Hawking Up Hairballs

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Science Fiction

I read a lot of science fiction when I was a teenager. That was back when guys like Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein were in their primes. I vaguely remember reading Asimov's I, Robot and Heinlein's Starship Troopers. As I recall, they were nothing like the movies they inspired. Speaking of movies, no sci-fi writer seems to have inspired more movies than Philip K. Dick. He's a favorite of those who would be the ages of my children, if I had children. I tried reading him but found him uninteresting. I loved the movie Blade Runner though, and it was based on one of his stories. A Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein really swore me off science fiction for a long time. I hated "grok", that word he invented. It was such an ugly thing, like "shit" and "fuck", a word that should only be used for cursing, but it caught on among the nerdy set for a while.

The trouble with science fiction is that the writing is so bad. It's right up there with the prose in the really trashy genres like romance novels. In the other entertainment genres, like thrillers and crime novels, there are writers who can be counted on to at least write competent prose. There are even some who write good prose, the crime novelist James Lee Burke is one, and John LeCarre is another, at least in his early years. This opinion isn't just mine though. I recently visited a web site for aspiring writers. In one section, the owners of the site were answering questions from visitors. One would-be writer said that he'd been unable to find a publisher for his sci-fi novel. He was wondering if he should publish it himself. The response was that he probably shouldn't bother because the standards were so low in the genre that the book probably wasn't any good if no one would publish it.

All that said, I've found a sci-fiwriter that I like in Richard K. Morgan. I just finished reading his fifth novel Thirteen. I enjoyed it. The book isn't what I would call literature, but it was good entertainment. Prior to this he's written a trilogy featuring mercenary/avenging angel Takeshi Kovaks. All four of these books are in the cyberpunk genre, which is just the noir detective sensibility applied to a dystopian future. That kind of stuff is right up my alley, and I've delighted all of these books. Morgan's fifth book, Market Forces, isn't very good. It was actually the first one that he wrote, and he was unable to find a publisher. When his Takeshi Kovaks novels started to take off, he was apparently able to find a publisher for the book. Strangely enough, it's the first of his books that's been optioned for a movie. Figures, doesn't it?


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