Because of my profession as a science fiction and fantasy book critic (I’ve reviewed more than 5,000 titles), I get mocked from time to time by family and friends who think I’ve become detached from reality because I read too much genre fiction. To them – and specifically my own father who is still waiting for me to get a “real job” at the post office – science fiction and fantasy novels are simply pulpy literary escapism with no real significance to the real world. In other words, a waste of precious time that could be better spent listening to NPR, reading a newspaper or watching CNN.

The fact of the matter is that science fiction in particular is not only a dynamic source of virtually unlimited – and highly intelligent – speculation for improving and advancing humanity as a whole but also a profoundly powerful barometer or the overall political and societal wellbeing of the human race. Just look at a sub-genre of science fiction – apocalyptic fiction. In times of global uncertainty and instability, the number – and profundity – of apocalyptic fiction releases increases dramatically. WWII gave us 1984 by George Orwell (1949) and Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (1949). During and shortly after the Korean War, numerous genre classics were released, including Andre Norton’s 2250 AD (1952), Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953), I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954), The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett (1955), and On the Beach by Nevil Shute (1957). The Cold War inspired Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle (1963), Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb by Philip K. Dick (1965), and Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny (1969), to name just a few.

Over the last few years, apocalyptic fiction has seen yet another massive resurgence – Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier (2006), Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler (2008), World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler (2008), and Lamentation by Ken Scholes (2009) are some of the more noteworthy releases but there are countless others.


In February of this year, debut author David Oppegaard visited BarnesandNoble.com’s fantasy/SF forum to talk about his disturbing end-of-the-world novel, The Suicide Collectors, in which 90 percent of the world’s population has killed themselves out of sheer despair. When he was asked why he thought apocalyptic fiction is so phenomenally popular right now, his response was enlightening: “…given the glacial pace of publishing, most of the apocalyptic books out now were started by their authors around 2003-2005. This was the heart of the Bush administration, and most writers… probably weren't feeling too optimistic about the state of the world, and neither were their readers. Especially in the wake of 9/11, which basically showed the world that even the mighty can fall, and fall fast. You can wake up one morning and everything can change; great loss is always around the corner.”

With a summer that looks to be chock full of highly anticipated end-of-the-world novels (The Unincorporated Man by Dani and Eytan Kollin, One Second After by William R. Forstchen, In the Courts of the Sun by Brian D’Amato, etc.), I feel simultaneously attuned to the jittery pulse of humanity and hopeful for our future – and this after tuning in to CNN for a few moments and watching “breaking news” concerning the ongoing probe into the death of Anna Nicole Smith and an interview with the latest American Idol contestant to be voted off the show.

So Dad, let’s revisit that comment about being detached from reality, shall we? Go read Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s 1960 classic A Canticle for Leibowitz and then we’ll talk.

Message Edited by paulgoatallen on 04-15-2009 09:59 AM
Comments
by on ‎04-15-2009 11:06 AM
Paul once again you are proving why you are my hero.  You are probably the best spokesman for SciFi/Fantasy books that I have heard from in quite a long time.  Your analysis and insight is always greatly appreciated by me and other posters.  The Suicide Collectors was one of two books that you introduced me too that I truly feel were some of the best examples of writing (from any genre) that I have read in a long time.  While I wasn't planning on reading A Canticle for Leibowitz, I will now.
by Moderator dhaupt on ‎04-15-2009 11:09 AM

Paul, here here. From a highly intelligent and intellectual individual.

And I would love to have your not a real job. 

by Moderator paulgoatallen on ‎04-15-2009 12:39 PM

Thanks for the kind words, Ryan and Debbie! And speaking of A Canticle for Leibowitz, we're going to be featuring this classic over in the fantasy/SF forum in May – that's going to be a fantastic dialogue so please stop by!

Paul 

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎04-15-2009 01:25 PM

Very interesting, Paul. Your pointing toward the trend in apocalyptic-themed novels written/released post 9/11 jibes with the overall increase in 'escapist' reading after the date and during wartimeI get paid to write commentary about romance fiction -- another 'not-real job' -- and we who love that genre note the same trends, though, clearly, romance readers and post-9/11 'converts' look for slightly different escapismwith the exception of the genre blending/urban fantasy trends w/in romance.

 

All that said, it's even more interesting to note that you lament your family's/friends thinking you're out of touch w/realityWe romance readers usually hear that concerning our readingOften some of us point to Sci Fi/fantasy fans and say haughtily, "WellLook how popular Sci Fi is! Do you say the same to the men who read it!" Hmph

Apparently, some folks do say itI stand mightily and happily correctedI feel your pain, and heartily encourage you to 'keep your day job.'" 

by Moderator Melissa_W on ‎04-15-2009 02:14 PM

Pfft.  Who wants to go work for the post office? (no offense to all the mail carriers/inspectors/etc. out there)

by Chomp on ‎04-15-2009 02:51 PM

Bravo, Paul.

 

I am used to receiving a few of those looks and comments, myself, since the majority of my reading these days comes from the UF/paranormal category.

 

I think that one reason post-apocalyptic fiction is enjoying a resurgence is due to, as was stated above, the times we live in. As in the past, when the human collective consciousness, for lack of a better term, begins to worry, get nervous about the precariousness of life and starts questioning how we are living, the literature will reflect that.

