A tip of the hat to Lou Anders, the editorial director of Prometheus Books’ science fiction imprint Pyr. Commenting on the “mundane” and “anti-mundane” debate in SF, his blog pulls out a quote from SF grand master and Hall of Fame member Frederik Pohl. It is worth repeating verbatim:
Does the story tell me something worth knowing, that I had not known before, about the relationship between man and technology? Does it enlighten me on some area of science where I had been in the dark? Does it open a new horizon for my thinking? Does it lead me to think new kinds of thoughts, that I would not otherwise perhaps have thought at all? Does it suggest possibilities about the alternative possible future courses my world can take? Does it illuminate events and trends of today, by showing me where they may lead tomorrow? Does it give me a fresh and objective point of view on my own world and culture, perhaps by letting me see it through the eyes of a different kind of creature entirely, from a planet light-years away? – These qualities are not only among those which make science fiction good, they are what make it unique. Be it never so beautifully written, a story is not a good science fiction story unless it rates high in these aspects. The content of the story is as valid a criterion as the style.
Seems to me that, with only a few word changes, this is a worthy test applicable to any book.
Advertising reaches out to touch the fantasy part of people’s lives. And you know, most people’s fantasies are pretty sad.
Frederik Pohl, The Way the Future Was