Why has the traditional Science Fiction novel fallen by the wayside?

A year or two back I read Paul Goat Allen’s article concerning the demise of science fiction in literature on the “Explorations” web page (part of Barnes & Noble). Paul argued that fantasy had taken over in the reading world.

The following was my comment to his article at the time:

Science fiction like all other genre’s falls in and out of fashion. What was popular in the 1950’s and 60’s gets rediscovered and reinvented by later generations. Book genre’s fall in and out of fashion just like everything else; nothing is new. Everything gets rediscovered over time. It is completely understandable that the current generation read fantasy, using the genre as a literary head in the sand approach to the problems of the day.

Subjects like global warming, population explosion, modern day warfare, famine and exploitation in the third world are all subjects for future science fiction novels, certainly not fantasy. To my mind the current reading fashion decrees that fantasy is for the moment, king. But it won’t always be.

Is science fiction dead? No, merely taking a snooze, waiting for fashion and fads to change once more, putting science fiction back where it belongs at the forefront of literary exploration Paul.

Thinking about the subject some more after I wrote the above, I have to say I believe the real reason for the demise of  science fiction is down to the current, almost obsessively whimpish deep and meaningful approach taken by American television when faced with a sci-fi story.

Take the Star Trek phenomena for example. In the original series, apart from the chronically bad, highly camp acting (especially by the two lead actors) the story-lines were pure sci-fi. Lots of encounters with new planets; new species discovered – all good stuff. But by the time the great Shakespearian actor Patrick Stewart assumed control of the Enterprise, the bridge crew counted among its number a counsellor – give me strength people! Instead of action we got boring discussions by the angst ridden crew members. Then the rot set in even further when Star Trek Voyager appeared, or as I like to call it PMT in Space, with a female captain who spent most of her time mothering her delinquent crew.

There has only ever been one sci-fi series on television that truly shone and that was Babylon Five. There have been a few excellent movies over the years like the original Stargate starring Kurt Russell. But when the television writers got their paws on it, unfortunately they totally destroyed the concept by turning it into a television series starring Richard Dean Anderson aka MacGiver in the lead role. Half the time I fully expected him to get them out of a tricky situation using nothing but his penknife and a piece of string. Thank god they never got their hands on Arthur C. Clark’s classic, 2001 A Space Odyssey, or George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, or even Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series!!!

If anyone is truly to blame for the demise of pure science fiction in the world of literature today, look no further than those self-same television screen writers, who foolishly believe that simpering dialogue and angst means more to the hard core sci-fi fan than good old fashioned action. Why would anyone among the younger generation today bother to read a thought provoking sci-fi novel when their only experience of the genre is via their television set – think Farscape and Firefly if you want two classic examples of the rubbish passed off as sci-fi of recent times.

Because of the screen writers, those of us who write science fiction novels are going through tough times at the moment. But we will prevail.

Thanks for nothing Hollywood!