Thursday, October 10, 2002

A little science fiction

I just finished a collection of short stories by a writer I was not familiar with, Willam Tenn. He is a science fiction writer of great talent. Of course, I hadn't really heard of him until I read a review of the book I just finished. I don't feel too bad about not knowing who he was since he seems to have stopped writing fiction in the early seventies and concentrated on teaching. I did recognize one story which I probably read in some anthology over the years. I was impressed by the darkness and humor that was present in his stories. He's the writer Harlan Ellison thinks he is. He reminds me of two other SF writers, Cordwainer Smith and Roger Zelazny. All three have the ability to create a world or situation that can stun you with its uniqueness yet seems entirely probable and is filled with characters wothy of empathy.

I will say one thing about science fiction (which is a shitty term for the genre but we aren't going to go there), within the genre the short story is alive and doing very well. I have read, or attempted to read, short stories in magazines like the New Yorker and Playboy but they are never as interesting as the stuff that appears in Analog or Asimov's Science Fiction. Science Fiction is not escapism. Sci-Fi is escapism. Good SF, or as I like to call it, speculative fiction, is able to better examine the human condition by taking us outside our everyday lives. If we view us from the outside we are then better to see our foibles and our strengths. I have read historical fiction and time travel fiction. To me, time travel fiction better reveals a past time since the modern character's interactions with the past so effectively shows similarities and differences through action and dialogue. It does not get bogged down in explanation.

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