I don't like everything that came out of the golden age of sci fi. A lot of it was xenophobic garbage. But I think what I love about that era was most of the authors writing were scientifically trained or scientists themselves. You can almost always count on a well-thought out, clever story.
Generally, it's not so in modern sci fi.
In his lifetime, Asimov noted a decline in scientific literacy among sci fi writers:
Unfortunately, in many cases, people who write science fiction violate the laws of nature, not because they want to make a point, but because they don't know what the laws of nature are.
With the exception of Star Trek, good science-based fiction does not exist anymore, at least, not like it used to. We have fantasy parading as science fiction, dressed up in space suits, pushing faster-than-light drives and toting laser pistols and other futuristic equipment. All you have to know is that it works; authors no longer need to explain how.
It seems to me that is where the real challenge is for the science fiction writer. Creating a situation within the laws of nature (perhaps slightly bent), logistically following through with the idea, and crafting an interesting, believeable story.
I think most modern science fiction is categorized incorrectly. It has very little to do with science, and very much to do with fantasy and its rudiments.
The problem most likely lies in, like Asimov said, most authors’ unfamiliarity with science and the laws of nature. The formula is already there for space opera or post apocalyptica, one only needs to read and regurgitate. Which, by the way, is how fiction works, and should be a natural part of the writer’s process, as it lies beyond his or her hands to block out all influences, but the themes and technology of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings in particular are almost replicated, even by respected authors like Terry Brooks and Timothy Zahn (who seems to write only Star Wars fiction nowadays; it’s easier and probably pays better).
It seems like one of the few science fiction writers monitoring modern science for inspiration is Michael Crichton, especially in his perennial fan fave, Jurassic Park. But Crichton is also a paranoid Bush-hugger and a baseless climate change denier (epitomized by State of Fear). His stories typically have a simplistic singular embodiment of Dr. Faust (like Hammond in JP), we cross the moral boundary (for no other reason than arrogance) and are punished for our greed (because the power goes out on their cages? Give me a break). His ideas are neat, but his philosophy sucks.
Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods and Anansi Boys, as well as creator of the Sandman graphic novel series is another mystery to me. I don’t understand how the guy became popular outside of the comic industry. He is a terrible novel writer: Monotonous, plodding, uninspired and trite—and yet he gets rave reviews for his mediocrity. Gaiman obviously identifies with the Hot Topic folks; his characters are twelve-year-old girls (who wear black) or foul-mouthed outsiders (who wear black) or one-eyed gods (who wear, what else, black). Whereas Crichton, even with all of his hang-ups and inaccuracies should still be topically categorized with science fiction, Gaiman is considered science fiction without any semblance of science incorporated into his work.
I’m calling for a change in categorization, I suppose, if for no other reason than clarifying which stories are actually science based and which are fantasy for my own personal use. I’m tired of endlessly searching the tangle of the bookstore science fiction shelf for something decent to read. There needs to be a distinction for the readers and the writers of true science fiction, especially since the shelves have become needlessly crowded with manga as well.
I imagine that the actual number of science fiction novels (as I have defined them) available is relatively small, but I’d be willing to bet that I’m not the only reader of science fiction who feels the same frustrations.