1. Vacuum Eater
    Offline

    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2009
    Messages:
    113
    Likes Received:
    1

    A Lot of Science Fiction Lacks that Sense of Wonder

    Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Vacuum Eater, Nov 20, 2009.

    Just finished reading "An Accidental Goddess" and "The Stars My Destination." No offense to the authors, but I find that these books (like a lot of sci-fi books) lack a certain something: a sense of wonder.

    I feel that this happens when authors go overboard with explanations and technical descriptions that don't really add to the story. For example, Star Wars had that sense of wonder and mystery until George Lucas decided to create a scientific basis (midochlorians) for the previously largely unexplained and mysterious Force.

    Personally, I don't like it when every single little thing is explained and every single loose end is tied. Upon reaching the conclusion of a book, I naturally like to know how the main plot turns out, but I also like it when there are a few things that keep me wondering. Don't get me wrong - sci-fi is great. It's just that a lot of it leaves me unsatisfied and makes me feel as though I've been spoon-fed too much information.

    A poll somewhere (I think it was on this site) revealed that fantasy is a much more popular genre than science fiction. Science fiction and fantasy are similar in that they both deal with one or more imaginary elements, so I wonder if the disparity in readership is caused by the text book-like technicality and thoroughness of a lot of science fiction versus the easier-to-read, less rationalized, more character-centric approach of typical fantasy tales?
     
    CGB likes this.
  2. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    Science itself has become more and more complex with time, and common people's general understanding of it, as well. I guess this added layer of complexity drives the writers to go further in detailing the fabric of their universe, and then something is lost. It's the only explanation I can think of. It's an urge to over-go preceeding works, and the result is over-doing. Everything needs to be explained these days. It has to be rationalized, or people may not accept it.

    I agree with you completely, though. I like mystery. I like to use my imagination. When I was six and watched Star Wars the first time, I intuitively knew what it all was about. I didn't need any explanations. I feel sorry for the kids who, at age six, watched the prequels and were forced to listen to all the mumbo-jumbo about mediclorians.

    The more I read, the further I tend to go back in time. I just enjoy those stories more. Stories about subjects and themes that defy explanation. Stories that mock the rational, logical mind. Stories that make me wonder about the universe.
     
  3. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    I've spoken of this loss of wonder too. Part of it is a general cynicism among the reading public. The sense of wonder comes largely with a joy for diversity, and a feeling that the universe is filled with beauty we should go forth and discover.

    Discovery is not cherished these days. The IGY and the Space Race are behind us, and today' emphasis is on everyone is in a pessimistic survival mode. A hand to mouth philosophy prevails. We must invest only in those things that realize a concrete, immediate benefit, rather than the speculative exploration of the unknown. And this is despite the historical record that our greatest advances in quality of living do indeed arise from a search for knowledge for its own sake.

    Techno-babble is another matter. It makes people feel smart, but it's only word-humping. Smart science fiction, like what Larry Niven used to write, requires both the author and the reader to think, and expects both to have some knowledge of real science. But the sad truth is that science education, like many other areas of knowledge, is on the decline.

    With fantasy, you can make your own world-rules, and they don't have to meet the same standards of consistency as good science fiction. I feel this accounts for a lot of fantasy's popularity, especially among new writers. Meanwhile, a lot of SF is degenerating into war novels with bigger bangs and vaster battlefields.

    I believe there is a market for SF with beauty and wonder. The very existence of threads like this encourages me.

    Take up the challenge, and write the novels to feed this market. It's about time we lifted our eyes above the muck and misery, and again look to the stars with eyes filled with hope.
     
    DaveOlden, Artist369 and Simpson17866 like this.
  4. Blackwaltz
    Offline

    Blackwaltz Member

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2009
    Messages:
    31
    Likes Received:
    2
    I agree as well. Some science fiction stories work well by explaining things. Take for example the Red Mars series; its a series about how to colonize another planet and what would most likely happen.

    But if you read 2001 there is a lot of wonder to that and, personally, I find it to be more enjoyable. Its like a fable set in the future rather then just theory and how-to's. I hope more science fiction writiers let more go. There hasn't been any recent science fiction projects that i've really enjoyed for a while.
     
  5. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    Yeah. The monolith was never really explained. I think that's exactly why it haunts the imagination so much. It's almost a character in itself, possessing supernatural powers. We can't understand it, and that's why we understand the apes' awe and wonder of it. It doesn't get more epic than that.
     
