While I’m a fan of both science fiction and fantasy, I consider myself more of the latter. Perhaps this distinction makes itself more pronounced when it comes to my reading preferences, especially when it comes to the “classics”. When it comes to fantasy, I honestly abhor J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, instead preferring George R. R. Martin and Philip Pullman respectively. In many ways, I’m more modern when it comes to fantasy and generally aware of the upcoming writers in the field (and the intrigues that surround them). Science fiction, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. I don’t think I can really name a modern science fiction author aside from those that were still writing back in the “golden era” of science fiction: Arthur C. Clarke, William Gibson, Greg Bear. When I speak of science fiction works that I read and enjoy, I instantly go for the well-known classics such as Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, and Alfred Bester.
I think this strange tug of war between “classical literature” and “modern literature” is becoming more and more essential in genre fiction. Because as much as the critics might dismiss genre fiction, those familiar with the field know that there’s growth and evolution in those specific genres. Modern horror for example has veered away (and sometimes revisits) the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and Ira Levin. More than one fantasy has veered away from Tolkienesque worlds or even the trilogy packaging, instead opting for shorter or even longer, more dramatic works. Science fiction I think has drifted from conceptual science fiction and political science fiction but has slowly moved into the field of hard science fiction (a fact made possible that the present is indeed the science fiction of three decades ago). I’m sure there are also other developments in genres I’m not quite familiar with but the fact is, there’s really much growth and evolution happening. I won’t even delve into interstitial fiction, speculative fiction, and other types of fiction that fuses, combines, and remixes various genres.
And at the end of the day, today’s modern genre will become tomorrow’s classics. Authors like Kelly Link and Jeffrey Ford and Jeff Vandermeer seem poised to take the spot when we talk of literary fantasy for example. George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan, and Steven Erikson have redefined epic fantasy. No one really knows what to make of China Mieville but he’ll certainly be nominated for a spot somewhere. And then there’s the fan-favorite Neil Gaiman, the same author who gave us the dark Coraline, the urban American Gods, and my latest bet, Interworld.
I can’t help how readers three generations from now will look at these authors. Will there be disdain or appreciation? What new writing styles will rise and dethrone these uncrowned kings of genre?