“I am not pouting, and I am certainly not indulging in self-pity, as Eleanor accuses me. In fact, I am brooding. It is what artists do, we brood. To other, more active people, we appear selfish, obsessive, even narcissistic, which is why we prefer to brood in private.”
In “Counting Heads” by David Marusek
SF stories often regurgitate medieval themes and settings, including wars, sword fighting, emperors, dukes, and so on. Star Wars and Dune do this, too. They would have us believe that people still fight with (light) sabres although they master FTL travel as well. Light sabres may be entertaining, but to me they are not serious SF. I prefer another kind of SF, the kind that shows NEW forms of human/alien behaviour induced by alien settings and new technology, NEW dilemmas and choices, and shows how current developments will play out in the not-too-distant future. In short, it kind of sheds light on the human condition as I’ve been writing “ad nauseam” on this blog. David's Marusek brilliant "Counting Heads" has no sword fighting, no laser guns. It does have court cases being pursued by Artificial Intelligence Assistance up to the Highest Court within milliseconds. People being "seared" - deprived of their online identity and thereby being unable to live a normal life. Societies with large numbers of clones such as "Maries" (that often marry Freds, who are fond of making lists for everything they do). Leftover Nano weapons from a past conflict still wreaking havoc. How drones will change the way life is lived. People choosing the age at which they remain living. A large queue forming outside the neighborhood 3D print shop because someone is printing a couch... Etcetera. And the book was written in 2005. This shows it’s not necessary to write 600-pages books to give us a fine SF novel. More words, not always give us a better book for sure; would a longer book serve to clarify, especially when the reader is forced to embrace and remember new names and terminologies at almost every paragraph? Do we really need to be spoon-fed? I much prefer my SF to be ultra-dense like Marusek's; he prefers to build the world through subtle hints for an attentive reader to pick up and put together. But we're geeks. We're smart guys. We wear hats. This is how we should want our books. We don't need our mommies to cut up our steak for us, so why do we need an author to spoon-feed us big chunks of exposition to explain every nuance? Were this another type of SF novel (meaning bigger), it’d degenerate to a sinkhole of flash-in-the-pan fantasy in the guise of science fiction.
My point: there is SF that retells old stories in new settings, and there is SF that throws most of the old out and replaces it with thought-provoking new stuff. The books from Philip K. Dick could only be made into movies at the end of his life, and decades thereafter, because that's when society had learned enough to understand his concepts. Maybe the same will happen to David Marusek.
SF = Speculative Fiction.