more stories and books than ever. PLus, coming up with something entirely new is more difficult than anyone might realize, until they try to do it.

    Best to you,

    Sally

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  5. Kathy Steinemann

    Interesting perspective, Stuart. IMHO as long as an author presents conflict and intrigue in a sci-fi setting, science fiction will continue to exist. Readership is gained by skillful writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • stuartaken

      Agreed, Kathy. There is undoubtedly a problem with some modern books; a lack of proper editing coupled with a tendency to follow trends has the effect of reducing the quality of the writing and the originality of the content. All depends which books the reader has encountered. I try to keep my own work free of ‘trendiness’ and as individual as possible.

      Liked by 1 person

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