By Barry N. Malzberg.
Science fiction, as John W. Campbell once pointed out expansively, may indeed outdo all of the so-called mainstream because it gathers in all of time and space . . . but science fiction as it has evolved is an extraordinarily rigorous and delimiting medium. Like the canon and the fugue, the sonnet and the sonata, like haiku, it has its rules, and the control of those rules is absolute. Extrapolative elements, cultural interface, characteriological attempt to resolve the conflicts between the two: this is science fiction.
The fact pervades all the decades after about 1935: no one could publish science fiction unless exposed to a great deal of it; virtually everyone who has ever sold a story has a sophisticated reader’s background in the form, usually acquired just before or around adolescence. At the underside, this has led to parochialism, incestuousness, and the preciosity of decadence (and there has been too much). In the end it may even be these qualities which finish science fiction off, make its most sophisticated and advanced examples increasingly inaccessible to the larger reading audience.