Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Reading older scifi

I am reading an older scifi classic, Rendezvous with Rama, and while I am enjoying it, there is an element of irritation that comes with most scifi from a time other than your own. Most science fiction writers seem to write dialogue that sounds like people from their time. So these futuristic people we read about in Peter Hamilton's Dreaming Void sound a lot like ca 2008 Westerners. This is all well and good, but is jarring to read 22nd people talking like early 70s people in Rama. Not enough to make me stop reading, but enough to catch my eye and derail my reading experience.

Rama isn't terrible about it, but it remined me of Norman Spinrad's the Men in the Jungle, written in the 60s and set some centuries hence. In that book, the main character is given to shouting such 60s slogans as "Come the Revolution!" which really shuts it down.

On the (plus or minus, depending on your viewpoint) side, Rama, like many of the earlier science fiction books is really short. If you are not familiar with the book, it involves a giant alien artifact that arrives in the solar system and is explored. It takes Arthur C Clarke about 20 or 30 pages for the humans to discover, approach and enter the space craft and he wraps the story up in under 300 pages. For more than a few of today's writers, the plot doesn't really start for 300 pages.

I think this is because science fiction writers have discovered character and adopted the kitchen sink world creation model of the fantasy writers. And now I am think I am trained to look for it in science fiction, as I keep wondering why Clarke isn't doing it. Anyway, still a good read so far.


NameSugar said...

Ha! I read RWR so long ago that at the time I didn't know how to pronounce "rendezvous". I remember telling someone I was reading "ren-dez-vo-us with rama". (I was a good reader I just hadn't come across that word yet.)

I know what you mean about old sci-fi dialogue. Right now I'm determined to finish Heinlein's Number of the Beast and am starting to doubt if I can. I like Heinlein but this is the most tedious and CORNY dialogue I've ever read. Ever.

Tripp said...


Heinlein is tough, I recall gagging at the wording in To Sail Beyond the Sunset. I think his earlier stuff is better in this regard.

The corniness is a good call, I tend to picture Asimov and Heinlein as a couple of blowhards cracking wise at a Rotary meeting. They could write some great stuff, but they could also write groaners.

My question is whether the new stuff (Morgan, Reynolds, Hamilton, etc) will seem as dated 20 years hence. This is a problem literary fiction has less frequently.