    DaveOlden likes this.
  6. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,834
    Likes Received:
    10,013
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    This is going to sound a little harsh, but I think authors are only adapting to a public which has lost its capacity to wonder.

    The rate of change in technological advance increases all the time making it difficult to write things that haven't become science fact by the time of publication, and there is also the fact that modern science fiction is a little too caught up in the science, desperate to make everything visual for a very visual generation.

    Science fiction was once a genre where authors could broach difficult and uncomfortable questions about the human condition. Questions that would be unpalatable were they to be posed in more "real world" writing genres.

    This doesn't really happen anymore because there is frankly less interest in the human condition and because political correctness has made too many subjects untouchably taboo. We have reverted to a kind of puritanism as concerns the subjects we can speak about, even in the far flung realms of science fiction.
     
  7. NaCl
    Offline

    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2008
    Messages:
    1,855
    Likes Received:
    58
    I find it amusing when people generalize about sci-fi. In my opinion, science fiction is no different than romance, adventure or any other kind of fiction . . . it simply provides escape for the reader. Escape from what? Obvious . . . reality. Some fans immerse themselves in the speculative technobabble, or they "learn" alien languages like Klingon. Others turn to sci-fi for its tendency to portray alternative social choices or to detail amazing worlds beyond our physical grasp or to enter places like inside the human body or perhaps to ride through a black hole into some alternative universe. All the while, the reader basks in the writer's notions, suspending contrary awareness. But, isn't this true of all fiction? Why would sci-fi be any different?

    I remember my own discovery of sci-fi as a young boy living in poverty. The book was Galactic Derelict by Andre Norton. It gave me a safe place, a fun place, where I didn't have holes in my shoes and I lost touch with gnawing hunger. It was an optimistic place where anything was possible, quite different from my reality. A simple modern day American Indian got swept up in time travel, space travel, alien planets, marooned on an alien home world that had de-volved from an advanced civilization back to caveman level. While I read, I pulled a blanket up to my chin to ward off the winter cold until mom and dad could afford more heating oil. That was the attraction of science fiction for me.

    As far as sci-fi versus fantasy, have you looked at the "Current Releases" section for sci-fi/fantasy in a bookstore recently? Ninety percent is fantasy...werewolves, vampires, zombies, hybrid creatures are being replaced by a new string of "super" beings. But, there is very little "old-fashioned" technology-based science fiction. Why is that? Maybe it is because we LIVE science fiction so it's not very sexy anymore! Here is a brief list of technical and scientific changes as far back as I can remember:

    color TV, Sputnik orbited the Earth (first living thing in outer space), calculators were invented and banned from my calculus classes, humans orbited the Earth, microwave ovens, astronauts landed on the moon, star scopes (infrared) gave me clear pictures of enemy during the blackest nights in Vietnam, the first heart transplants occurred, the first animal-human organ transplants happened, supersonic passenger flight, open heart surgery, deep ocean research vessels provided pictures of astonishing REAL creatures, satellite images for tracking hurricanes, cell phones, cassette recorders, VCRs, home computers, digital anything, electric cars, CAT scans, synthetic heart valves, stints for blocked arteries, cordless power tools, probes on Mars (and many other places), instant world wide monitoring of seismic activity/tsunami detection satelites...even having 50 gigabytes of ram on a desktop is an amazing feat.

    For most people, it isn't much a leap for sci-fi to postulate just about any kind of technical discovery, but zombies and magical faeries remain interesting, precisely BECAUSE they are unbelievable.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  8. Blackwaltz
    Offline

    Blackwaltz Member

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2009
    Messages:
    31
    Likes Received:
    2
    So... what is unbelievable now? I have to agree. I'm only 25 and in two decades I've seen TV go from 30 to 2000 channels, the internet and phones the size of a dollar bill do more then my PC. We've left the Atomic age with all of its Capitalism versus Communism and entered the informatin age. So whats next to dream up?

    Or are we going to make the things we've dreamed up and then once thats complete, move on to something else once we know how?
     
  9. CDRW
    Offline

    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    Messages:
    1,532
    Likes Received:
    27
    The high speed of technological development makes it too easy to be dissapointed. We say "wouldn't it be cool if..." and before we can turn around we hear "scientists announced this week that they have figured out how..." and it doesn't live up to the hopes we pin on it.

    According to my biology teacher we can now sequence a human genome for less than $5,000. It's still an error prone process, but it's much more accessable than it was when I was a kid. But so what? Sequencing the human genome, once the holy grail of biology, has had no practical effect in my life. It may have revolutionized biology, but it didn't change my way of life. It's changed less for me than the release of the latest Transformers movie.

