I just drove an hour in a fucking hellish snowstorm and am in no shape to do all the typesetting on Last War in Albion, so that’ll be a day or two later in the week. For now, I’ve had a couple of old Twitter threads get a lot of renewed attention on the back of some debates about current trends in SF/F literature. A couple of these are things I reworked into what I called “tiny essays” for Patreon a while back, and if my views are going to get cited and thrown around I may as well put them up in a durable and lightly edited form. So here’s four tiny essays on recent aesthetic trends mostly around SF/F, to publicly stake out some positions.
The Tor Wave
For three years running there have been precisely zero white men nominated for the Best Novel Hugo, and the last one to actually win was John Scalzi all the way back in 2013. This suggests a clear aesthetic shift in how sci-fi works—one on the scale of the rise of the New Wave in the 1960s or the sudden arrival of cyberpunk in the mid-80s. However nobody has formulated a take on how this movement functions.
Part of this is undoubtedly the nazis. The Sad Puppies attacked this style before it had gotten a chance to self-codify. Their attacks were farcical and largely not even wrong—the claim that this “wasn’t science fiction” remains pure historical erasure. But like any propaganda there were just enough truths mixed in with the lies to make things difficult.
- Diversity as an underlying assumption. Fantasy that isn’t medieval Europe fetishism but starts from international perspectives. (Rebecca Roanorse, N.K. Jemisin) Overt queerness (Charlie Jane Anders, Tamsyn Muir). This isn’t diversity for diversity’s sake, but rather focused exploration into the options that the white male default precludes.
- A massive dollop of fanfic and romance influence. Tamsyn Muir and Charlie Jane Anders are at the front line of this, so it clearly overlaps substantially with queerness. But let’s not forget that Naomi Novik’s breakout series was a reskinned Master and Commander fanfic.
- It’s stylistically a big tent, with the lyrical and allusiveness of Piranesi sitting comfortably alongside the cyberpunk reconstructionism of The Murderbot Diaries. Put another way, this is by a generation for whom SF/F has always had lots of different traditions, and who grew up reading all of them. Post-factionalization, although in practice this is still a faction.
Within this, the New Wave clearly has a ton of influence. Its innovations—SF/F conceits as tools for exploring interiority, the foregrounding of different cultural perspectives, stylistic experimentation—are all very, very internalized here. No longer controversial or innovative, just the way things are done. These are writers who grew up with library book sales where cheap copies of Dragonriders of Pern and Left Hand of Darkness abounded. More to the point, these existed besides Rendezvous with Rama and Neuromancer, all in a single “Science Fiction/Fantasy” genre.…