Why Science Fiction Still Hates Itself

Posted on October 27, 2008 

Why Science Fiction Still Hates Itself

If geek stuff is so hip, then why are two of the season’s biggest scifi hits, CBS show Eleventh Hour and bestselling Neal Stephenson novel Anathem, adamantly classified as Not Scifi? Because nerd culture will never be pop culture. That’s why Borders slashed its scifi section. And it’s why JJ Abrams, director of the new Star Trek movie, denied that it’s for fans of the scifi franchise, instead telling Entertainment Weekly that “it’s for fans of movies.” Successful science fiction, in other words, is still stealth. To get your spaceships and freaky science into the mainstream, you have to hate yourself just enough to shove your inner dork into a gym locker and keep her there.

Neal Stephenson’s new novel Anathem, which shot right to the top of bestseller lists when it hit bookstores in September, is an epic tale of alien life on a very Earth-like planet. Though Stephenson has written other science fiction like The Diamond Age and Snow Crash, you wouldn’t know it from looking at Anathem. Even though it’s a novel about aliens and spaceships, the book isn’t marketed as scifi. William Morrow called Anathem “an adventure,” and the book jacket makes no mention of Stephenson’s scifi novels. Only one of the blurbs included on the novel’s dust jacket even makes reference to his scifi work, and that’s a Salon.com review that refers to “speculative fiction.” Even the marketing campaign for Anathem reflected the “deny scifi” strategy.

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