    Fantasy doesn't deal with what could be, it deals with what should be. It throws the focus farther afield, and so it hits closer to home.
     
  10. bluebell80
    Offline

    bluebell80 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 20, 2009
    Messages:
    636
    Likes Received:
    18
    Location:
    Vermont
    I'm in a yahoo group for horror writers. It is ironic that you bring this up. There was a blog that interviewed a bunch of horror writers talking about something similar about how horror is full of crap writing. Sci-fi and fantasy isn't much different. There is some good stuff out there, but it is few and far between.

    I know exactly what you mean with the Star Wars reference. I watched #3 at the theaters with my now deceased uncle and it was like heaven. It is one of my earliest memories of movie going experience, that and Fantasia during his funeral. I remember watching the big screen full of jedi goodness and being terrified by the Rancor. I watched the first two movies on TV before I had seen Return of the Jedi, and I was totally in love with the series. As an adult watching the prequels I was irritated by the showiness and the explanation for "the force." I liked it being just a little bit magical.

    I'm working on two novels at once, as if that is possible, while trying to help my parents get ready for their video game store opening ( to which I'm going to acquiring a day job.) I'm working on a zombie novel and a sci-fi/horror/comedy novel based on parallel universes and all that fun cryptology-fringe science stuff.

    I know in my own writing that I want that sense of wonder/curiosity. I want the reader to not know what is going on anymore than my MC knows what is going on. I want it all to be something in the sense of discovery. I know that is what I enjoy, the not knowing what is coming next, the not understanding everything that is going on, it gives me a sense of sympathy for the MC who is also dealing with the same problem.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  11. Vacuum Eater
    Offline

    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2009
    Messages:
    113
    Likes Received:
    1
    I'm glad to see that there are others who feel the same as I on this issue. :)

    Perhaps we'll soon start seeing that wonder/curiosity/beauty once again in books. Heavens knows I'm trying to capture it in my projects.
     
  12. Leaka
    Offline

    Leaka Creative Mettle

    Joined:
    Dec 17, 2007
    Messages:
    5,825
    Likes Received:
    36
    I'm going to be a little honest. I'm a intellectual thought process person. I seek knowledge and watch a lot of documentaries. Yeah sometimes science books go overboard with the techno babble. But sometimes I enjoy the techno babble. That kind of vastly different knowledge from ours is a sense of wonder I get.
    It makes me sort of tingle with excitement. It's a sense of fake intellect and challenge I adore from science.
    Don't go overboard with it, but I do like it.
     
  13. architectus
    Offline

    architectus Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Messages:
    1,796
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Ca
    I was inspired by Dune when I wrote my novel Agija of Agukas. Most of my beta readers were fantasy lovers, and they really enjoyed it. I almost feel like I stepped out of the bounds of sci-fi because the MC gains the ability to see energy fields, which his brains interprets as strings. But this also gives him the ability to heal people, and even do something similar to astro projection, but everything he does is shown to be sciency. Also the Agija inherite much of their ancestors past memories through the DNA. The MC, though, is able to see all the way back to the first Agija. It is only because of this that he is able to save them.

    I think the novel has a sense of wonder to it, and adventure. Like Dune, it feels much like a fantasy novel, but with andriods, metal buildings, and flying cars, etc.
     
  14. marcusl
    Offline

    marcusl Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2009
    Messages:
    98
    Likes Received:
    0
    There are readers out there who like to know the scientific details. It sounds like Leaka is one of them. As for me, I wonder if characters should be the most important part of any genre?

    I've been playing a computer game called Mass Effect, which isn't a novel, but anyway, inside the game, there are pages of information on how the spaceship operated. For example, how it prevents overheating. That kind of thing bores me. I just want to get on with the story. But again, I'm sure there are people who appreciate that information, which is cool.
     
  15. sprirj
    Offline

    sprirj Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2009
    Messages:
    523
    Likes Received:
    158
    Wow you must be an american! hehe

    I'm 27 and I've seen tv channels go from 4 to about 50 (only leapt from 5 to 50 in last 2 years as UK went digital).
     
  16. Blackwaltz
    Offline

    Blackwaltz Member

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2009
    Messages:
    31
    Likes Received:
    2
    Eh. there's still nothing on. If I watch tv its for Deadliest Catch or Mythbusters
     
    Artist369 likes this.
  17. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    back on topic, please.
     
