Sunday, 23 April 2017

Changing SF

We have just watched a science programme on TV:

liquid water, heat sources and organic matter and therefore possibly also life in the outer Solar System;

dark matter holding the galaxy together;

dark energy accelerating cosmic expansion;

possibly 95% of the universe composed of dark matter and dark energy;

what does the universe look like to beings who perceive that 95% and not the 5% visible to us?

Must an sf writer change his fictional premises every couple of decades? JRR Tolkien devoted his entire creative life to a single fictional history but was able to do this because his series was a prehistoric fantasy, not futuristic sf. By contrast, Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History and Genesis could not be more dissimilar. Anderson became dissatisfied with his first future history because:

"That clutter of props and backdrops came nowhere near hinting at the variety, strangeness, and sheer wonder of the real universe..." (SFWA Bulletin, Fall 1979, p. 8)

I have reread that series recently and thought that it was a substantial future history but there is no way that Anderson's entire output could have been limited to that single fictional timeline. Probably some of his successors now describe interstellar explorers' encounters with dark matter and dark energy but I have not kept up with more recent sf.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Altho best known for his Middle Earth mythos, JRR Tolkien also read and liked SF. And he even jotted down some fairly critical comments about one of PA's fantasy stories. But his sole attempt at writing an SF novel, THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS, has to be called a failure. I think Tolkien's true forte as a fiction writer was in fantasy.

    And PA wrote at least one story touching on dark matter/energy and intelligent life existing in that strange plane: "In The Shadow" (possibly STARFARERS should be included as well).


    1. Sean,
      Which Anderson story did Tolkien criticize?

    2. Kaor, Paul!

      I checked, "The Valor Of Cappen Varra." Tolkien was not satisfied with Anderson's invented names in that story.


    3. Sean,

    4. Kaor, Paul!

      Well, Tolkien was a linguist, a scholar of languages, so he would have an "ear" for the plausibility of names.

      I think I came across this bit about Tolkien and Anderson from reading online about a pager or two of notes Tolkien wrote about the stories he had read in an SF and F collection. Including the Cappen Varra story.