December 2002

Joseph J. Finn

sf libertine

Three columns in one!

Where did the fun go in fiction? Specifically, why does it seem (with the very rare exceptions of bright spots like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett) that most of the books you see in the "Science Fiction & Fantasy" section of bookstores are rather cheerless books, full of blood-soaked revolutions, badly written sex and/or mental cruelty? Really, when was the last time you read a science-fiction novel that made you laugh with delight or comedy? I don't want to get into a full-blown snit here, but the shelves can be so gloomy these days. Sure, Asimov and Clarke could have their dark sides, but even in their darker works there was always a sense of optimism.

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I know this would usually be the purview of the Comicbookslut, but I do want to urge people to go out and grab a copy of "Y: The Last Man On Earth," which is put out by Vertigo and written by Brian K. Vaughan. It's an apocalyptic tale of every last male mammal on Earth dropping dead at once, except for a young man named Yorick and his monkey Ampersand. The series has just barely started (it's up to issue 5), but it already promises to be a great tale of adventure. See, a lot of the women want to use York to repopulate the Earth. Some want to kill him after they've falling into a cult called the Amazons. Then there's the one country most prepared to defend itself after losing every male soldier, Israel, which is quickly becoming the wild card of the series. The book so far has action, romance (Yorick really only wants to get to Australia to find his girlfriend, who was stranded there at the time of the disaster), humor (pop quiz: at which monument in DC do you think the impromptu memorials are taking place?), and some really interesting ideas about how the world would try to adapt to such a tragedy (a former supermodel driving a garbage truck, for instance). Now that Transmetropolitan has finished it's run, Y is quickly becoming the premier story over at Vertigo. And they haven't even started on what actually happened to kill every last Y-chromosome-bearing creature on the planet...

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A thought occurred to me, as I read stories about and writings by people like Neal Pollack and Daniel Goldhagen. When was the last time there was a writer in the speculative fiction field that really pissed people off? Sure, we still have Harlan Ellison around, but he's not a spring chicken anymore. Has the field become a mite bit moribund, what with all the trilogies and the attention given to the Robert Jordans?

Perhaps it's time for someone to really start shaking things up a bit. Maybe Neal Stephenson can stop being mysterious and really lay one good on the editors at the New York Times, or Kage Baker can tell off the book reviewers at the Guardian. I just think that everyone is feeling a wee bit too safe these days, and maybe it's time to refuse to write one more god-awful Star Trek novel (hint: when even Diane Duane isn't writing them anymore, it's over), and actually start writing something a little more daring and creative.

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Well, it's time to put down the pen and make sure Turkey is defrosting. Here's hoping you all had a happy Thanksgiving, a good Chanukah, and may your Christmas be bright.