  18. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    I think it will pass. It should have passed already. I think the consensus has grown to accept that science isn't the solution for the human condition. In the 50's people dreamed of vacuum cleaners and cheap cars, and Star Trek embodied the fantasy that one day, technology will make us all happy -- our lives effortless. The technology of science fiction is here, now, but it hasn't made the world better. A thousand channels don't make you more enlightened than ten -- instead, they make you feel more confused. Mobile phones don't make you more free -- instead, they shattered the last excuse we had for being unavailable. Advances in science and medicine only made us feel more alienated from our bodies and more alone in the universe.

    Attempting to restore the naive illusion of happiness through science is in a sense backwards, and at some point writers will have to let go of it. We should all know full well, that living under a dome on the Moon isn't gonna make our lives brighter and better. I suspect that a craving for nostalgia and a wish to return to this naive hope is all that keeps that kind of fiction alive -- that the ones who once believed this dream crave to be children again.

    "For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow."

    I think this is a sad truth, and the sorrow lies in aknowledging that the steps you have taken towards a brighter future in some way were steps away from your basic self. That in attempting to deconstruct happiness in order to understand it, you lose any sense of the greater picture. But maybe I'm drifting off topic again, in my attempt to deconstruct the reason for a lost sense of wonder...
     
    DaveOlden and Simpson17866 like this.
  19. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,834
    Likes Received:
    10,013
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    There is a vast difference between happiness and wonder, is there not?

    I completely agree that the coming of science fiction in your pocket (my little cell phone is quantum levels beyond Captain Kirk's communicator) has proven to the more well to do humans* that all of this techno-jazz is not a road that takes us to the happy land.

    Therein lies my comment concerning Science Fiction getting caught up in the science. In the end, a story needs to be about the humans, not the cool toys. Is it not the same thing in real life? I have toys today that I would never have dreamed possible as a wide eyed little boy in the 70's, but I am still me today. The toys have not made a fundamental change in the me of me. Even the massive power of the internet has only augmented a trait for curiosity in me. The trait was always there.

    This is why I return again and again to the same authors, the ones who use science fiction to ask questions about the human condition. Clarke, Azimov, Herbert, Butler, Delany. These writers used the medium of Science Fiction to ask questions, not give answers.

    Answers are dead ends, they go nowhere.

    Questions are open roads that are always moving forward.

    *Remember that we, the privileged few humans who have access to comfort and technology, are the minority. We are not representative of the life of the actual average human.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  20. DragonGrim
    Offline

    DragonGrim Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 3, 2008
    Messages:
    818
    Likes Received:
    19
    Location:
    Iowa
    I think fantasy is taking over the job of instilling wonder into readers. It’s moving away from killing goblins, and looking into super advanced civilization, and the larger questions. But sci-fi is not dead. I think that the lines have blurred though, and many fantasy novels could actually be classified as sci-fi nowadays.
     
  21. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    While happiness and sense of wonder aren't the same things, I believe they're connected.

    I suspect it has something to do with the beauty of simplicity.

    Where exactly I'm trying to go with this, I'd need to sleep on... Wonder about it for a bit.

    Maybe I'm not going anywhere with it. If I were to try and define happiness, I'd only shoot myself in the foot.
     
  22. Blackwaltz
    Offline

    Blackwaltz Member

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2009
    Messages:
    31
    Likes Received:
    2
    Well that brings me back to my point: What are the next questions for science fiction? Bio-ethics?
     
  23. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,834
    Likes Received:
    10,013
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Oh, I think there are still many things on the plate of the Human paradigm.

    We still suffer from the same foibles.

    As far as we may have come, we are still just one step off of the Savanna.
     
  24. Banzai
    Offline

    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2007
    Messages:
    12,871
    Likes Received:
    150
    Location:
    Reading, UK
    I don't really think any issues have ceased to be relevant, to be honest. Look at District 9. It explored racism and issues of segregation, discrimination, and violation of fundamental rights, using a science-fiction setting. That, in my opinion, is exactly what science-fiction should be doing. It should serve as analogy, through which we can learn or explore something about ourselves in the here and now.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  25. maskedhero
    Offline

    maskedhero Active Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2013
    Messages:
    365
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    America
    Not every science fiction story needs this, but I would like to read more of them with it. Jack McDevitt is pretty good at imbuing his books with that sense of wonder, and of course, mystery. Asimov was of course a good go-to for this.

    Cynicism is rife though, and the "Aw shucks, let's use our atomic X to go and explore space on our rocket ship" days of science fiction may be in the past.

    So why not be the next person to bring back the wonder?
     
    DaveOlden likes this.

Share This Page