I find science fiction comforting.
Not the stories themselves, necessarily. They disturb me, make me stay up all night, force me to root for the worst people (in the best way) and make me understand what is alien is often what is human.
Not the visions of the future, which are often bleak and disquieting. Even the bright clean Star Trek future is a bit too generic for me. I like my worlds gritty, maybe because I love cities, which are never just one thing.
Not the characters, who can be despicable or heroic, often in equal measure.
What I love about science fiction is the vast possibility of the genre. Give me an sf adventure story and I’m lost in a different world until I finish it. Give me a gem of a short story, with just a glimpse into an alien mind, and I’m enriched forever. Give me a different version of the past, and I feel like I’ve lived in a version of history that could actually have happened.
I also love the way that science fiction gives me a common language with so many people who are quite different from me. We might live in different lands or hold different beliefs, but we can talk about the stories, and we can bond.
I love the genre’s contentious history, from its early founding to the fights at the first Worldcon (destructive as they were to those involved) to the divisions in the 1950s to the anti-Star Wars/Star Trek campaigns of the 1970s to the embrace of fantasy (finally!) in the 1990s. I love the sense of generation, the passing of the torch from one to the next.
In the 1980s, I listened to Algis Budrys tell stories about the people in his past who, until that point, were just famous bylines on books I loved. At Superstars, the writers convention that Eric founded with Kevin J. Anderson, Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, and Rebecca Moesta, I found myself telling the same kinds of stories that Algis told me, only about the people in my past who, to the writer I was talking to, were just famous bylines on books he loved.
I’m rather astounded when I see articles about Ian and Betty Ballantine, who pioneered the mass market paperback, and realize that I had had several conversations with them. Or how, at every convention we were both at, I spent time with Jack Williamson, who published his first short story in the 1920s. Or the way that Julius Schwartz, “Mr. D.C.” during the comic company’s silver age, squired me around New York City in the car D.C. sent for him whenever he needed it.
I feel like I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, and when I tell those stories, I hear the echoes of their stories. I hope the people I’m telling stories to will someday tell stories to a generation yet unborn, continuing the legacy of sf’s oral tradition.
I know we’re in a new world of publishing—an sf world, in many ways. I will write this column on my computer, email the file to Paula, and within hours, she will have proofed it, and put it on this website, where you all will read it on your computer or your tablet (which sf used to call a “handheld”) or your phone (which sf missed).
The delivery system is different, but the content is the same (in concept) as the content in paper magazines that got shipped all over the country fifty years ago. Now we have list servers and Facebook instead of APA zines (Amateur Press Association magazines) which were mimeographed by their central managers (or overall editors) and mailed to all the members. Discussions were slower, but the passion was the same.
Even though the sf genre infuriates me at times, and saddens me at other times, it remains my home genre, the genre from which my entire career (and fannish life) springs.
Sometimes, it takes small things to remind me of that.
Like a conversation about sf history with a younger writer—when the history isn’t history to me, just memories. And to that younger writer, the history is something precious, something not in books, something unusual and strange which makes the entire genre come alive.
Science fiction comforts me.
And I value that.