Since starting this blog a miniscule two years ago, I've struggled backstage to put in words that literary quality which separates really good books from superb books--the billionaires from the millionaires, for lack of a better metaphor. Reading Olaf Stapledon's preface to his 1937 Star Maker I found relief.
"...while the decades pass, no resolute step is taken to alleviate the injustice of our social order. [...] In these conditions it's difficult for writers to pursue their calling at once with courage and with balanced judgement. Some merely shrug their shoulders and withdraw from the central struggle of our age. These, with their minds closed against the world's most vital issues, inevitably produce works which not only have no depth of significance for their contemporaries but are also subtly insincere. For these writers must consciously or unconsciously contrive to persuade themselves either that the crisis in human affairs does not exist, or that it is less important than their own work, or that is anyhow not their business. But the crisis does exist, is of supreme importance, and concerns us all. Can anyone who is at all intelligent and informed hold the contrary without self-deception?"
I know my readership is (ahem) limited, but I'd like to think this tiny corner of the review world identifies and values writers who take up Stapledon's challenge. It is writers like Ursula Le Guin, Michael Bishop, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, James Tiptree Jr. Ian McDonald, Ian Macleod, Maureen McHugh, Kim Stanley Robinson, Stanislaw Lem, Gene Wolfe, and others who speculate upon major concerns of humanity in prosaic, and often challenging fashion. None, to my knowledge, are New York Times bestsellers, but it would seem making it to that list is not their primary concern. So while I certainly enjoy a ripping yarn and can appreciate it as such, I aim to critique books for their ability to address the concerns as Stapledon puts it: the human condition.
Take this as Speculiction's mission statement (as borrowed as it is).