 

Speculative fiction, the umbrella under which one may put SF/Fantasy/UF, intrigues those of us who love it because it asks us to consider "what if" scenarios. Post-apocalyptic fiction goes a step farther by making us wonder what if the "what if" really did happen. Could it happen? How? When? The related questions we then ask ourselves might be, "how can we ensure that these things do not happen?"

Ultimately, that is a fairly realistic approach to life and how one lives it.

 

I'm glad to hear that you are featuring Canticle next month. I love that book!

 

Carol  

by ReaderGal74 on ‎04-16-2009 04:47 AM

Paul,

 

You once again prove that what a leader you are through your words.  You have inspired me to read beyond my boundaries and I can only hope that other people will allow you to inspire them as well. 

 

I have been lucky in my life not be judged on what I read.  Well except there was that instance with my boss and the last few titles from Kim Harrison. :smileyhappy: 

 

I think that if we look back through our SF/Fantasy history, we have been asking the "what if" question for a long time.  Just look at how long Lost in Space, Star Trek and Star Wars have been around, just to name a few and those aren't even really that old.  It is like Carol stated, it is the "what if" scenarios that keep us coming back for more.  These trends are the sparks for authors and their ideas to form and give us even more questions.  Those of us who want to know what is beyond the stars, or how would happen if a meteor hit the earth or how humans would survive once vampires come out of the closet, just keep eating it up.

 

I am pretty glad that you didn't become a postman (no offence to any of the postal workers out there) and I would really like to have a job like yours!

 

Keep up the fantastic work Paul!

 

Jess

by on ‎04-16-2009 10:51 AM

Paul,

 

Thank you for putting it in words that I can use but at least half of my family reads Science Fiction/Fantasy so now maybe we will get some of the others to try some of the books.

 

Toni

by catfeet on ‎04-17-2009 10:21 PM

Who wants to work in a post office?  You've got to deal with the weather, all year long.  I'd rather work in a bookstore, where you can sneak reads of all your favorite books. 

 

I really like the paralells you've drawn here between the type of fiction being published and the political climate.  I really wonder, then, given the paralells, what this says about dark fantasy & para/preternatural fantasy, as this sub-genera has just bloomed in the last 7-8 years.  Used to be I could find 3-5 books a year, now I'm finding 10-15 a month. 

 

Cudos for being able to work Go-go girls in.  Any blog with that in it has got to be great!

 

by LordRuthven on ‎04-17-2009 10:38 PM

I have personally found the rise of popularity in zombie fiction interesting. While I typically hate it when an author goes out of his or her way to include a "message" in their work, I find it interesting when such things surface organically. It's a clear parallel to the more SF-based apocalyptic works that you mention.

by on ‎04-17-2009 10:41 PM

I'm quoteing someone, but it been too long to remember who.

 

Science Fiction  is all about how we wish the world to be, and what we fear the world will become.

 

 Exploring those ideas cause more social growth than anything else within our cultue. Aldous Huxley book Brave New World started life as a minor piece of Sci/Fi, nowadays it shows up more in collage advance phiosophy classes. The ideas put forth in the almost mundane Sci/Fi become the next generations ideas of  "where's mine?". Fact the majority of new techs being explorered were inspired by Star Trek, including our miltary techs. Who doesn't want the flying car from the Jetsons? The Romba was inspired by Rosie.

 

Tell you dad you're looking into the future not 100 years from now, a mear 5.

by carmen22 on ‎04-17-2009 11:53 PM

Paul, 

I venerate your genius. I have only been reading incessantly for a short time compared to pretty much everyone. Well in that time I have come to realize what I have been missing out on most of my life, pure happiness, I feel smarter and more enlightened than I ever have. Whether it’s SF/fantasy, romance, children, etc I seem to learn something new from every book, whereas T.V. I can’t recall learning much. I say give me a good SF/Fantasy book, I'll learn over a dozen new words and maybe what to do or expect if the end of the world does come. --   And Please don’t quit your day job I have had so many good book recommendations due to you and this site!!

P.S. Over 5,000 books holy guacamole!! If I had only read a third of that I’d be a happy camper WOW!!   

 

Carmen

by Moderator paulgoatallen on ‎04-18-2009 10:07 AM

Catfeet, you must be a mind reader! When you wrote "I really wonder, then, given the paralells, what this says about dark fantasy & para/preternatural fantasy, as this sub-genera has just bloomed in the last 7-8 years" you unknowingly pointed out the topic of my blog next Wednesday! And you're right – paranormal fantasy has just exploded over the last decade or so – it really is singularly phenomenal. A revolution in genre fiction, in my opinion. I'll give you my thoughts in a few days... Thanks again for the comments, you sound like you've worked in and/or managed bookstores before!   :smileywink:

Paul 

 

by Paula717 on ‎04-18-2009 10:18 PM
I too would love to have your "not a real" job. I'm jealous. It's not often that people wind up doing what they truely love for a living. And you do. I can't see anyone, at least not book lovers such as us members, ever getting tired or sick of reading. My hat goes off to you.
by lilithesque on ‎04-21-2009 02:03 PM

Well GEEZ, as a long time sci fi/fantasy/paranormal escapist, I gotta say Id rather go "spacy" then postal. 

 

Maybe some of them postal folks should relax with some sci fi or fantasy and then we could be talking utopia. 

 

lily

by on ‎04-21-2009 08:39 PM
Funny fact, the majority of scientists are sci/fi fans.
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