Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Classifying the Mundane Orders of Thought

Posted by Trent Walters at 4:31 PM
I just shared a discussion with Geoff on organizing the levels of thought involved in thinking Mundane, which may help explain why some works only seem or feel vaguely Mundane. I'm incorporating Geoff's thoughts with my own.


The Zeroth Order of Thought (Geoff calls this Aristotlean Mundane--works which "share certain, hazy, extemporised parameters"):

These are a list of writer methodologies for achieving a realistic or Mundane SF. They tend to have very realistic spaceships that grind slowly through space. OR very good scientific reasons for something else. They tend not to have aliens. They tend to stay on earth:

Gregory Benford who tends to work at realistic and semi-strict Hard-SF though Mundane SF is not necessarily restricted by the hard sciences

J.G. Ballard who was concerned mostly with a literary realism

Philip K. Dick who spent most of his effort on what it would be like to unravel a problematic world

Ursula LeGuin who often has "aliens" who are often humans evolved (albeit, more for thematic purposes), and who focuses on how we might believably live in a world, even if that world isn't Earth--a fact which unfortunately makes her less Mundane and approaches a more Status-quo SF



The First Order of Thought:

Simply follow the manifesto.



The Second Order of Thought (Geoff calls this the "Likely Lads"):

The second order asks of the first, "Why should we follow these rules?" The Mundane writer chooses the probable science over less probable speculations.

This is for people who know their science and feel that SF should privilege the Likely over the convenient or dramatic Unlikely.



The Third Order of Thought or the Moral/Political Mundane:

The third order asks of the second, "What happens if we follow improbable speculations and turn our backs on the probable as just not fun enough?"

Answer: Potential racism, wasted energies and resources, etc. This strand feels that imagining a universe in which we burn through one planet and hop over a long weekend to another encourages a wasteful attitude to planets that we can ill afford.



The Fourth Order of Thought or Deconstructing/Wrangling with the Tropes:

The fourth order asks of the third, "If the scientific field is in disagreement, how do we know that some speculations are more improbable?" Here, we'd speak of evidence for theory. On equivocal theories (AI?), the Mundane story that wants to deal with the equivocal should probably spend time (amount of time unknown--just so long as it ain't dull) wrangling with the different ideas on the field. This might involve (say the writer were interested in a story about space) debate over whether there is a need to go into space and how far. Or over whether life-supporting planets and aliens could exist, which leads one to wonder whether contact with aliens is possible, taking into account communication problems.

The fourth order doesn't necessarily trump the third order, but can be seen as another, equally valid approach. The orders all overlap, especially since racism is uncovered by examining the superman trope.

24 Comments:

Anonymous Martin Lewis said...

I know you are a great lover of non-sequitars but what does this:

These are a list of writer methodologies for achieving a realistic or Mundane SF. They tend to have very realistic spaceships that grind slowly through space. OR very good scientific reasons for something else. They tend not to have aliens. They tend to stay on earth:

Have to do with this:

Philip K. Dick who spent most of his effort on what it would be like to unravel a problematic world

All four writers you mention under the Zeroth Order break the Manifesto so what is the point of the Manifesto?

6/15/2005 03:31:00 AM  
Blogger Trent said...

Martin,

Correct. Which is why we said they were "writer methodologies." They're methodologies for bringing out the rules within the manifesto.

We presently live in a problematic world--politically and ecologically. Geoff will have to explain his thoughts on Dick if he feels differently. I picked LeGuin and will demonstrate my meaning of choosing her shortly.

6/15/2005 07:33:00 AM  
Blogger gabe said...

ummmmm...

...so instead of writing Mundane SF, why not turn to a life of activism and actually DO SOMETHING about the problems that we face?

This is for people who know their science and feel that SF should privilege the Likely over the convenient or dramatic Unlikely.

