I guess I can understand the sentiment. Readers of sci-fi almost always have homework while reading – trying to mirror the themes, environments, issues and plotlines to whatever is happening (or has happened) in the Real World. Sci-fi typically doesn’t stand alone, it has its roots in our world, and consciousness. Readers therefore enjoy a great deal more if they are able to recognize what it is about an SF novel that mirrors our world, and ultimately what message it may have.
So reading contemporary fiction removes that layer of abstraction for us. And Clive Thompson’s point in his article Why Sci-Fi Is the Last Bastion of Philosophical Writing simply states that contemporary fiction has run out of ‘juice’ for interesting fruits for thought.
But is it really? Is scifi really the ‘last bastion’, and not merely a common journalistic inclination towards hyperbole?
My thoughts: not by a long shot. Surely ideas are not exclusive to scifi? Scifi takes a philosophical question down one path, while contemporary fiction takes it down another. If you want to show the consequences of global conflict, for example, does a scifi book painting a post-apocalyptic future have more impact than an account of a little girl scrambling for cover in the middle of a shell attack in Lebanon? Take the gender equality for another instance, which is more ‘philosophical’: a scifi book about a utopian society or a story about the insidious machinations of opponents of women’s suffrage?
Just because scifi extrapolates doesn’t mean has a stranglehold on philosophy.
The article is still an interesting read. One thing irks me, though. The writer included Susanna Clarke as a ‘genre-bending’ author. If you’ve not read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, go do it, enjoy it, and come back and tell me what’s so genre-bending about it. Because it’s pretty straightforward to me what it was.