Science Fiction, R.I.P.

To register the obituary long after the fact: science fiction is dead. Aficionados of the genre who acquired their taste for it in the 1950's and 60's probably already know this. What they might not know is that the death of science fiction has significance for the state of American culture in 1997.

With the odd exceptions of Stanislaw Lem (a Pole), the brothers Strugatsky (two Russians), and a tiny handful of American authors, no one has written science fiction in the last two decades that is worthy of the name. Indeed, most of the prominent practitioners of the genre (virtually all of them Americans) have passed on; the 1980's and 90's saw the deaths of Robert A. Heinlein, Clifford D. Simak, Isaac Asimov, and many others who pioneered the field in the 1930's and 40's when it reached print in pulp monthlies like Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction. Ray Bradbury—God bless him—is still among us, as irascible as ever, but his Martian Chronicles belongs to 1952, and he has long since deemphasized science fiction in favor of other modes, like detective fiction and Whitmanesque poetry. The Englishman Arthur C. Clarke is another living legend, but nothing that he has written since the early 60's comes anywhere near measuring up to Childhood's End (1952) or The City and the Stars (1956), his two masterpieces. Minor geniuses also belong among...

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