So if I write a story set fifty years in the future, I'm up shit creek, because anything that I happen to write will be Unlikely as opposed to Likely. Kind of like the cyberpunks, who just didn't see mobile phones and 80-gig harddrives on computers, right? And hell, that was only twenty years ago.

This strand feels that imagining a universe in which we burn through one planet and hop over a long weekend to another encourages a wasteful attitude to planets that we can ill afford.

Where are these stories being written? I can't remember the last story I read that offered as a solution hopping to another planet and not caring about Earth. I mean, is this kind of SF that you're railing against actually being written? WHERE? I need some examples.

Or over whether life-supporting planets and aliens could exist, which leads one to wonder whether contact with aliens is possible, taking into account communication problems.

OK. Have the Mundanes actually read any SF? (Yes, that's being snarky. Couldn't help myself.) My shelves are chock-full of books and stories that addressed these questions. Hell, even "World-Wrecker" Ed Hamilton addressed these questions. Even EE SMITH addressed them in his own way. And that was a long time ago. So what makes Mundane SF *any* different? What - exactly and quantifiably - makes Mundane versions of these answers any more plausible and any 'better' (to use a vague word that seems to sum up the Mundane attitude toward genre) than what is already being written?

It's no fair dismissing my questions with an "Oh, I'll be getting into those explanations in a future post" either. The Mundanes need to proffer some answers if they want to be taken even vaguely seriously, I think.

6/15/2005 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger Trent said...

Gabe,

Let me ask you as you undertand MSF:

What is the difference between what we propose and what EE Smith and E. Hamilton did?

Also:

Have you been reading the blog? Have you read the site? Or do you just drop now and then?

6/15/2005 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger gabe said...

Trent, you've easily avoided answering the questions.

I follow the blog often as I can bear. But I think you can tell that I have strong disagreements.

I've read the Mundane site. All of it.

YOU tell ME the difference. That's your job. You're the Mundane, not I.

6/15/2005 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Trent said...

I think it's quite clear: zooming around interstellar space is not Mundane.

Mundane is critique of the genre.

6/16/2005 08:44:00 AM  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

I think this post actually clarified for me my central issue with the Mundane approach.

Thing is, in the Zeroth Order you don't actually identify writer methodologies; you just list writers -- Benford, Ballard, Dick, Le Guin -- and ascribe some general characteristic features and individual thematic concerns to their work without really establishing any link between ends and means. The assertion that results, that these writers are aiming to achieve a "realistic or Mundane SF", strikes me as vague and unsupported -- identifying a set of "hazy, extemporised parameters" (only three of which are specified), then circumscribing the writers' approaches in the most general terms, and claiming that the two together add up to a systematic methodology.

Looking at the "ends" first, the thematic concerns: Phrases such as "realistic", "literary realism", "[unravelling] a problematic world", "[believably living] in a world, even if that world isn't Earth" -- these just strike me as waving in the general direction of "mimesis" and saying that's what they do. I would agree that, yes, mimesis is a core concern of these writers, that as much as they use fantastic tropes they show a deep concern with representing reality "as is", but I don't see any case made here for Ballard, Dick or Le Guin being truly as concerned with scientific verisimilitude as they are with socio-political and psychological verisimilitude. In fact, I'd argue that time and again these writers aim for socio-political and psychological mimesis and are more than willing to sacrifice Mundane-style scientific plausibility in order to achieve it. Essentially, what they're after is domestic verisimilitude rather than scientific verisimilitude, and while the process of constructing that domestic verisimilitude may result in less flights of unscientific fancy I think the evidence shows these writers were not that bothered whether or not their background scenarios were even possible, never mind plausible.

