Those familiar with the Pulp Revolution know that it is in part a reaction against recent trends in the science fiction and fantasy fiction world, trends that have led, in the opinions of me, and many others, to poorer fiction. Message fiction predominates, and mainstream authors seem more keen on pushing their social justice agenda in areas like climate change and feminism rather than on writing good, creative stories.
This article (post?) on Popular Mechanics, which some fellow Pulp Revolutionaries shares on Twitter recently, is a perfect demonstration of the abysmal state of (mainstream) science fiction. Let’s go through the post’s many problems, and discuss in brief how this typifies what we are opposed to, and why we will win.
The article’s title, “The Best Science Fiction Books of 2017 (So Far)” is fairly bland and innocuous, though I always find such “so far” lists a bit strange, since by their nature they will become obsolete by the end of the year. But fine. The first problem is, really, the source of this. As Bradford C. Walker said, “Who the fuck goes to Popular Mechanics for book recommendations?” This was an excellent question, one we didn’t have an answer to. If anyone out there does, please let me know.
But getting onto the meat of the problem, we look at the list of books, and what seems to be their primary emphases.
First, we have a book called New York 2140. It’s a dystopia climate change novel, and that’s pretty much it. Literally the selling points are it’s “relevance” regarding climate change and the author’s previous work.
Next up is Borne. The descriptions makes it actually seem (possibly) interesting, even though there is the cliched evil Company that lost control of its mad science experiment. But then, the writer of the article ends her promotion of it be emphasizing the book’s female protagonist as a major selling point.
The third book, Walkaway, is another climate change novel. And, it apparently also “addresses” the “issues” of capitalism, the wealth gap, fluid sexuality, and, apparently, 3D printing. Yeah, I think we get the idea. Do you spot the trends yet?
Moving on to the only space opera on the list, and the only book with a cover that is at all attractive (seriously, were the others made in an hour by some freelance graphic designer? I self-published, and even I managed to commission an attractive, original piece of artwork), that of The Stars are Legion. Leaving aside the article author’s apparent belief that the market is flooded with space operas (really, where?), this one is praised as defying genre conventions–but the BIG twist is: all the people are women. What a selling point!
The next book, Six Wakes, is basically a murder mystery involving cloning, and (maybe?) ethics related to that, as it apparently begins with a list of laws related to cloning. Not something that particularly interests me, but it doesn’t sound like it’s message fiction. Once again, the book’s protagonist is female.
We next have All Our Wrong Todays, which seems like a strange book that features time travel, a future utopia, and is apparently quite light-hearted. Again, I’m not getting anything for me here, but it seems fairly inoffensive, and dares to have a male protagonist.
The second to last book on this list, Waking Gods, also seems fairly inoffensive, though, once again, the description seems fairly dry, and doesn’t scream “fun” to me–though to its credit, a giant robot battle is promised, in some form.
The list concludes with The Moon and the Other. And boy did we save one of the “best” for last. This one takes place in the 22nd century, where a few million people live on a number of moon colonies, including one that is fully matriarchal, in which men cannot vote or hold power (though apparently are otherwise free to do as they wish.) The writer of the article states that it manages to be light and accessible while setting up a serious discussion of the gender politics of the future, and a primary message seems to be that humans will always “get in the way” of creating a better society.
So that’s Popular Mechanics’ list of best sci-fi books so far this year. As you may have gathered from the inordinate focus these stories seem to place on female characters and social justice talking points like climate change. None of these stories provide me with any more than a very vague interest, and not just because all but one of these covers are TERRIBLE.
This, of course, isn’t to say that it’s not possible for these books to actually be decent, besides the terrible selling points. But when you compare these book descriptions, and covers, with the books of say, Brian Niemeier, Jon Del Arroz, and others involved in the Pulp Revolution scene, (myself included), along with new short fiction sources like Cirsova there is a clear difference, and we even have Jeffo Johnson’s excellent analyses of the old pulps in Appendix N from which to draw on. In the end, most readers want books that draw them in, are fun, make them excited, and yes, that have awesome covers. Most of us are still fairly small, in the grand scheme of the writing world, but as the mainstream books get worse and more preachy, they’ll come looking for fun, awesome books if they haven’t already found us. And we’ll be happily waiting. The revolution is underway, and I am confident that we will win. It’s just a matter of time.