The Spring/Tomball SF Group meets 11 January 2018

Calling all SF/Fantasy fans in North Houston/Spring/Woodlands Texas. The Spring/Tombal area SF/Fantasy book group meets at Jason’s Deli, 22424 State Highway 249, Houston, TX 77070 at 7PM on January 11, 2018. We usually go until 9 and talk about books, TV shows, movies, and whatever else comes to mind. So, if you’re in the area, come on out!

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The Katy Freeway Book Group Meets on Monday, November 20, 2017

Anyone interested in SF/Fantasy/Mystery/Horror/Whatever books is invited to come out to the Katy Freeway Book Swap.  It starts at 7 at the La Madeleine, 770 W Sam Houston Parkway N, Suite 100 in Houston, 77024.  We’ll be in the reserved meeting space in back.  Come out and enjoy a nice meal and hear about (and borrow!) books that we’ve found interesting.

The Spring/Tomball SF Book Group Meets 9 November 2017

Calling all SF/Fantasy fans in North Houston/Spring/Woodlands Texas.  The Spring/Tombal area SF/Fantasy book group meets at Jason’s Deli, 22424 State Highway 249, Houston, TX 77070 at 7PM on November 9, 2017.  We usually go until 9 and talk about books, TV shows, movies, and whatever else comes to mind.  So, if you’re in the area, come on out!

Crafty Geeks Meetup at the Houston Quilt Festival

Any crafty geeks out there (you know who you are!) who are going to the Houston Quilt Festival (you know who you are!) are asked to meet at the Starbucks at 1001 Avenida De Las Americas at 9:30 AM on Saturday November 4, 2017 so that you can go as a group, or just to meet your fellow Crafty Geeks.  It should be an awesome experience, so I hope you can make it!

Six Things We’ll Never See Again in Science Fiction

As time moves forward, there are changes in the field of science fiction, as in everything else.  Here are some things that are now in the rear-view mirror as we move forward.

True Giants in the Field

In the “Golden Age” of science fiction, giants roamed the earth.  “Doc” Smith, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and then later the likes of Ursula Le Guin and Harlan Ellison dominated the field in ways that are difficult to overstate.

We’ll not see their like again.  Not writers or artists who have an outsize effect on science fiction.

Not that today’s writers are incapable or lacking in talent, or even that today’s writers’ output is insufficient, but the field itself is so much bigger than it was back then and consequently harder to dominate the way it was back in the 1930’s or even the 1960’s.  Outsize personalities we have aplenty, but science fiction is even more vast.

Short Fiction as the Dominant Form

Speaking of outsize personalities who had an outsize effect on science fiction, who will be the next Hugo Gernsback?  Who will replicate the success of his magazines?  My answer is “nobody”.

The short forms of science fiction aren’t exactly dead, but they’re unlikely to gain the sort of prominence they had when Robert Heinlein, Anson MacDonald, and Lyle Monroe could all have short stories in the same magazine issue.

This is, all in all, a good thing.  The short form was forced upon writers by the lack of a perceived market for longer works.  Nowadays the market for novel-length SF is large and robust and the novels themselves are getting longer from the 200 or so page books common in the 1960’s to the wrist-busting tomes of today.  This allows writers to explore more sophisticated topics as they weave ever more complex tales.  Not that there lacks in a market for shorter fiction, but it tends to be more experimental and lower key.

Serialized Novels

Of a piece with the prior point, serialized novels are a thing of the past.  This was a form that was pioneered in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The form lasted for more than a century but is gone along with the incentives that made it happen.  It started as a way for writers and publishers to get paid for their work in the absence of copyright and persisted after the establishment of copyright law as a way to publish richly complex stories in a world that was seeing few science fiction novels printed.

Nowadays it is common for novelists, even untried novelists, to get published in book form (even in hardback!) and there is a lively market for self-publication especially in electronic form.  All of which means that there no longer is any real need to figure out how to break a book up into four pieces in order to print them in successive issues of a monthly magazine.

Standalone World-Changing Books

Remember Stranger in a Strange Land?  Of course you do!  There is no novel that has affected popular culture more.  It even gets mentioned in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”  I have a question, though:  What series did it belong to?

The quick answer is, it didn’t.  Although Heinlein attempted to integrate it into the rest of his stories, an effort that was not really successful (and I will not speak of it again) it was a standalone story which had a marked effect on popular culture.  Could that happen these days?  I don’t think so.

Due to the market characteristics of publishing today, I think that any such book written today would necessarily spawn a sequel and eventually a series.  I think this is a bad thing, in all.  I mean, would it have made the world better to have a whole series of books on the adventures of Valentine Michael Smith?  I don’t think so.

Bug-Eyed Aliens as Bad Guys

An invasion of hideous alien monsters is one of the oldest plots in science fiction.  “War of the Worlds,” anyone?  Writers got so much mileage out of that particular plot that the ground it covers is no longer fertile.  Today, the humans are far more likely to be the monsters and the aliens the target of our invasion than the other way around.  Those old stories are still around, so what could a new writer say that hasn’t already been said?

Swamps on the Surface of Venus

Like the canals of Mars, this one is a casualty of greater scientific understanding.  Back when a lot of the stories were based on the hope that the author’s speculation bore some resemblance to reality (not that it doesn’t happen now) people thought that clouds implied rain and copious rain implied a swampy planet.  Venus is the size of earth and somewhat closer to the sun, so writers concluded that it must be a damp tropical swamp or rain forest.

Well, they got that one wrong.  The clouds are sulfuric acid, not water, and the temperatures and pressure at the surface of Venus are unlike anywhere else in the solar system.  I suppose someone might write Steampunk stories on the old understanding, but it long past the time that it would work in a mainstream science fiction story.  We have to look for our swampy planets elsewhere.

Got any other ideas about things that we’ll never see again in science fiction?  Think I’m all wet about these?

By all means, let me know in the comments.

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