Science Fiction in the Real World

Norman Spinrad
Science Fiction in the Real World Cover

Science Fiction in the Real World


These essays are 25 to 30 years old, and so diving into them I wondered if I would find them of historical interest only or possibly simple dated. When Spinrad covers more general topics – the difference between sf and sci-fi, the need for critical standards, etc – there is a sense of familiar territory being gone over once again. Putting yourself back into the time of their original publication is necessary, but even that bit of intellectual time travel is made easy by Spinrad's lively, opinionated, and extremely readable prose.

He is best when he gets down to specifics. He is good on the issues of literary quality versus scientific accuracy in hard science fiction. He makes a case that cyberpunk should be relabeled neuromanticism, and that when Greg Bear found himself on a cyberpunk panel at the 1985 Worldcon, he did indeed belong there, despites Bear's claims to the contrary. The New Wave gets mentioned in several contexts, but perhaps because Spinrad himself was closely involved with it, he does not devote an entire essay to it.

In a couple of contexts he makes the point that much of what keeps sf relegated to the pulp publishing category, what he terms the masturbatory power fantasies aimed at adolescent males, can also be found in the best of sf writing, and is justifiably considered the sort or ur myth that underlies much of Western myth and literature. It may seem obvious, but 25 years later it remains a point worth making, that much depends on how well written something is. And Spinrad doesn't hesitate to divide the flock.

Even if you feel you will know the arguments Spinrad is going to put forth, there is still the pleasure of reading his prose. And you might find something that decades after it was written can still really piss you off. And what can be better than that?