The Magazine and Website of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field

Locus Online
Sub Menu contents

Recent Posts

Recent Comments



Site search


A collaborative blog by Locus editors, contributors, and other invited guests. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine or Locus Online.

(Earlier posts end here in April 2010)




Alvaro Zinos-Amaro


Alan Beatts
Terry Bisson
Marie Brennan
Karen Burnham
Siobhan Carroll
John Clute
F. Brett Cox
Ellen Datlow
Paul Di Filippo
Michael Dirda
Gardner Dozois
Andy Duncan
Stefan Dziemianowicz
Brian Evenson
Jeffrey Ford
Karen Joy Fowler
Kathleen Ann Goonan
Theodora Goss
Elizabeth Hand
Cecelia Holland
Rich Horton
Guy Gavriel Kay
James Patrick Kelly
Mark R. Kelly
Ellen Klages
Russell Letson
Karen Lord
Brit Mandelo
Adrienne Martini
Tim Pratt
Cat Rambo
Paul Graham Raven
Graham Sleight
Maureen Kincaid Speller
Peter Straub
Rachel Swirsky
Paul Witcover
Gary K. Wolfe
E. Lily Yu

Roundtable: SF Aesthetics

First Page2. Paul Graham Raven

This is the first discussion of the resurrected Locus Roundtable group. I tossed out the following prompt to the participants. Click here to see the entire discussion.

Damien G. Walter posted the following on

In science fiction [the] argument sometimes arises as a belief that SF does not need to function as art. It does not need to be beautiful, as other kinds of fiction might. Its characters do not require depth. Its prose can lack precision or clarity. It can tell hackneyed stories in the service of new scientific ideas perhaps. Its an argument that fewer people accept today than might have a decade ago, and yet much interesting SF still falls short as fiction.

The physicist Paul Dirac suggested that for an equation to be true, it must be beautiful. In Dirac’s thinking beauty was a way of discerning the truth, as much a part of the scientific process as observation. If science fiction is a way of reaching for the truth, then shouldn’t it also be beautiful? Can a work of science fiction really have anything true to say, if it fails by the standards of fiction?

But what makes fiction beautiful? For me, the great strength of prose fiction is its ability to step inside the human experience. To explore the internal world that exists inside us all. When science fiction is beautiful it is most often because, however strange the external world it explores, its first concern is with the internal experience of that world.

Here’s the whole article:

Is there anything worth saying on this topic, or has it all been said before (and probably all been said before in 1955)? Can we ever grant SF a pass on literary merit because it’s the Literature of Ideas? Is the beauty=truth premise actually valid?

I got responses from Paul Graham Raven, Gary K. Wolfe, Andy Duncan, Russell Letson, John Clute, Cheryl Morgan, Paul Witcover and Terry Bisson, who all easily rose above the limitations of my initial prompt. Click through to the full post to see the discussion play out. If you prefer to see all the responses on a single page, the pull-down menu at the top of the stand-alone page should have a ‘View All’ option.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11


Pingback from New Year Linkdump | Cora Buhlert
Time January 3, 2011 at 6:15 am

[…] Locus has a roundtable on truth, beauty, SF and aesthetics. […]

Pingback from Cheryl's Mewsings » Blog Archive » At Locus, We Talk
Time January 3, 2011 at 1:52 pm

[…] long. Karen has a post up on the Locus Roundtable blog in which I and various other people discuss SF Aesthetics. This is all your fault, […]

Comment from steve davidson
Time January 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm

The ‘beauty’ that Dirac referred to includes an element of ‘getting the job done’. In that respect, any story that gets the job done for the reader contains that element of ‘beauty’.
As at least a couple of the contributors mentioned, this is really nothing more than an exercise in goal post moving. Rather than discussing “what is science fiction”, we’re asking if there is “beauty” to be found in it. A question that will never be answered as we are all looking at different sections of the tapestry.
For me, personally, those elements of writing that are (erroneously) attributed to “literary merit” CAN be incorporated into works of science fiction but do not have to be present to produce a beautiful story. (Cold Equations anyone? Where’s the “depth of character” in that classic?)
Damien lost me, however, with one of his opening paragraphs:

“I strongly object to the idea that science fiction has to be about science.”

For me there is a line, however squishy or nebulous. The absence of science that informs the story, or serves as background or provides the central element removes a story from the ranks. Even stories that ‘act’ like science fiction but that do not have the practices, logical projection/speculation based on science are over that line (the case for many so-called literary works that incorporate elements of SF, but that do not derive from an SF history/community/sensibility/whatever).

I view this as yet another argument “against” science fiction, seeming to come from someone who buys in to the Vonnegut epithet.

Pingback from The Great Geek Manual » Geek Media Round-Up: January 3, 2011
Time January 3, 2011 at 6:01 pm

[…] Interview: Locus Roundtable: SF Aesthetics with responses from Paul Graham Raven, Gary K. Wolfe, Andy Duncan, Russell Letson, John Clute, Cheryl Morgan, Paul Witco…. […]

Comment from Robert Atlas
Time January 4, 2011 at 4:02 am

I’m reminded of the remarks of former world chess champion Emmanuel Lasker contrasting his views of beauty in chess with those of title contender Siegbert Tarrasch.

“Dr. Tarrasch is a thinker, fond of deep and complex speculation. He will accept the efficacy and usefulness of a move if at the same time he considers it beautiful and theoretically right. But I accept that sort of beauty only if and when it happens to be useful. He admires an idea for its depth, I admire it for its efficacy. My opponent believes in beauty, I believe in strength. I think that by being strong, a move is beautiful too. – Emanuel Lasker”

In other words, I agree with the previous commenter regarding “getting the job done.” Are the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch beautiful? Deep? I’d say no to both. But they get his points across. The same is true of many highly regarded works in other media.

Pingback from Locus Round Table Group « Damien G. Walter
Time January 4, 2011 at 11:35 am

[…] You can read the full conversation here. […]

Pingback from Geek Media Round-Up: January 4, 2011 – Grasping for the Wind
Time January 4, 2011 at 2:02 pm

[…] Interview: Locus Roundtable: SF Aesthetics with responses from Paul Graham Raven, Gary K. Wolfe, Andy Duncan, Russell Letson, John Clute, Cheryl Morgan, Paul Witco…. […]

Pingback from The Habitation of the Linked « Torque Control
Time January 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm

[…] You can now get Locus electronically, and their Roundtable blog has relaunched under the guiding hand of Karen Burnham; of note this week, a roundtable on sf aesthetics […]

Pingback from The Skiffy and Fanty Show #2.2a — The Beauty of SF and Her Sisters (or “How to Ask SF on a Date”)(Part One) « The Skiffy and Fanty Show
Time January 16, 2011 at 6:29 pm

[…] The Aesthetics of Science Fiction (Round Table) (Because it really is a sexy genre…) […]

Pingback from The Skiffy and Fanty Show #2.2b — The Beauty of SF and Her Sisters (Part Two) « The Skiffy and Fanty Show
Time January 23, 2011 at 6:54 pm

[…] The Aesthetics of Science Fiction (Round Table) (Because it really is a sexy genre…) […]

Pingback from Science fiction’s future-flinch | Velcro City Tourist Board
Time February 15, 2011 at 3:20 pm

[…] of people far more knowledgeable, well-read and concise than myself, covering such topics as the aesthetics of science fiction, sf’s troubled relationship with the (un)foreseeable future, and the travails of genre […]

Write a comment

© 2010 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved. Powered by WordPress, modified from a theme design by Lorem Ipsum