Monday, March 24, 2008

Who Is The New Clarke?

And the man asking that question, in yesterday's New York Times, is...our own Dave Itzkoff!

(Did he think he could hide from us by appearing in a different section of the paper?)

Itzy phoned up a representative handful of current SF writers -- Charles Stross, Walter Jon Williams, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Ian McDonald -- and asked them about current scientific trends and SFnal prediction. All said reasonable things, although the backhanded compliment of Bacigaulpi's "In a lot of ways, Clarke was writing honest SF for his time" is awfully close to the perennial radical's lament of how everyone in this history of the universe was less intellectually advanced than the speaker is now. (I've liked several of Bacigalupi's stories a lot, but every time I read his comments about the field I get less and less interested in what seems to be more and more intense axe-grinding.)

The article's premise is on shaky grounds, though -- it's the old saw about SF, and in particular Clarke's work, being primarily about predicting the future. That never was true for any good SF past the very earliest Gernsback era, and it's less true of Clarke than most. Clarke never wrote a future history, and very few of his stories were particularly predictive.

Did Childhood's End "predict" that devil-shaped aliens would transform our children?

Did Rendezvous With Rama "predict" that giant enigmatic alien starships would use our solar system as an interstellar rest stop?

I suppose it's too early to say whether the "predictions" in Against the Fall of Night/The City and the Stars came true, so we can give him a pass there.

There's no space elevator yet, so I guess that makes The Fountains of Paradise "wrong."

Commentors are encouraged to post their own ideas of what particular Clarke works "predicted" and whether they came true or not.

Really, the predictiveness of a story has nothing to do with whether it's good SF, or good in any other way. It may be what non-SF readers cling onto as "what SF does," but that just proves that they don't know much about SF.

And that nicely returns to my first point -- let me repeat that the author of that article is one Dave Itzkoff.



Josh Jasper said...

Honestly, that was the least offensive, least annoying Itzkoff article I've read so far.

Mind you, he's wrong, and knows very little. But still, it didn't make me want to reach through the screen and throttle him.

Cheryl said...

Thank you for continuing to read Itzkoff so that I don't have to.

Unknown said...

Clark 'predicted' that a simple iterative combination of 9-billion simple character strings would end the universe.

Hm. That computation would be really cheap and easy now. I wonder if anyone's done it yet? It's been long enough since I read the story that I forget whether the task was clearly specc'ed in it or not.

Paul Weimer said...

Amen, Cheryl.

Anonymous said...

I think Itzkoff was simply saying that the old SF writers picked off all the low lying fruit and newer writers are going to have to work much harder to be dazzling.

I'm not sure if science fiction will ever discover a really big idea like alien invasion, space travel or time travel again, but these ideas get recycled endlessly because they are so exciting and every new generation of kids can get turned on.

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