Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ah, To Wonder about Wonder

The geniuses at io9 have given me the best article I've read in a while about the attempt to capture a sense of wonder in writing.

The problem? Science fiction used to give the reader a sense of wonder about the universe. Nowdays everything pales in comparison to the brilliant works of the past.

Their take: You're getting old. You've read a variant of the same story so many times that it's become a cliche. You want a sense of wonder? Then be 14 again.

I like it. The article is brilliant. The writer makes his points well and with enough anecdotal evidence that it feels authoritative.

But it's wrong. The whole thing is just... wrong. I've been reading science fiction since I was a kid. The first summer I remember reading a novel included Foundation, Watchers, Riverworld, Millienum and Clan of the Cave Bear. The summer of 86 maybe.

Anyway, the point is that I've been reading science fiction novels for at a minimum of 23 years. Not ridiculously long, but long enough that I've encountered that sense of wonder more than once.

I mentioned in an earlier post about the awe I felt when I read Stephen Baxter's Ring. That was around 1995. I felt that after reading Arthur C. Clarke's Rama books (I read several back to back) in the early 90's. I even felt that sense of awe as recently as 2005 when I read Olaf Stapledon's Starmaker. Hell, that thing is 80 years old.

So is it me? Or is it the story? I agree that I can now read something and think that I would have liked it much more if I'd stumbled upon it 10 or 15 years ago. But that doesn't stop me from being appropriately wowed - the writer just can't be lazy about it and throw in a subplot about the transgalactic aliens that are here with godlike powers. I will need more that that.

I'm tempted to go on a rant about what it is that even draws me to science fiction in the first place. But I run the risk of getting stuck knee deep in my own crap. I'll save that one for a future post.

So please, read the original article, enjoy it, but don't believe it. It just isn't true.

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