I need an equivalent saying to “My eyes are bigger than my stomach” that applies to trying to read too much. My reading desires far exceed my ability to get things read. For the past year, I’ve spent most of my reading time consuming short stories. On average, I still squeeze in a book a week, but usually, it’s anthologies or nonfiction, rarely novels. Lately, I’ve been missing novels or I thought I did. Novels get all the buzz. Novels are what readers remember. Novels are what pop culture respect. So I felt I was missing something important.

One thing about getting old is letting things and pursuits you love fall away. I regret not keeping up with new science fiction novels. I’ve identified with being a science fiction fan my whole life, so I feel a pang of loss that I haven’t kept up with the genre.

I felt I should fight that aging trend. I told myself I should catch up. Last week I decided I would look for all the best science fiction novels that have come out in 2022 and read three or four of them. I quickly discovered it was like lighting a cigarette from a Raptor 2 engine. Not only are publishers launching SF novels like SpaceX launches Starlink satellites, but many are reaching orbit with reviewers and list makers, and I’m essentially grounded.

I went to Google and searched for the best science fiction of 2022 and found these lists:

Because I subscribe to Scribd.com I was able to sample several of them right away. For the others, I used the Look Inside feature at Amazon. It didn’t take me long to remember that novels aren’t like short stories, which I can read in a sitting, but each requires a week’s commitment. None of the ones I started grabbed me enough to make me want to make that commitment. I’m willing to take on some long reads, but only if the novel is great. I used to go to the bookstore every week and pick a science fiction novel out by the cover. I was willing to climb many mountains to find an El Dorado.

I needed another plan. I needed to know more about a book before I started reading, a judgment of its value. So I started going through the SF magazines and reading their book reviews.

Twenty years ago I felt I was getting out of touch with current science fiction. Going through all these reviews was like pistol-whipping myself with the truth. I’m completely out of touch. And more depressingly, I realize I’ll never catch up. If I really want to read great 2022 science fiction novels, I’ll just have to wait the years until they are universally recognized.

I probably never did keep up, even when I was reading a paperback a day back in my school days. I just had the illusion I was because so many books and authors felt familiar.

I’ve come to accept that I can’t stay current with modern science fiction. I will accidentally stumble upon a new novel now and then, probably because it gained immense popularity. I’ve also got to accept that what I really like is reading old science fiction and reading about old science fiction. I’m now more of a science fiction scholar, specializing in a period in the genre’s history. I can’t honestly call myself a science fiction fan anymore.

I just finished John Brunner by Jad Smith, a monograph on his life and work, part of the Modern Masters of Science Fiction series from the University of Illinois Press. It inspires me to read several Brunner novels I missed from decades ago. Even that urge is unrealistic, but I’m more likely for me to read one of Brunner’s older novels than to read a new novel from an unknown writer.

For me, at seventy, it’s more rewarding to understand the science fiction novels from my past that were about my generation’s imagined future than trying to read current novels about the new futures young readers are imagining today.

Science fiction isn’t really about the future at all. It’s taken me a lifetime to learn that. Science fiction is about the present and what we think about the future at that moment. Reading the science fiction I grew up with is a kind of meditation on who I was. Reading new science fiction tells me about the current generation. And I’m afraid that opens up a can of worms I can’t face. Pop culture has gotten too fast, too complex, and too prolific, to keep up with.

I’ve got to retreat to a smaller territory, to putter about in my own small land.

One of the aspects of getting old is learning to let go of who you think you are, who you wanted to be, doing what you want to do, going places you wanted to go, and things you wanted to own. That sounds depressing, but getting older requires a kind of streamlining or downsizing so you won’t get depressed. It’s just a practicality.

For a couple of days, it became depressing trying to catch up, but now I’m happier.

James Wallace Harris, 8/18/22

16 thoughts on “Wow — I Wish I Hadn’t Opened That Can of Worms

  1. The Argentine-Canadian writer Alberto Manguel once wrote that “anything other than a random sampling is impossible.” At my age (58) I think “catching up” is a highly relative term. If there are fifty or a hundred books from whatever era I might like to read, I’ll consider myself caught up if I manage to read five or ten of them.

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  2. Thanks for writing this—it’s really powerful and as one of the youngsters at the young age of 47 (still! when do I get to be a fogey?), I’m starting to feel this. I am able to keep up with some of the novels but short fiction? Nope. And I’m lucky if I get through a book a week—I mostly can’t manage a new book a day, despite near-instant availability as I read 99% of my fiction electronically.

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  3. Morning James,I can’t manage sfnovels at all but have a whole bookcase++of anthologies.I came back to SFF five or six years ago..aged 69/70!!!An age thing😉No,just love short stories.Have Neil Clark’s annual but waiting for Strahan and Horton.

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    1. Well, why not join our specialist SF/fantasy short fiction reading group? Nothing but short fiction there. Look for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction on Facebook. Remember to answer the membership questions.

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  4. Don’t focus on what you can’t do. I came to terms with not being able to read or watch or listen to everything, and now just read whatever sounds interesting at that instant. I keep a list of interesting books I come across, and then just flip through that until one catches my eye, or a friend suggests one, or whatever. No need to be hard on yourself for something you could never complete anyway.

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  5. Hi James I have not been following your blog or commenting or posting for awhile but I hope to get back in Sept. I an not sure if you have read The Three Body Problem, yes it is three books. I have been pondering whether it is the best SF trilogy I have ever read. I got my wife to read it (she liked it) and will be rereading it with an eye to posting on it down the line. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s The Final Architecture only has the first two books out but is quite good.

    Happy Reading
    Guy

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  6. Not to be a negative Nancy, but you aren’t missing anything.
    SFdom has drastically changed as well as the books put out.
    I find myself going back in time w SF instead of trying to keep up

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      1. Given the amount of SF being published, I think it’s futile to even try to keep up, unless one redefines “keep up” to mean getting a fairly small sample. I also like older writers (Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, etc.), but I think more recent anthologies published by DAW have worthwhile stories along the lines of the older writers and classic SF themes.

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        1. I’d like to read a small amount from current SF just to keep my finger on the pulse of the genre. The problem is finding the good stuff. I think I’ve discovered a decent way to do this, by watching YouTube reviewers. I’ll consider any book that gets a lot of attention worth a look at.

          I am disappointed there’s no YouTuber reviewing short SF and the SF/F magazines.

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        2. I LOVE everything that is being produced now..admittedly just in anthologies or collections.Love that there are so many women,LBQetc and ethnic writers and subgenre after subgenre.Tend to stick to the tried and true,such as Neil Clark,Strahan etc but will give most things a look.

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