Rather than lamenting the decline of science fiction, we should probably spend time talking about how wonderful Rocheworld is, and why you should absolutely go find a copy as soon as possible. Granted, that may be a little difficult, because it's no longer in print. However, I was able to find a lightly used copy without much difficulty, so I imagine you can, too. Just be sure you look for the complete Rocheworld, and not one of the earlier versions, sometimes titled Flight of the Dragonfly. The book is from back in the days when many science fiction novels were published in short, serialized form in magazines, so Flight of the Dragonfly is about a hundred thousand words shorter than the complete Rocheworld.
Every time I pick up one of these classic-style science fiction novel, like Ringworld or Double Star, I find myself saying that a) I should read these sorts of books more often, and b) I wish that books like these were still written today.
Though I've read Timothy Zahn before, and enjoyed his books, this wasn't a book that I sought ought to read. In fact, it wasn't even on my extensive reading list. After finishing Back to Methuselah, nothing on my reading list was really calling out to me to be read, and I happened to see that this piece was in Prime reading on Kindle, which meant I could read it for free. A short, free, light read seemed the perfect thing coming off of a heavier piece like Back to Methuselah, while trying to think of what I actually wanted to read next.
I came across a reference to it when I was looking for the attribution for a quote I was using in an essay for work (that quote is: “You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’”, in case you were curious), and thought the brief plot summary sounded interesting, so I added it to my list. This despite thinking to myself "self, in all of the George Bernard Shaw books and plays that you were forced to read in school, you hated precisely all of them. Why would you possibly think that you're going to like this one?"
In any book, the author must introduce the characters, the situation, and the basic elements of the setting, but in fantasy and science fiction you might have a viewpoint character in the first chapter who isn't even human, living on a planet that isn't even in this universe. The very laws of physics might be different, never mind the differences in culture, history, civilization, and everything that goes along with that: systems of measurement, idioms, naming conventions, philosophical principles, mathematics, science...speculative fiction strives to introduce and immerse a reader in a world that might be completely different from that with which we are familiar.
Creative writing, or the speculative fiction genre, has long leveraged something called the MICE quotient. I first came across this when I was reading an Orson Scott Card book on how to write science fiction and fantasy (I think it was even titled How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy). The premise is that stories in the speculative fiction genre can be broadly binned as having one or more of four, primary drivers: milieu, idea, character, and event. Although most good stories will incorporate multiple of these components, with different ones emphasized at different times, there is usually one that drives the story forward.
Science fiction seems to have faded. At least, when I go to a library, or a bookstore, or more likely browse the Amazon Kindle library, I find a lot more good, really original fantasy being put out by new names and in modern times than I do science fiction. I can’t claim to know why this might be, but I do know that it hasn’t always been this way; my dad has often said that when he was younger it was the opposite, with fantasy in a kind of rut, and science fiction the blossoming flower. This present situation is perhaps why I find that I read today much for fantasy than I do science fiction, which is really shame, since every time that I pick up one of these older science fiction novels I invariably enjoy it.
The world is a dangerous place. That's true any time, and at any point in history, but certainly this year the point has been emphasized repeatedly. Although it is often easy to imagine that either it is hubris to think that we live in important times, or alternatively that what is happening right now must be a matter of grave and unprecedented significance, the objective truth is that this year has already seen more uncertainty and tumult than usual. So, naturally, I read a book written to scare people.
It's a question I get all the time: will you ever write an IGC story? A sort of autobiographical account of your time as an agent of the Intergalactic Coalition, with special emphasis on your last six thousand years or so of service here on Earth?
There are certain novels that you can read again and again, and you’ll always get something a little different out of them. It can be because you’re at a different point in your life, or because you’ve read other things and are approaching the story with a different context, or simply because the story is that intricate and beautifully written that, like any other great work of art, there are always more mysteries to be revealed. When it comes to literature, these are often the books that first got you into the genre, and that you come back to time and time again. These are the books that are thumbed through and dog-eared and well-worn. There might be pages trying to fall out, maybe even a tear here and there. These are well loved books.