November 01, 2003


by Alan Beatts

Welcome to the new version of Borderlands' newsletter. We made a few changes to the layout and, over the next few months, we'll be adding a few extra features. One of the layout changes in this issue is the addition of this column. In the past I've combined my general musings and comments with store news. It seemed to work at least passably well but there were a few problems. Most notably, I could never decide whether to use the editorial "we" (making my personal comments seem like the official opinion of Borderlands -- possibly a disservice to Borderlands and almost undoubtedly a disservice to my staff) or the more informal first person. Consequently I found that I was switching back and forth, no doubt making myself seem even more mad than usual and furthermore making all the editors and writers out there cringe.

No longer. Now I have my own little space to say whatever comes into my mind without confusing it with actual news. Be comforted, however, this section has been scientifically located in one of the easiest spots to skip in the entire newsletter. So, if you're looking for the book listings, scroll down, but if you interested in getting a little idea what goes on behind the scenes at Borderlands (and behind the eyes of the owner), read on.

Given the length of that preamble, I'll keep this first column on the short side. This evening I was out for dinner with a few very smart and experienced professionals in my field. Over some very nice seafood the following question came up: "What do you think of the health of the field right now?" The question was based on the common statement of pundits that can be summed up as, "SF is dead or at least dying". The census around the table was that the field (by which I mean SF, Fantasy and Horror) is actually doing quite well. Granted, the output of speculative hard SF (i.e. what happens when [fill in your choice of technology] starts to _really_ change the way we live) has slowed down a great deal, probably due to a certain difficulty in predicting with any confidence where technology is taking us. But otherwise things seem really very good.

Led by primarily British writers, the sweeping far-future space opera has been reinvented such that there is actually some very solid content and social commentary (i.e. Iain M. Banks, Alastair Renolds, and Neal Asher). The door to some truly original fantasy that was wedged open by authors like Graham Joyce, Neil Gaiman and Paul Di Filippo seems to have been blown right off its hinges by the unexpected success of China Mieville's Perdido Street Station. As a result, I think we can look forward to a whole new crop of fantasy that is completely free of Elves and Wizards-in-Pointy-Hats. Horror as a genre is taking some important baby steps, as younger authors who started writing after the boom and bust in the 80s polish their craft. It'll be interesting to see where those steps will take them over the next five to ten years. Even the speculative hard SF that I dismissed has collected some new and very talented practitioners -- Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross both spring to mind -- and I expect others very shortly.

Of course there is quite a bit of crap and also a good deal of what other people call beach reading and I call bathtub reading. But light reading is what the genres were founded on and it is still a vital part of our field. And in regards to the crap, remember Sturgeon's Law . . . "90% of everything is crap."

But honestly, I think that our genres do better than that lamentable average. Especially right now.