Misdirected

Presently — faced with the immaturity of Chinese sci-fi — everyone in our sci-fi community is envious of the adult sci-fi readership in the US, and see it as a sign of maturity in sci-fi literature. But one must know that senility comes after maturity, and death comes after senility. The prosperity of US sci-fi is largely a result of the prosperity of its movie and TV industries, and these sci-fi movies and TV shows are but a stylistic extension of the “golden age” (sci-fi). Contemporary sci-fi literature itself in US is already deep in twilight — full of works applying complex techniques to express dense metaphors, completely devoid of the youthful energy of the “golden age”; and many magnum opuses in recent years already have an air of death about them. Americans under 25 these days basically don’t read sci-fi; I don’t see what’s to be envied about that.

— Liu Cixin (2001)

That was almost twenty years ago. I don’t read very much contemporary SF, but from what I’ve seen this prediction was accurate: SF is now even more driven by movies and television for broadened definitions of both, as well as more ornate and more cynical, while less exuberant and hopeful.

I’ve heard a lot of teenagers and college-aged kids asking for a ‘beginner’ science fiction book recommendation, and I’m always put on my heels by it. The idea of a dependency tree in literature was foreign to me before a few years ago. Maybe it’s just my ignorance, but I don’t remember ever feeling like there was a ladder you had to climb with reading. It was more like a garden where you could walk around and pick from whatever looked good. Something from over here, and something from over there. If it turned out not to be pleasant or rewarding, put it back and keep walking. The existence of a ladder implies an order, which implies an end, which troublingly reflects what Liu was predicting.