It’s surprising how quickly old science fiction develops a patina of quaintness. And for any theme within science fiction, we can see evolutionary development over time. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell from 1996 is far more sophisticated at exploring religion and first contact than 1958’s A Case of Conscience by James Blish. More than that, her story is told with far more skill. I expect the next science fiction writer to take a swing at the subject will supplant the other two for a couple decades. And that’s the nature of writing science fiction. We’ve been rewriting the old science fiction ideas since H. G. Wells. New writers have to top old writers. If they don’t, readers will just keep reading the old favorites. Sure science advances, but writing seems to be advancing faster. Otherwise, how could we keep telling alien invasion stories over and over?
–James Wallace Harris on progress in sci-fi.
Harris’ argument is that the writing in sci-fi books dates them far more than the science (or “science”) does, with picture illustrations.
Incidentally, the “next science fiction writer to take a swing at the subject” mentioned in the above quote is Michel Faber with The Book of Strange New Things. Just, yanno. Speaking of the writing marching on.