Monday, March 06, 2006

Reaction to Dave Itzkoff Column in The New York Times Book Review

The New York Times Book Review has a new science fiction columnist, Dave Itzkoff. In his first column yesterday, he explained that he thinks modern science fiction is terrible, and really, what other qualification would you need to write about science fiction for The New York Times Book Review? He says he cannot in good conscience recommend new science fiction (which he calls "sci-fi") to anyone outside the genre, "because if you were to immerse yourself in most of the sci-fi being published these days, you would probably enjoy it as much as one enjoys reading a biology textbook or a stereo manual."

Here is our response to Mr. Itzkoff's column:
Editor, The New York Times Book Review:

Dave Itzkoff, your new science fiction columnist, is not only as contemptuous of modern science fiction as your other reviewers, he is just as ignorant of the field. No one knowledgeable of written SF uses the term "sci-fi," which the genre has long since abandoned to monster movies and Flash Gordon serials. More importantly, no fair-minded person could possibly read the work of the top SF writers of the past generation, such as Ursula K. LeGuin and Connie Willis, Iain M. Banks and Dan Simmons, James Tiptree, Jr. and James Morrow, and liken it all to "a biology textbook or a stereo manual." Given that Itzkoff's list of his ten favorites contains only two books of prose fiction from the past forty years (one by an author with whose work Itzkoff admits he is not "completely versed"), one must wonder how much of the best recent work he has even read.

One of SF's outstanding authors, Octavia E. Butler, recently passed away without ever receiving the attention her work merited. This lack of recognition resulted from prejudice, ironically not prejudice against her as an African-American woman, but as a science fiction writer. There is no shortage of SF reviewers like me would love the chance to dispel that prejudice in The New York Times Book Review. How sad that the Book Review prefers to print a columnist masquerading as an expert to reinforce the mainstream's ignorant disdain of science fiction.

Aaron Hughes

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