If scientific versimilitude -- the accurate representation of reality's physical and technical properties -- were their aims then we should be able to resolve that grab-bag of "hazy, extemporised parameters" laid out above into something more precise. If the sort of scientific mimesis the Mundanes focus on were really a concern then those features identified above -- realistically slow spaceships or plausible rationalisations of unrealistically fast spaceships, lack of aliens, limitation of action to earth -- should be really quite characteristic of the writers named. But with Ballard, Dick or Le Guin, none of these qualities strike me as being used consistently, never mind systematically. These writers are quite happy to use -- for instance -- aliens, ships returning from other star systems with the body of God, space stations with infinite rooms, consensual realities and other such improbabilities, as long as the sense of domestic reality is maintained. Superficial side-effects of the real methodology which can be traced out here, each of these characteristics strikes me as largely irrelevant with regards to the core aims and techniques that actually constitute that methodology.

An example: Dick's Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, where we have colonists on Mars. The colony here is presented as a wonderless place, as dull and dreary as the most banal suburban backwater. Arguably, Dick selects Mars for his setting rather than some far-distant star system as part of this purpose, to steer the story away from the "frontier adventure" other SF writers might use, keep it devoid of glamour. But I see here no concern with making his Mars colony plausible, no interest in the scientific verisimilitude of it. I don't remember Dick examining the terraforming process, or rigorously extrapolating the colonial culture; he simply transplants 50's US suburbia to an imagined backdrop. His real concern, I'd argue, is with domestic verisimilitude -- the relationships, the squabbles, of husbands and wives and next door neighbours. This is, I think, one of the single-most characteristic features of Dick's writing. If anything indicates a methodology in Dick's madness, it's his constant focus on the mundane -- not the Mundane in terms of scientific realism, but the mundane in terms of domestic realism.

Ultimately the Zeroth Order seems to me simply a vague and unfounded claim that these writers used some plausible science tropes in order to achieve accurate representation (from a scientific perspective) and that this should somehow be seen as a methodology -- a Zeroth Order Mundane methodology, no less. But unless you can show the identified parameters being applied strategically in the works of these writers, as a means towards that end, what you identify here are just tendencies rather than strategies, I'd say. As it is, I see little justification for focusing on scientific verisimilitude when it seems to me self-evident that at least three of the writers you name here are far more committed to domestic verisimilitude. Little justification, that is, other than the political/ethical imperatives expressed in the Manifesto.

And this is, I think, the heart of my personal issue with Mundane-SF. The justifications given for the focus on scientific verisimilitude are salutary, in my opinion -- scientific verisimilitude as a limiting device and antidote for escapist fantasies with harmful ramifications. Every story has a subtext and every subtext is political. One criticism of Mundane-SF seems to have come from those dismissing the actual effects of fiction -- unintentionally negative or intentionally positive -- as negligible; but to my mind, any assumption that the effects are only ever going to be minimal is complacency, and abrogation of control over that effect when the default equals escapist nonsense is complicity. So that's not my issue with Mundane. Another criticism might be that the particulars of the moral/political agenda advanced in the Manifesto are based less on plausible scientific speculation than on liberal belief-systems. Again that's not my beef. I'm pretty much with you ideologically speaking.

Instead the problem for me is I think Mundane-SF is blurring the boundaries between scientific and domestic mimesis and privileging the wrong one. Scientific versimilitude may challenge racism by revealing it as a fallacy; fallacious but generally accepted scientific wisdom could, on the other hand, bolster prejudice by lending a racist story false credibility. To me, scientific mimesis doesn't place enough checks and bounds on the escapist fantasies common to the genre. To me, domestic mimesis -- realistic portrayal of socio-political and psychological "realities" -- is in fact far more powerful both in presence and absence than scientific mimesis. An utterly scientifically plausible story might make no claims about racial superiority, yet still reinforce prejudice by inaccurately portraying cultures, motivations. Domestic versimilitude, to me anyway, gets to the core of Stupidities such as the superman and master villain tropes -- and warmongering villainous nationalities, and so on -- in a way that scientific versimilitude doesn't. To me, that's the real make or break of good SF in the sort of ethical framework the Mundanes propose.

6/16/2005 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Trent said...

