Passing Through the One-Way Door

It is award nomination season in the science fiction and fantasy world. The Hugo award nomination period is open. The Hugo awards are awarded by members of the World Science Fiction convention. The Nebula award nomination period closes any day now. The Nebulas are awarded by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, an organization of which I am an active member.

This will be my second consecutive year without nominating or voting or either award. I have not made nominations because I have read almost nothing published in the science fiction world in the last couple of years. While I don’t feel like I have missed it, it bothers me because I grew up on science fiction.

Looking over the list of books that I have read the last couple of years, I notice that I started to drift from new science fiction in late 2013. I read Jack McDevitt’s Starhawk, and Gardner Dozois’s Old Mars anthology. Since finishing Old Mars in November 2013, here is the list of new science fiction and fantasy books that I have read:

  • The Martian by Andy Weir (7/5/2014)
  • Coming Home by Jack McDevitt (4/7/2015)

That is just two new science fiction novels in more than 2 years. In that same period of time I read a total of 89 books. But only two of them were new science fiction books.

My track record is even worse for short fiction. I cannot recall a single story that I have read in the last few years. This weighed heavily on me for a time. Many of my friends are writers, and I am hopelessly far behind reading their stories.

In early 2013, I began writing every day, a streak that I kept unbroken for 825 consecutive days. That this period of writing coincides with the change in my reading patterns is interesting. What is more interesting, is that the stories I produced during that streak had less and less of a science fictional bent.

The last three stories I sold and published were:

  • An alternate history about the Apollo program and baseball (and more about baseball than Apollo).
  • A piece of flash fiction about an agent meet-and-greet populated by zombies
  • A Sports Illustrated-like profile of a hall-of-fame baseball player, wrapped in the guise of a science fiction story.

See a pattern here? Not only have I been moving away from science fiction in my reading, I have been moving away from it in my writing as well. Not entirely away, but gradually. I see my friends continuing to sell stories to magazines like Analog, which has published 2 of my stories, and I think to myself, I should get back to writing good old science fiction. But my heart isn’t in that kind of story any more.

In 2013, I wrote my first novel. It was a far future science fiction novel, but in the end, though I tried, I couldn’t make the second draft work. It took me a long time to realize it was because it was no longer the kind of story I wanted to write.

I have a notion of the kind of stories I want to write these days. They are stories where the genre is incidental. It is the story that matters. This may be part of the reason why I have slowed down in my reading of science fiction: the science fiction in the stories has started to look like so much window dressing to me.

But there is another equally valid possibility. Years ago, when I first began selling stories, my friend, and fellow writer, Michael A. Burstein, warned me that once I started publishing science fiction, I might not enjoy reading it as much. For a long time, I told myself this would not happen to me. When it began happening, I forced myself to believe it was just a phase. Now, I am beginning to think it isn’t.

None of this means that I won’t write a story that falls into the science fiction category, nor does it mean that I won’t read science fiction books and stories in the future. But I feel like I have passed through a one-way door. On the other side of the door is the vibrant joy science fiction once gave me. On this side, is the muted pleasure I get on the rare instances that I read science fiction today.

One comment

  1. Yeah, I did say that. I will note that there is another door you will pass through, where you will find yourself enjoying good SF at a higher level. But it takes a while to get there and not everyone does.


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