One of the trending discussions that cropped up among the genre social media feeds during the past month revolved around the idea of canon. Specifically, the perceived loss of reverence for what the complaining folks considered the classics of science fiction literature. They complain that “these kids today” have no idea what great scifi is because they haven’t, and probably don’t want to, immerse themselves in books that are a half century or more old. There were posts and tweets and what have you on both sides of the issue, and I have to admit, it made me think about my own reading and perceptions of scifi today.
First, let me say that I am old enough (65, thank you very much) to have grown up with many of the writers being touted as canon by some. Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, Clark, Niven and Pournelle, among others introduced me to the wonders of science fiction and formed the love of the sff genres I still have today. I read them. I marveled. I kept reading scifi and fantasy over the years. Still, there is a whole long list of those writers and books I have not read. For many years, I was convinced that I had to catch up. I had to read those books that I’d missed way back when. So, I always put a few of those old “classics” on my reading lists for the year. Yes! Now I will be able to get around to those books and will fill the void of the missing canon, right?
Well, I found something else happening. My reading slowed way down. “Yep, well, lookie that. Must be getting old and can’t read as fast as you used to, there, grandma.” But, on the other hand, there were still books that I would blow through in a day or two. Not that the quickly read ones were shorter or easier, by any means. It took a while, but I finally figured out what was going on.
Those “classics” that everyone must read? They weren’t all that interesting to me now.
Honestly, once I realized that, it kind of made sense. First, those books were written a long time ago. Much has changed in the world, society, science, and fiction. Most were written by white males who were products of their times and who held beliefs and societal norms that don’t align with today’s world. I’m not going to get into the details of all of that. You can find lots of opinion on those subjects if you care to. But things have definitely changed, and so have I. I finally gave myself permission not to read anything that didn’t really interest me now.
“What? You mean you never read [insert classic scifi title here]?
“Nope. And likely won’t, at this point.” I will read what interests me, and if that’s on your list of classics, great. If not, well, there are plenty of books out there waiting to be read.
I am not trying to say we should take those classics and shoot them out of a cannon, shredded to confetti. No, of course not. If not for a lot of those writers and their stories, scifi and fantasy would not be what they are today. But we also can’t just wave them around and insist everyone should read them or they are not real scifi fans. That’s just not practical. Today’s young readers have a wholly different viewpoint from mine at their age. If I have moved away from many of those books, how far removed are those books from the interests of readers just discovering scifi and fantasy today? My kids had a whole different set of “classics” than I did, and my grandchildren are even farther removed. Let each generation pick its own seminal books, movies, games, and TV.
That’s how you grow the genre. That’s how you keep kids reading. That’s how you encourage new voices to emerge and create. Looking back and understanding the foundations is good, but growth is how we endure.
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