Hal,

Ah, but we do not assert "[t]he assertion that results, that these writers are aiming to achieve a "realistic or Mundane SF"."

That is, the writers have their own aims. In fact, we assert that no one has written Mundane SF except by happy accident.

We are not interested in the totality of these writers' aims, but in segments of them.

So no, we never claimed they were after scientific verisimilitude. Methodologies are the ways the writers write, which may have little to do with content. One methodology useful in literary works are often transfused into the genre. This is essential what we're saying. These methodologies will be useful in constructing a Mundane SF.

Part of the problem of course is that I included Geoff's comments with mine. I tried to separate LeGuin out from the attributes he gave the other writers. I'll try to get to LeGuin soon.

But I'm not sure that your comments really critique what we said--rather, they amplify. Our attitude is summarized in the simple descriptive phrase I wrote for Charles Stross: "Real Characters, Real World, Real Science."

Geoff wrote in the manifesto:

"A new focus on human beings: their science, technology, culture, politics, religions, individual characters, needs, dreams, hopes and failings."

That phrasing means--to me and I'm fairly certain to Geoff as well--that characters are central to Mundane SF.

6/16/2005 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger Trent said...

"we never claimed they were after scientific verisimilitude"

except Benford, of course.

6/16/2005 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

"To me, scientific mimesis doesn't place enough checks and bounds on the escapist fantasies common to the genre."

-- this brings to mind the classic comment on who is most hostile to the concept of escape: prison guards.

>To me, domestic mimesis -- realistic portrayal of socio political and sychological "realities"

-- here "realism" translates as "agrees with my world-view".

Beep... does not compute...

6/16/2005 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Sure. I'm not that comfortable with the label "realism", which is why I prefer the term "mimesis" -- same root as "mimicry", implicit assumption that it takes insight and skill on the writer's part to achieve an effect, implicit acceptance that it's still only going to be an effect, tinted by the writer's view of "what's real".

I know the prison guards comment. I've always found it a bit glib meself; but then that's fair enough given that "escapism" is a fairly superficial dismissal. Rephrase the idea of "escapist fantasies", express it in other terms -- as fiction which plays on the desire for sensationalist distractions from things that make us unhappy, as fiction which denies unpleasant realities rather than tackling them -- you can argue that escapism isn't escape at all, just the illusion of it.

Then the prison guard comparison breaks down; attacking "escapism" doesn't mean you hate escape, just that you distrust fiction which exploits that *desire for escape*. It may well be harmless fun -- and I'm all for harmless fun -- but it could just as easily be a nice, wee diversion that stops the "prisoners" from getting uppity. The person standing in the corner going "nuh-uh, that's a crock of shit" may be far more concerned about improved living conditions within the jail or, indeed, about getting the fuck out of the jail, than the person spinning a yarn about the time his Aryan Brother kicked some black prison guard butt and escaped on the way to the courthouse, bully for him.

6/17/2005 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

"implicit assumption that it takes insight and skill on the writer's part to achieve an effect, implicit acceptance that it's still only going to be an effect, tinted by the writer's view of "what's real".

-- you're tying yourself into a formidable knot, there.

When you boil that sentence down, it comes out as: "I like convincing effects".

Which is true, of course; but so do I. In fact, you'd probably be hard-put to find anyone who didn't.

The problem is that what's convincing to one person isn't to another. I find Conan Doyle and Sabatini intensely skillful and very convincing, for example; opinions differ.

>I know the prison guards comment. I've always found it a bit glib meself;

-- many of the people it's aimed at do.

Tolkien's original intent with it was rather subtle, btw, if you look into it.

>as fiction which plays on the desire for sensationalist distractions from things that make us unhappy, as fiction which denies unpleasant realities rather than tackling them -- you can argue that escapism isn't escape at all, just the illusion of it.

-- that depends on whether the conditions which initially make you happy can be changed.

