Just finished reading at the Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s quarterly Dangerous Voices reading. There were lots of people there, and I really had a fun time talking to everyone. I love how wonderful and democratic the science fiction world is, and I like how the people are genuinely bound by their love of media. The night’s other reader, Myke Cole, spoke in an extremely moving (and hilarious) fashion about how much he loved D&D and what it had meant to him, growing up.
But I also wonder how long I’ll be able to keep reading at events like that. I came home to a short story rejection where the slush reader said that she didn’t think my story had a sufficient speculative element. Leaving aside the fact that I think she was pretty wrong (the story takes place in the future and includes the planet’s slow deterioration due to and then recovery from global warming), I think this is indicative of a way that my speculative stories are falling further and further out of sync with the current fashion in the SF/F field.
Not only that, but I’m writing fewer and fewer SF/F stories. In the last year, I’ve written twelve stories. Of those, only five could even sort of be classified as SF/F.
Nor am I likely to put out an SF/F novel any time soon. My current agent only reps young adult and middle grade fiction. In those fields, all the genres are sort of jumbled together: you’re not a science fiction writer, you’re a young adult writer. Furthermore, although he’s representing a dystopian young adult novel that I’d consider to be science fiction, I wrote it three years ago, in May of 2011. Since then, I’ve only written one SF/F novel, and it was awful. I trunked it, and it shall never be seen by the book-buying public.
The other two YA novels that I’m going to try shopping around are both contemporary. And while my recently-completed crime novel could be thought of as speculative (it takes place in a world where sociopathy can be detected by brain scan), there’s really no place for it on the SF/F shelves.
I don’t even read that much science fiction or fantasy anymore. Those ten novels that I recently made a concerted effort to read were more exposure to the genre than I’ve had in years. And my imagination doesn’t really work that way anymore, either. Science fiction and fantasy are great at evoking a sense of wonder, but that’s not what I hunger for nowadays. I want something that’s real. Nowadays, whenever I read something that’s set in the far future or in a made-up fantasy world, I start to get antsy: everything feels too constructed. That’s not a criticism of the genre. Realism is sloppy, because certain stuff just gets lobbed in there in order to create a feeling of verisimilitude. Fantasy and science fiction are more careful and more precise: since everything in the story is constructed, then you know that everything has meaning. That’s what allows SF/F to provide those soaring emotions and that sense of higher meaning that you don’t often get in realism. But, at the same time, my imagination doesn’t work that way anymore: I am tired of sitting in a room and trying to juxtapose concepts in a way that creates a startling and strange image; I’d prefer to go out into the world and see all the startling and strange things that already exist.
Given all of this, I’m not sure there’s any real path that leads to success as an SF/F writer for me. When I do happen to write SF/F stories, I’ll still submit them to SF/F magazines, but it’s hard to imagine a future in which I’m primarily considered a science fiction writer.