The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume One, Neil Clarke editor, publisher of online Clarkesworld, released June 7, 2016.
A survey of the content, in particular, the editor's introduction, reveals the mediocre and dispassionate state of fantastic fiction content and publication. Clarke himself rates the overall 2015 crop of fantastic short fiction at a B-.
Why? Clarke doesn't diagnose the causes. He does note the submission field is crowded and few slots available for acceptance. Clarkesworld, for example, receives one thousand submissions average per month for five available slots, or 0.5 percent acceptance rate. Anecdotes about the Writers of the Future writing contest purport twenty-five hundred submissions per quarter and three accepted win, place, and show entries, or 0.12 percent acceptance. Other front-line publications report or anecdotes purport similar statistics, regardless of genre category.
Obviously, the field is highly competitive. Quantity is ample, should result in the cream, so to speak, rising to the top. Maybe the cream does rise, though only by a degree more than the run of the mill. Quality overall leaves much to be desired.
Survey of the Best-of anthology indicates general grammar, content and organization, and expression aptitudes an increment above unscreened self-publication par. The general language is about consistent with everyday, off-the-cuff conversation -- the sort of small talk conversations overheard most anywhere, like TV news talk gossip: falsely fused sentences, tense shifts, excess present participle verbs misused generally; larger considerations, like content and organization, antagonism, causality, and tension structure, and defused or passed over matters of motivations, stakes, and attitudes, or flat emotional "tone" toward a topic or subject.
A larger-picture matter is the majority of the field focuses on victimism narratives, start-to-end done to and happened to agonists from external forces and personas, and outcomes that result in consequences of victimization, with little to no, if any, transformative alteration of state of being.
Are we sheep? That we have become dispassionate and static followers who pursue no ambitions, no objectives, no inspirations other than bare everyday survival, that reflect proactive satisfaction desires. What happened to individual initiatives of proactivism so much part of Golden, Silver, and Platinum Age science fiction, and no less, fantasy's similar evolutions, too, that paralleled those ages?
Issues with prose's quality overall include a crowded field, competitive entertainment channels that absorb discretionary time, money, and effort consumption budgets, and lowered craft standards due to the best-of is barely a mite less mediocre than declined submissions. Writers who debut and maintain a composition success path need only exceed by a degree the competition in terms of grammar, content and organization, and expression, in particular matters of motivations, stakes, and attitude. Yet exceed the competition by only a reticle increment above the event horizon, and stall on that plateau, no more.
Contemporary culture could be diagnosed as victimized, refugees displaced in place and, ergo, victimism appeals widely. Unacceptable.
Victimism best practice compels proactivism, soon if not immediately. Proactivism, on the other hand starts with motivation, want, in other words. Who does not want? Okay if want raises problems; wants always do raise problems. Yet have we become victimized by peer pressure to stay in our assigned place to so great an extent that we keep below the horizon of mediocrity and shy from greatness? From fear perhaps of drawing unwanted and undue negative attention from all and sundry? Maybe.
Maybe, too, what passes for appealing prose anymore is nihilism's pessimism -- Naturalism that spun off from Realism. Look up "nihilism." Basically, life is meaningless and attention to moral aptitudes is a waste of time, and are a cornerstone of Postmodernism's toxic sarcasm that mocks and ridicules human morality.
Into each generation is given a unique identity predicated upon distinctive voices who address the generation's wants and problems, culture and status, motivations and stakes, and aptitudes and attitudes. The Millennial generation is coming of age. What's the generation's matters of substance? Look to current events: environmentalism, widespread public and private corruption, declining if not eliminated opportunity, toxic social communities and society overall, and evermore violent and vanishing subsistence, shelter, and companionship satisfaction. What do Millennials want? The right to participate in and contribute to existence and its betterment they are denied.
No wonder victimism appeals. Flip-flop victimism to proactivism, Take a stand, make a point, express how and why life became toxic, and what could be proactively done to satisfy a toxicity problem. Within want and problem's motivation paradigm is a satisfaction; that is, global assertion of rights, entitlements, and privileges are attendant attachments of responsibilities, duties, obligations, and accountabilities that are paid little to no mind. Therein the latter is proactivism's cornerstone: short-shrifted human condition attachments of responsibility, duty, obligation, and accountability. Much fertile ground for fantastic fiction within those several corners, within prose overall, regardless of composition length or genre.
Here's a basic template for the above, proactivism: an agonist's want for more a more contented life encounters strong opposition headwinds. The want is itself problematized beforehand by an uncontented life. What, wealth, companionship, fame, glory, power, health, luxury, leisure, etc., ad infinitum? Then what efforts to satisfy the want-problem complication, the motivation, and at what risk-cost: stakes, and what topical attitude? What then is the outcome? Success, mixed results, or utter failure? Personal growth, stagnation, or decline?
Flat or little to no motivations, stakes, and attitudes, and mediocre grammar, are troubling shortfalls for the latest publication culture developments. Probably more due to online publication's attractions of immediate, effortless self-gratification than much else. The Digital Age is yet young. Be an influential part of its maturation.