Past is Prologue: Science Fiction and Ways of Working

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Date: Winter 2019
From: Reference & User Services Quarterly(Vol. 59, Issue 2)
Publisher: American Library Association
Document Type: Recommended readings
Length: 5,689 words
Lexile Measure: 1500L

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This issue welcomes Neal Wyatt, joining Laurie Tarulli as coeditor of the Readers' Advisory column. With her arrival we introduce an occasional series exploring genre and format. For our first foray, Gillian Speace, Readers' Advisory Librarian, NoveList, provides a guided tour of the reoccurring themes of science fiction, suggesting ways advisors can use its perennial concerns to connect readers to the genre's rich backlist as well as keep them immersed in new works--and worlds. By pairing a classic work to a new title and, conversely, a new work to a backlist staple, advisors can make full use of the collection, expand the range of titles they keep in their proverbial RA back pocket, and help readers access the full richness of the genre.--Editor

"People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion." --Albert Einstein

One common assumption about science fiction (SF) is that it's about the future. In fact, science fiction is about the present: regardless of setting, stories in this genre reflect the concerns of the era in which they were written. Some anxieties are evergreen (technological advances, ever-changing social mores), while others are more cyclical (authoritarian governments, economic instability), but all turn up again and again in different forms as they respond to current events.

Because of its perennial concerns, readers' advisory (RA) librarians can use classic tropes of SF to help balance readers' love of the old with their desire for the new, crafting a richly textured--and richly resourced--SF RA service. Advisors can introduce fans of Arthur C. Clarke to Chinese author Liu Cixin or connect a longtime reader of military SF to Kameron Hurley's The Light Brigade. Classic science fiction can also help more recent converts get in touch with the genre's roots, thereby creating pathways through the collection. Readers of recent "generation ship" stories, such as Rivers Solomon's An Unkindness of Ghosts or Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora, can be pointed toward Robert Heinlein's Orphans in the Sky, bridging backward to a classic example of the trope. With this concept in mind, here are a few key classic SF themes with contemporary relevance along with suggested titles to pair.

LATE CAPITALISM: CYBERPUNK, MEGACORPORATIONS, AND MASS

SURVEILLANCE

Suggested Pairings

Classic to New: Gibson, William. Neuromancer (1984). Sprawl trilogy: Older, Malka. Infomocracy (2016). Centenal trilogy

New to Classic: Hart, Rob. The Warehouse (2019): Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

The destabilizing effects of the Great Recession have led to an increase in SF that examines wealth concentration and widening economic disparities that reinforce existing social inequalities on a global scale, from Karl Schroeder's Stealing Worlds to Chen Quifan's Waste Tide to the film Sorry to Bother You. Termed "Late Capitalism," this group of books focuses on economic dystopias. (1)

There's little doubt that the current bull market for economic dystopias reflects anxieties about the contemporary economy: a real world in which children are threatened with family separation over school lunch debt and in which electronic surveillance...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A619403185