I finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson's The Martians, on my Kindle the other day (the short review: It was great, I don't know how I felt about the poetry at the end, but I liked the collection.) and promptly began reading this month's Asimov's. The first story is an alternate history/fantastic history/I-think-there's-science-fiction-coming-but-it's-not-here-yet, piece and I can't bring myself to really read get into it. It's well written, and I even find myself delighting at the text (in a technical sense.) I think the issue that I'm running into is that I don't really get the alternate history thing.
Which is, you know, weird. I should break out and say that my fiction tends to be very historically concerned. I'm fascinated by history and there are a lot of historiographical themes and ideas in the stories I write. But they're all set in the future, and try as I might, I don't really have much interest in writing stories set in the past of our world. Alternate or otherwise.
Maybe it has something to do with my view of history. I tend to take a big picture approach to history and I tend to think that single events and single individuals rarely really affect history. If you called me a determinist I'd probably gnash my teeth for a few moments and then agree. Which makes constructing alternate histories sort of difficult. Add to that the fact that quasi-deterministic big pictures, though probably accurate and helpful, don't lend themselves to good stories. When you don't feel like your characters--any of them--have agency, it doesn't make for terribly interesting story telling.
At least for me. I think other people can pull it off.
This whole "I want my science fiction to be set in the future," thing isn't something I can rationalize or support very well. Clearly I don't find the past to be a very good "escape." The future is fun, vast, and full of possibilities and enables the sorts of things that I enjoy most in science fiction: the ability to engage in a critique of the present, high energy stories with adventure, and for lack of a better term, stories that impart a "sense of wonder." There's more out there, I just can't seem to muster the interest.
This isn't to say that I don't sometimes find myself enchanted by non-futuristic stories, it's just not a terribly frequent or predictable sort of experience. I should also be clear, I'm not of the opinion that when science fiction stories talk about the future and are set in a future, that they are about anything except the present at all.
And I'm not terribly proud of this. I suppose we all have our things.
I worry that my tastes aren't sophisticated enough, that I enjoy stories for the wrong reasons, or that I get too caught up in the scenery and forget to pay attention to what really matters. Despite this whole "writer thing," that I have going on these days I don't have very much formal training in literature. It's sort of awkward to say "I feel like I'm not a very good reader," that's definitely something that I battle with.
For those of you who are part of the larger community of science fiction/fantasy/genre fiction readers (which I think necessarily includes writers,) I'd be very interested to learn your thoughts on this subject: how do you relate to the future in the stories that you write and read? The past? Alternate histories? Is there some connection that I've mostly failed to see? Am I not alone in this?
Thank you (preemptively) for your feedback.