The fact that I'm going to die makes me unhappy when I think about it, for example. Beyond taking reasonable precautions (I should be on the exercycle right now) there's simply nothing one can do about it except not dwell on the thought.

If the escape promised is from unhappiness, for example, then a distraction _is_ escape.

6/17/2005 08:16:00 PM  
Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

We have to bear in mind what SF _is_.

SF is the heir of Hope and Hanson, Sabatini and Wells, of the pirate stories and the Seven Voyages of Sinbad.

It's a sub-variety of Romance, using the term in the classical sense.

6/17/2005 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

I'd argue that it's the bastard child of Romanticism and Rationalism, that while it inherits from Romance it also inherits from the competing aesthetic of those Neo-classicists and Enlightenment philosophers who took the side of Reason over Passion, back when that was the big argument of the day. SF has always had as many thought-experiments as it does adventures.

Seems to me that in fiction that other aesthetic manifested as Realism -- with all its documentarian concerns with dreary old social commentary -- and the two went mano-a-mano for a while, but I'd argue that in the 20th Century they collided and became something much more interesting than either... Modernism. It seems to me that SF is part of that vibrant mix rather than a sub-variety of Romance (and actually some of the best of it, being far more accessable and fun than T.S. Bloody Eliot). The concern with technology and progress, with the industrial and the abstract -- there are many features in SF which map to Modernism. Compare the use of the grotesque in Fantasy where it still manifests largely as Gothic (and hence Romance) and in SF where it's often more Absurdist than anything else. Futurism's fetishization of machinery, Surrealism's psychological mind-games, even Cubism's cut-up-and-fold-in realities -- all have their analogues in SF. SF writers weren't the only ones talking about "The Fourth Dimension".

Wells is actually a good transition point, a writer with a foot in both camps, as interested in social theory as in adventure stories, not quite Modernist, but a bit too Realist to be wholly Romantic. Is War of the Worlds a Romance, with its hapless hero who is ultimately sod all use against the Martians compared to the common bloody microbe? Or does it actually kick the feet out from under the Romantic cliches by a) making its hero a journalist -- a social documentarian -- and b) showing up the bog-standard Romantic hero-type as a pitiably delusional dreamer in the form of the artilleryman? Isn't it actually a critique of Romance? A savage and pertinent commentary on military bluster and bravado? The Shape of Things to Come makes more sense as one of those grand Modernist schemes of history and the future than it does as a Romance.

That, to me, is the point where SF really kicks off, where Wells the Rationalist takes the Romantic nonsenses of heroic warrior saviours and, for all the pace and peril he uses to pull the reader along, rips up the Romantic form and throws it to the wind, and has the Martians defeated by the common cold. That's a goddamn masterstroke and while he's no sub-Joycian wordplay wanker, that radical departure from the conventions places him firmly in the Modernist camp. Another example, about as core SF as you can get... Leaving aside his experimentation with the text in the Burning Man sections, Alfred Bester openly references Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in Gully Foyle's "the stars my destination" rhyme, modelled directly on Stephen Daedalus's.

I don't dismiss the Romantic side of SF's heritage. Romance and Realism each have their pitfalls -- Romance joyously cheers on the wannabe ubermensch while Realism miserably whispers in our ears that we're all really just untermenschen -- but the techniques of each can and do serve to temper the other's excesses, so I think they work much better in combination. In opposition even.

And one of the techniques of Realism, which Romance is just too busy to concern itself with(too busy gushing over how dashing and rugged its heroes are, and how the bosoms of its heroines heave with such passion, and how gosh-darn exciting it all is and ooh, ooh, look at the dancing fingers, look at the dancing fingers) is mimesis...

