Why I Read Less Science Fiction Than I Used To

I picked up a copy of Stephen Baxter’s Vacuum Diagrams Friday—wasn’t in the mood to read any tech stuff, and Gears of the City hasn’t arrived yet—and reading it reminded me why I don’t enjoy “future history” science fiction as much as I used to. In Baxter’s stories, humanity spends the next hundred thousand years spreading to the stars, adapting to ever-weirder environments along the way. Meanwhile, here and now, climate change is happening faster than the IPCC predicted, and the consequences look grimmer by the day. It’s sort of like the “uncanny valley”: if a story is far enough away from reality to be seen as pure escapism, I can lose myself in it, but if it combines real(ish) engineering with brittle Heinleinian techno-optimism, I can’t help but think of the tragedies my daughter (age two) is likely to see in her lifetime, and that kind of spoils the fun.

Later: several commenters have recommended other SF authors (some of whom I’ve read, some of whom I haven’t). I’m grateful for the pointers, but I’m still intrigued by the uncanny valley effect: I’m comfortable with well-written fantasy, or deliberately retro SF, but anything in which technology saves us from our own shortsightedness makes me genuinely angry. Maybe what I’m really looking for is a near-future SF Grapes of Wrath, which I admit is setting the bar pretty high…

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