The Good Old Days

Gwenda links this morning to a new blog set up to discuss sf and fantasy from the safety of annonymity. As Malcolm Reynolds would say, “I got no beef with that.” This is a very small genre, everyone knows each other and if you really want to say what you think perhaps annony-mouse is the way to go. I read through all of them, from most recent to first, and as Gwenda point out none of the posts put the boot in. It’s mostly when you should be voting/nominating for awards and discussions of stories/books recently read. Then I got to the first post.


Same old thing: back in the good old days sf was earth shattering . . . now, not so much.


And I’m in a pretty good position to say bollocks because I’ve read through a vast deal of sf between 1927 and 1975, including at least one story from almost every issue of amazing and astounding during those years. Not to mention a fair amount since, right up to the year we are currently standing in. And you know what? There was an awful lot of dreck being published at the same time that Neuromancer, Dune, The Left Hand of Darkness, “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones”, and “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” first appeared. Stories and novels you never heard of because they have justly disappeared into obscurity.

Here’s something else that happens every five years or so in the letter columns of sf magazines (and now online): One generation starts mourning for the golden days of sf which was mostly when they were first excited and enthralled by the genre. They look back on the glories of Doc Smith and are horrified that anyone could compare him to Heinlein. And so on and so forth. This has been going on for a long time. Herodotus looked back with nostalgia on his good old days when, no doubt, the science fiction really, really rocked.

Right now there’s more sf and fantasy being published than ever before and some of it is absolutely amazing. I don’t think I’ve read more than a handful of collections that are as fine as Margo Lanagan’s Black Juice. If there’s any justice, then, like Left Hand of Darkness and the other classics named, Black Juice will last and last and last. So should Gwyneth Jones’s Life. Not to mention so much young adult fantasy literature being published right now. I’ve never felt so overwhelmed by how bloody high the standard of most of what I read is. Holly Black’s Valiant, Elizabeth Knox’s The Vintner’s Luck. I could go on and on and on.

The good old days are imaginary. Always were, always will be. Give it a rest.


  1. David Moles on #

    LOL. And the Thucydides fans undoubtedly used to get into flame wars with the Herodotus fans about technical accuracy vs. sense of wonder.

  2. Justine on #

    tee hee. I hear those kids got nasty!

  3. Niall on #

    Hmm. I didn’t read the post in quite the same way as you. There’s a lot of ‘maybes’, and almost the last thing the writer says is “Wherever the genre is going, genre shattering works are still being written. I’m hoping we’ll find them and talk about them.”

    So I think it’s more disillusionment about being able to *find* the new good stuff than it is lamenting the passing of the good ol’ days (which is not to say you aren’t right about that being annoying). And that is and isn’t a valid point. Neither Black Juice nor Life is exactly a high-profile publication, for instance–but neither is it fair to say they’ve been ignored, because they clearly haven’t been.

  4. razorbilly on #

    I read practically nothing but sf growing up…thought it was the greatest thing ever. Then I got bored with it. You are right — there was a ton of crap being written back then, and there is no doubt in my mind it was MUCH easier to get published in the Golden Moldy days. Not saying that it paid much, but it sure was easier to sell it.

    My last favorite sf writer was Philip K. Dick. It broke my heart when he died in 1982 before I had a chance to meet him.

    Excited to be able to read your book soon…


  5. razorbilly on #

    Also,,,we Detroit piston fans gotta stick together! Maybe they can still pull it out…


  6. lili on #

    hear hear. so absolutely over the following:

    young people in my day…
    music in my day…
    literature in my day…
    science fiction/fantasy in my day…

    blah blah. YOUR day (whoever YOU might be) didn’t have philip pullman or phillip reeve or mt anderson!
    and i LIKE my ipod/television/mobile phone. and it DOESN’T make me fat/stupid/disrespectful/insular/noncommunicative. hmph. sore point. sorry. finished now.

  7. Justine on #

    niall: you’re right, the post was definitely not the most egregious example of good old days nostalgia I’ve ever seen. it was full of qualifiers and concessions about today and even some hope for the future. But like Lili the good old days stuff drives me crazy and even a faint hint will set me off.

    I definitely wasn’t saying that award-winning and nominated works like Black Juice and Life are under the radar. They might have been briefly but they’re definitely not now.

    Lili: what you said!

    Razorbilly: deeee-troit baaas-ket-ball!!!

  8. Janni on #

    When I first started writing, everyone used to tell me about how I’d just missed the really good days of the genre–when good books were readily bought and readily published and readily read. I worried at the time, but it turned out that five years later, and ten, and fifteen … people were telling me the exact same thing.

    There were no good old days; people who are unhappy in the present days, for whatever reason, just like to imagine there were.

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