Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Mundane breakdown of Analog Jan/feb 2006

Posted by goatchurch at 5:05 PM
This is called "Volume 126 No. 1" of Analog SF which has such a poor website I can't even cut-and-paste a table of contents from it, so have had to type in the titles myself before I found this.

I'm rating them under three categories. Mundane, Not-mundane, and Semi-mundane. Semi-mundane means the story could be made mundane with a bit of editing. The criteria I am mainly applying is that it's got to be SF, but not include Faster than light travel, Psi powers, Nanobots, Etraterrestrial Life, Computers with consciousness, Materially profitable space travel, Human immortality, Teleportation, or Time travel.

1. The Balance of Nature, Lee Goodloe. Semi-Mundane. Nanotechnology.

This one is interesting since the non-mundane-ness is utterly gratuitous and limited to two sentences. "Primitivists rejected all mechanization, even nanotechnology when they could." and "The buildings were made of diamond--or a diamondoid framework, actually, grown as a single crystal by the nanofabs." No one would notice a thing if they were cut out.

2. Dinosaur Blood, Richard A. Lovett. Not-Mundane. AI, aliens, profitable space travel.

3. Mop-up, Grey Rollins. Not-Mundane. Aliens, implied FTL.

4. Kamikaze Bugs, E Sedia, D. Bartell. Semi-mundane.

This one falls within the rules, but I am wary of a world where someone can secretly bio-engineer a new insect that's effective, and the whole world is not already full of other bio-engineered critters that other people have made. It's a sort of leap of technology that leaves out all the stages that would have happened during its development.

5. Plus-Dimensional Carry-all, Mark Tiedemann. Not-mundane. Teleportation.

6. Written in Plaster, Rajnar Vajra. Not-mundane. Time travel, nanobots, telepathy.

7. Change, J. Flood. Not-mundane. Parallel world.

This one also falls within the rules, but we're at a stage where the world is full of trees locking so much carbon that they're experiencing global cooling. This isn't really planet earth, but an inversion of today's story.

8. The Night is Fine, John Barnes. Not-mundane. FTL, nanobots, immortality, brain downloads.

9. Sun of Suns pt 3, K Schroeder. Not-mundane. Wrong planet.

10. Pollution, Solutions, Elution, and Nanotechnology, S Gillett. Semi-mundane. Nanotechnology in the title. The text of this science fact article is about chemistry.

11. The Strange Saga of Snowball Earth, Richard A. Lovett. Super-mundane.

This is a Science Fact article about recent discoveries in geology and the exciting story of past super-ice-ages which suspiciously coincided with the emergence of multi-cellular life. This genuinely fascinating article gives the breadth of reality in which Mundane-SF exists. Why then, when this guy wrote story number 2 above, did he need to dull our minds with an intellectually unchallenging fairy-tale about alien satelites contemplating genocide?

Not one truly Mundane story here in the leading magazine in 2006, unless you count Lovett's Science Fact article which is absolutely excellent. There is a lot of room for improvement.


Blogger Paired Cylindrical Organelles said...

Bah. There is a reason this is called fiction, people. If I wanted to read scientificly accurate works, I'd read a textbook or science magazine of somekind. In fact, I think most science textbooks are written by better writers than most hard sci-fi these days.

Furthermore, do you honestly think that scientificly correct fiction with "realistic futures" is going to save the world? I think Scott Lynch said it best when he picked apart one of Gregory Benford's rants against the rise of Fantasy as a growing genre-

"I think it’s to the detriment of the total society, because science fiction, for decades really, has been the canary in the mineshaft for the advanced nations, to tell us what to worry about up ahead.

The Science Fiction Messiah Complex. It's one thing to believe that your own work has some greater validity, and to strive to illuminate or offer warning with it. It's another thing entirely to presume that everyone else in the field feels the same way, or that the world at large ever justified this attitude with its response. After all, without the guiding light of science fiction, worry for the future would be left in the hands of mere journalists, political activists, social leaders, advocacy groups, and concerned citizens...

I don't want anyone to imagine that I'm somehow slagging on science fiction in general; get real. I love science fiction; I just don't like pretending that a leisure preference, an aesthetic inclination, in that regard, gives me super-powers or piety beyond ordinary human beings."


2/09/2006 02:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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2/10/2006 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger goatchurch said...

My follow-up went onto the blog which "undetached rabbit parts" cross-posted from.


2/14/2006 03:15:00 AM  
Blogger Paired Cylindrical Organelles said...

He didn't post that over here.

I cut and pasted it. I even said I thought that particular individual said it best. I felt it was relevant towards that Mundane Manifesto issue, whether it was intentional or not.

--The problem comes when there is a vacant yawning gulph in the literature which is not even existant (I'm not concerned with popular) which respects the facts on the ground. This is no space travel, AI, alien species, telepathy, and so forth. And for the foreseeable future (ie thousands of years) we will remain on this planet subject to the same physical laws under the same sky, but many things will change big time as we well know. There is no exit and no magic.

The possibility of magic is probably zero, as for everything else, much less for the forseeable future, you don't really know, much less anyone else. And fiction writers are in the end entertainers, not psychics. Even futurologists get it wrong most of the time.

--It's not that literature which respects this isn't popular, it's not there at all. You who think you have such wild imaginations cannot imagine it. It's beyond you. It's beyond Benford and most of the other writers he's mentioned. No one can handle it.

There are tons of bleak dystopia sci-fi novels out there that have dealt with depressing futures with no aliens, FTL speeds, psychic powers, etc. And it's not like sci-writers never dealt with environmental issues, since many of sci-fi books have been published the past 30-40 years dealing with it. If you don't think books like that haven't been published much less bought, you have your head in the sand the past few decades. But since they do not all conform to the strict standards of Mundane, they're apparently not good enough examples for you.

2/14/2006 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Fish Monkey said...

As one of the perpetrators of "kamikaze bugs", I'd like to address this comment:
"I am wary of a world where someone can secretly bio-engineer a new insect that's effective, and the whole world is not already full of other bio-engineered critters that other people have made."

1. If that someone is a research scientist with access to a well-stocked genetics lab (as was the case in the story), it is entirely possible. People have been putting genes into plants, animals and bacteria since 1970s, so it's not much of a leap.

2. The world IS full of genetically modified organisms. There's fish with luciferase gene intended for pet trade; there're strawberries with fish genes; bacteria with human genes etc. I don't quite understand why believing in a locust with pesticide-resistance genes requires such a leap of faith.

2/15/2006 06:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to note that space travel *is* profitable: just not manned space travel.

As of a couple of years ago, the commercial space launch industry's gross turnover exceeded the commercial air freight industry, on a worldwide basis. Next time you turn on your TV set, the odds are that you're using services transmitted via satellite relay at some stage.

This is one of the things that bugs me about "Mundane SF" -- it's a temporally movable feast. (Go back to 1945 and start pinning the tail on the donkey and a novel that postulates computers in every developed-world home, mobile phones, mass intercontinental air travel, and cheap contraception would have been wildly outside the "Mundane SF" ball-park.)

-- Charlie Stross

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