Today I have a guest post by Bascomb James, editor of Far Orbit: Speculative Space Adventures, to share with you! He’s here to discuss the appeal and breadth of Grand Tradition Science Fiction, the common element binding the stories in Far Orbit together. This anthology, released a couple of weeks ago, contains a letter to science fiction by Elizabeth Bear and stories written by Gregory Benford, Tracy Canfield, Eric Choi, Barbara Davies, Jakob Drud, Julie Frost, David Wesley Hill, K. G. Jewell, Sam Kepfield, Kat Otis, Jonathan Shipley, Wendy Sparrow, and Peter Wood.

Far Orbit edited by Bascomb James

Grand Tradition Science Fiction

Over at World Weaver Press, we have been beating the drums about our new anthology, Far Orbit, Speculative Space Adventures. The anthology features modern stories crafted in the Grand Tradition of Science Fiction. So what is Grand Tradition SF and why are we making happy noises about stories written in a vintage style?

Much of what I call Grand Tradition SF was published in the late 1930s through 1960. Grand Tradition SF has its literary roots in the pulp fiction era but it was heavily pruned and shaped by editor Hugo Gernsback’s “Super Science” era that focused on the gizmo and by editor John W. Campbell’s desire for more scientific achievement and realism. Despite these significant influences, Grand Tradition stories never really fit within the Gernsback or the Campbell model.

The hallmark of the Grand Tradition story was that it was fun to read. Grand Tradition stories were pure entertainment; they were adventure stories that were found nowhere else. Grand Tradition stories were written in every SF motif (horror, noir, pulp fiction, first contact, spaceship, alien invaders/visitors, political intrigue, hard science fiction, etc.) and they embraced all of the familiar SF tropes. Grand Tradition stories often included social/political commentaries and they opened windows on worlds we could not otherwise see, but these elements were part of the subtext. The foreground story was the adventure, the wonder, the delightful romp through a strange and wondrous universe.

Somewhere along the way, a derisive public wrote off Grand Tradition SF as mere escapism – as if escapism was something unsavory. Fun stories – stories written for entertainment – became childish indulgences in an increasingly tight-sphinctered world. In her open letter to SF, Elizabeth Bear asks why “[SF seems] to think that nothing fun can have value.” I agree with her completely. Mind you, I am not advocating a return to the days of schlocky pulp fiction, but even the most serious and dedicated science fiction fan wants to have a little fun now and then.

The author response to our call for submissions demonstrates that modern authors still write Grand Tradition stories and we are proud to include 13 wonderful examples of Grand Tradition SF in the Far Orbit anthology. The anthology showcases the breadth of Grand Tradition SF and includes 1940s-style pulp fiction, realistic hard SF, noir fiction, horror SF, spaceship fiction, alien uplift, and action-adventure motifs. This diversity makes it easy for every SF fan to find a favorite.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.