Monday, April 29, 2013

Wordcraft -- Do we outgrow imagination?

I’ll finish this series on the panel discussion earlier this month about what it’s like -- or should I say, was like -- to grow up in a world shaped by science fiction. It began when Dallas Big Read emphasis on Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451 brought together Ken Ruffin of the North Texas chapter of the National Space Society, Jerome Weeks of local public radio, Charles Dee Mitchell of the literary community WordSpace, and Phillip Washington of WordSpace’s affiliated science fiction reading group. And three out of the four dropped the bombshells -- they stopped reading science fiction after reaching their teens.

One or two even made the admission jokingly, as if science fiction was one of the childish things adults could be expected to lay aside. I read a similar comment in the review of a popular science book in Sunday’s Dallas Morning News.

“. . . most kids lose the dinosaur obsession about the time puberty hits,” wrote Alexandra Witze, listed at the end of her review as a correspondent for the journal Nature.

I might have brushed off the Big Read panelists as anomalies, but I feared Witze knew what she was writing about. So here are a couple more statistics: adolescence is when girls lose their edge in science and mathematics. Adolescence is also the age when boys lose interest in recreational reading of any sort.

Statistics like that should have anybody who treats the loss of wonder and imagination as a joke positively rolling in the aisles. I’m not one of them.

But it’s not enough for us as writers, parents, mentors, teachers, to tell young people, far less adults, to read because it’s good for them. We know how much being good for us did to increase the popularity of cod liver oil.

A blog post entitled “Season of Wither: Why is Science Fiction Dying?“ at B&N Community caught my attention with a quotation from George R.R. Martin. Right, the
Game of Thrones
author, who also used to write science fiction.

“. . . social changes over the last fifty years,“ Martin wrote, “have made the future something that we no longer want to go visit the way we did when I was a kid. Back in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s when science fiction was perhaps as popular as it has ever been, we really had a lot of belief in the future. . . People no longer believe on some level that the future is going to be a good place.”

And although it might seem that the countries of vampires and zombies aren’t good places either, Martin hit on another problem of writing when the future has become the now.

“Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli,” he wrote in the short essay “On Fantasy.” “Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. . . Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally become true?”

I found more material about this subject than there’s room to reference here. But for the complete post about the future of science fiction, see

I also enjoyed Australian writer Graham Storrs’ post at

(There’s still time to sign up for the DFW Writers Conference in Hurst, Texas, this coming Saturday and Sunday, at I’ll be there, sifting for those nuggets of gold-veined obsidian to present at next Monday’s Wordcraft.)

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