Which is about being *honest* rather than *convincing*. I'm sure Tom Cruise could be very convincing for two hours as he runs away from the scary Martians, finds the lab where the anti-Martian GM virus has been manufactured by scientists in just under 24 hours, and saves the day by single-handedly ramming it up their collective-

Sorry, that's Independence Day, isn't it? Point is, that sorta escapist Romantic nonsense can be all very convincing, but it ain't honest; it's the old shell game of sensationalism. So if you wanna boil that sentence down to "I like honesty", I'm happy with that. But I know I love the Romantic nonsense as much as the next man. I loved my heroic fictions as a kid and I still love my heroic fictions. We all like those convincing effects, sure, but I don't like to be suckered, and I especially don't like it when I realise I'm the one doing the suckering.

6/17/2005 10:54:00 PM  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

If the escape promised is from unhappiness, for example, then a distraction _is_ escape.

Paging Mr Freud! Paging Mr Freud!

Ah, hello, Mr Freud. I just wanted to ask you, if that's alright, well, see, I'm afraid of death so I was thinking of just taking up some sort of distractiom, not like heroin abuse or nothing, just... maybe... SF novels, you know? Anyway my question is: Is that a Good Idea?

"Nein, Herr Duncan. Zees iss vot ve in der profession refer to as repression. Denial, you unterstandt, yawohl? Ve are talkink big time neuroses here, mein klein looney tunes friend, ein whole heapload of der trouble. Zat ees ein Bad Idea."

OK, OK. To be serious... I think the issue of whether "escapism" as compensatory fantasy -- a retreat from unavoidable unpleasantries, like the fact of one's own mortality, into a pleasantly comforting imaginative fiction -- is an entirely valid and harmless form of temporary escape, or a dishonest and unhealthy form of self-delusion, is clearly one that plagues SF, and gets folk's hackles up. There's a tendency to get strident and absolute about it. You can adopt one position, I can adopt the other, and we can argue defensively till the cows come home, but I don't think it would come down to much more than a superficial "Escapism is good and anyone who says otherwise is a prison guard" versus "Escapism is bad and anyone saying otherwise is a snakeoil salesman" back and forth. Is not. Is too.

Truth is, I don't think it's that clear-cut; it's not black or white but shades of grey. *All* fiction involves a retreat into imagination which gets us away from unavoidable unpleasantries and is in itself comforting. But *all* fiction also (and I'm stating the obvious here, I know) constructs its narrative tension by confronting its heroes and heroines with exactly those unavoidable pleasantries -- impending death for example. Et in Arcadia Ego. Even in the deepest realms of fantasy, Death stalks us. There's death in even the fluffiest Hollywood blockbuster; there has to be, otherwise the Romantic hero's endeavours just aren't exciting. That escape from our unhappiness involves us grinning like fiends as we flick the page, while some poor fictional schmuck goes through hell and back.

So where does the distraction stop working for me? Ooh, man! The bad guy just got decapitated. Coooool! I'm distracted from my fear of my own mortality. Ooh, man! The homeworld of the evil aliens just got blown up. Coooool! I'm distracted from my own mortality. Ooh, man! The entire race of swarthy, hook-nosed, dark-skinned, baby-eating Dzyubois from the Tzionist Empire just got wiped out by the Aeryan Knights. Hey, wait a minute. Did I miss something there, while I was busy thinking Coooool!?

That's an extreme and therefore absurd example (though not entirely absurd in terms of SF's tendency to base alien races on human cultures and then blithely make one Good and another Bad), but even in the first case -- bad guy decapitation -- you could get all po-faced and stern (or simply bored) when the body-count piles up and the distraction starts to look more and more like adolescent power-fantasy, a deliberate appeal to our vicious streak.

But the flipside of righteous slaughter in Romance is noble self-sacrifice. Heroes die too sometimes (or at least their black sidekick does). So that distraction might actually be playing on our empathy. Hey that character I loved just got killed off! That sucks. I'm sad. But it was for a reason, and that kinda sorta makes it OK. It makes sense. It makes me feel less afraid of death because it renders death as a lesser evil, because this character wasn't afraid to die, because his death wasn't as important as X, Y or Z. It makes a good story, at least.

