I strongly preferred SF/SciFi/Fantasy before it was “popular.” I grew up addicted to the Golden Age authors and used to split fine hairs of subgenres (Sword and Sorcery v. High Fantasy v. Comedic Fantasy v. Science Fantasy v. Soft Science Fiction v. Hard Science Fiction, etc).
Things started changing around the time that Star Wars came out (1977). Suddenly, science fiction/Fantasy wasn’t some quiet entertainment for geeks in need of a social life – it was big money and every one wanted a peice of it. Sure Tolkein and Herbert had their cult followings and half of NASA waited with bated breath for the next opus from the likes of Clarke, Haldeman, Niven and Pournell but it took a blockbuster movie to make enjoying such fair respectable in the mainstream.
Unfortunately it also made it HARDER for find GOOD works in the genre. On television, for every Babylon 5 there were three dozen Earth IIs. In the movie theatre, well, let’s just say I’ve been more disappointed in that media than most when it comes to quality, smart, SF/sci-fi/fantasy offerings. As for the bookstore, the dedicated shelfspace has vastly improved but the total quality of the offerings has gone downhill. There are still gems out there (and I’m happy to find them) but more often than not they are buried among poorly thought out space operas and Tolkein rip-offs that read like someone just published their notes from Bob’s latest D&D campaign.
Science Fiction used to make you think. Fantasy used to make you believe. Now, more often than not, it seems like Sci-Fi has been taken over by people who failed physics and think that the genre is little more than an allegorical soap box for advancing the cause/complaint of the week. Fantasy, rather than enrapturing you in a world bigger than your imagination offers a parody of cliches playing out before a crudely painted backdrop of overly revisted myths and legends. I know that sounds terrible and is a gross generalization (hey I queued up for the latest Harry Potter book just like the rest of you) but the more I read of “modern” sci-fi/fanstasy authors, the more I miss the ones I grew up with.
It’s a shame that so much aspiring talent draws its inspiration from recent works rather than (occasionally obscure) classics. Be honest: how many of you even know who Alfred Bester was (and if you said he was the Psy-Cop on B5, your heart’s in the right place but you need to spend more time in the library)? Or Phillip K. Dick, Roger Zelazny, Fred Saberhagen, Fritz Lieber, Micheal Moorcock, just to name a few. I’m not saying these are all great writers, but they -and many others like them – defined the genre at a time when most people who were asked to name a science fiction author were lucky to come up with Jules Verne and HG Wells.
It just seems like, when I was growing up there were dozens of landmark works in the field that would be as timeless as 20,000 Leagues under the Sea has proven to be. It doesn’t matter how many probes we send to Mars to prove that its just a lifeless rock, The Martian Chronicles will still be a good read. In recent years, though, it seems the bulk of the offerings come and go faster than one-hit-wonder pop stars. I think Harry Potter and The Watchmen will stand up over time, but a lot of the modern offerings have become either too cliched or too mired in allegory about current events to go the distance.