In this past Sunday Times (via Ed), Bryan Appleyard takes the British people to task for their disrespectful attitude to science fiction. This is an excellent little piece. Appleyard does a particularly good job of noting the ways in which science fiction has impacted both our culture and our science. His example of Wernher Von Braun’s admiration for the shiny rockets of Astounding Stories is especially compelling.
The only flaws I can see in his arguments are a slight underestimation of his compatriots and a slightly too rigid view of genre. Appleyard name-checks China Miéville, Iain M Banks, and Stephen Baxter, as examples of good current SF writers; but he dismisses Miéville as too much in the fantasy camp. This rigid separation of genre is odd in an article that also refers to Wells and Stapledon; both of whom would have understood Miéville’s work better than most of his contemporaries. Regardless, Appleyard is correct to single out these writers, but his list leaves off two important names: Ian McDonald (who is one of the few genre writers who really has his eye on the developing world) and Charles Stross. Further, I would add that (taken together with my additions) these writers are some of the best working in science fiction today. It is odd to me that, according to Appleyard—and I have no reason to doubt him—that the British are “sniffy” about SF and yet have produced some of the best of the best.
In particular, I want to single out Charles Stross as my pick for the current SF writer most likely to be a future Grand Master. His Accelerando is one of the most exciting things I’ve read in years. He has already been nominated for Hugos three times. He is an unabashedly cranky lefty and copyright radical. His SF books actually tackle economics as part of the socio-political landscape of his imagined futures. Stross is ahead the curve and yet part of the distinct line of SF history.
Finally, I don’t usually use this blog to sell stuff directly, but I want to point out this book in our SF catalogue: Futures—a wonderful collection of some of the best of recent British SF, in a first edition, signed by all four contributors. At the Ottawa Book Fair in October I had many people come to my stand specifically looking for collectible SF and none of them would even look twice at this book. I think a lot of people are underestimating current British SF and have been for some time.