Nothing wrong with that, perhaps. There's maybe even something right with that.

So a better question than whether escapism just is or isn't OK, is, I think, in what specific ways does it offer unhealthy avoidance (ignore the horror of your own mortality, it's not important, look at the dancing fingers) and in what specific ways does it offer beneficial release (ignore the horror of your own mortality, it's not important, look at the dancing fingers)? In what ways does it offer an illusory retreat from the fear and misery, and in what ways does it use that illusion to actually defeat the fear and misery?

I think a good example of a fiction that offers a terribly Romantic comfort blanket to make us feel better, but which also drags us through the Realist mire to make us feel horrible, and which craftily, in the interplay of those two techniques, achieves a "healthy release" as opposed to an "illusory retreat" is Saving Private Ryan. Many war movies would have taken the same basically Romantic message -- sometimes the many must be sacrificed for the sake of the few -- and turned it into a crass vehicle for the noble, self-sacrificing hero to slaughter Nazis by the score and die valiantly saving the last surviving son of the poor Mid-West farmer Mom, hoorah; and it would all be OK because one shot kills anyone stone dead, bad guys die quickly and painlessly, and good guys get to prove their courage with a death speech that's poignant and brave. Speilberg, however, has the bullets buzzing like flies, the screaming wounded, the ugly horrible deaths and maimings. He uses deliberate tricks that are essentially Realist (basing it on detailed accounts of veterans, simulating documentary-style hand-held camera-work, blood-splatters on the lens and all, he even told the cameramen to act like they were a news crew) to get a sense of reportage in the landing scene. He uses mimesis. He's not just trying to convince the viewer by these tricks; he's trying to be honest about what that situation was like.

He doesn't offer us a safe retreat from fearful death into the heroic illusion. While he does offer a blatantly Romantic ideal which reassures us, comforts us, with concepts of honour and family, of it all being for the sake of this poor mother back home who should not, must not, lose her last son, all of which is coded deeply into the heroic plot structure of the suicide mission, he also tackles the spectre of death full-on through constant and specific techniques of mimesis.

So what I'm saying, I guess, is let's not just label SF as Romance, saying Romance is fundamentally escapist and that that's inalienably Right or Wrong. Cause that's an old, old argument that doesn't get us anywhere. It's not a choice between prison guard and snakeoil-salesmen.

6/18/2005 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger Farrell J. McGovern said...

I'm all for SF that is closer to Science in it's method and aims. I just get my back up with the term "mundane". Science is *never* mundane. Out of science come ideas that make most SF look unimaginative.

Mundane = Boring

And if a story is "mundane" it is is just a bad story, never mind a SF story.

Bring on the Hard SF!

ttyl
Farrell

6/19/2005 09:13:00 PM  
Anonymous KT said...

The beauty of unrealistic SF is that it pushes the envelope of real science. Suppressing these creative juices would be a travesty to the contributions this literary genre has made to the scientific community. The unorthodox and outlandish subjects in popular SF are constantly excersizing the critical machine of true science, continuously testing its ability to gauge the plausibility of an idea realtive to that of present dogma.

Science is already conducted within the confines of stringent methodology. A system which assures accuracy through empirical techniques that are substantiated by its community and by natural phenomena. However, the aquisition of scientific principles are negotiated via the most logical and practical course which can have the downfall of limiting its perspective in investigating new questions. Mankind dictates what it needs to science and that is where most of its efforts are focused. However, of the myriad of exotic questions unrealistic SF often puts to science which are factually baseless, the occasional off-the-wall idea falls on the ears of the right person who has the ability to do something about it.

6/20/2005 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Trent said...

Farrell,

Glad you found us!

We discussed the name elsewhere. We use the term both ironically (eschewing the genre denotation) and to mean "of, relating to, or characteristic of the world" and "practical."

6/20/2005 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

Hal Duncan said...

>and b) showing up the bog-standard Romantic hero-type as a pitiably delusional dreamer in the form of the artilleryman? Isn't it actually a critique of Romance?

-- that element is actually wish-fullfillment on the part of Wells, who was an ur-Geek, the type who gets his lunch money stolen and his face held in the toilet in high school and burns with rage and resentment over it for the rest of his life.

You can see that in "The Land Ironclads", where the inventors of the tank overwhelm an army of the outdoor-sportsman variety -- who are Boers, to a certain extent, but mostly what the Brits call "hearties" -- with a force comprised of four-eyed weedy types who can operate the new technology.

The anticipation of the tank and how it would affect trench warfare is brilliant.

The extrapolation of how this would affect the sociology of warfare is precisely wrong.


Capital-intensive high-tech warfare has tended, in the long run, to exalt the special-operations type, who is certainly technically competent but much more similar to the "hearty" than to the "weed".

7/05/2005 11:48:00 PM  
Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

"Point is, that sorta escapist Romantic nonsense can be all very convincing, but it ain't honest; it's the old shell game of sensationalism."

-- the problem with this objection is that life and human history are themselves as often as not "sensationalist", lurid, and melodramatic.

Study the careers of Pizzaro and Cortez (both inspired by the fantasy fiction of their day), for example. Or that of Cecil Rhodes or Clive, or in a more negative way Stalin or Hitler.

Or to move to a smaller scale, I have before me an after-action report on an engagement in Korea in 1952.

One man infiltrated the enemy lines in the night, using a diversionary attack as cover, and then rolled into a trench full of Chinese soldiers.

Moving down it in the darkness, he killed more than 20 men with a sharpened entrenching tool (an ax, for all practical purposes), all of them armed and awake. Then he crawled back to the Canadian lines.

When asked why he repeatedly volunteered for this sort of action, he replied "because I was bored".

7/05/2005 11:57:00 PM  
Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

"So what I'm saying, I guess, is let's not just label SF as Romance, saying Romance is fundamentally escapist and that that's inalienably Right or Wrong."

-- you're making an incorrect assumption about what constitutes realism.

For example, take the Conan story "Phoenix on the Sword".

Escapist fantasy, right? Conan massacres a bunch of attackers.

There's only one problem; it's taken, more or less stroke by stroke, from the actual death of Pizzaro.

Who actually _was_ attacked by a bunch of conspirators, and who killed a bunch of them in hand-to-hand combat with swords and daggers, getting his mortal wound because he hadn't had time to do up the side-lacings of his armor.

He was in his seventies at the time, btw.

7/06/2005 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger S.M. Stirling said...

"Nein, Herr Duncan. Zees iss vot ve in der profession refer to as repression."

-- btw, as an aside, subsequent research has shown that Freud was bass-ackwards on this.

His conception of how human memory works -- the "return of the repressed" was simply wrong.

Human memory is not a photographic record. It's created and re-created every time it's summoned up; that's why it is so easy to implant false memories which are just as 'real' to the subject as genuine ones.

Hence the most effective way to deal with traumatic memories is precisely to repress them -- to refuse to think about them, as much as possible, the traditional 'stiff upper lip' and 'get a grip' methods.

Doing that makes them fade. Dwelling on them increases their effect. (On average).

Which is, of course, why traditional psychoanalysis has never been shown to have positive effects, beyond the usual sympathetic-listener placebo, and may well be usually actively pernicious.

7/06/2005 12:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed you blog about kidney stone prevention. I also have a site about kidney stone prevention which makes me appreciate this one even more! Keep up the good work!

11/04/2005 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger aiya said...

Office 2010
Microsoft Office 2010
Microsoft word
Office 2007
Microsoft Office
Microsoft Office 2007
Office 2007 key
Office 2007 download
Office 2007 Professional
Outlook 2010
Microsoft outlook
Microsoft outlook 2010
Windows 7

11/08/2010 12:11:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home