Monday, December 31, 2007

My Played-out SF Fads, Let Me Show You Them...

Posted by A. at 2:13 PM
Okay, this is going to sound like a broken record to long time readers of this blog. Obviously some of this is covered in Geoff's speech on the right, not to mention elsewhere.

But it's always zany to see other folks reaching similar conclusions themselves... (From A.R.Yngve's "Notes Toward Becoming A Better Writer")
All science-fiction fads, when you look back at them, seem naive. They are invariably rooted in the wishful thinking and cultural anxieties of their time and audience. But they were popular because they offered a phony wish-fulfillment "solution" to real problems, or articulated an irrational anxiety.

Real problem:
The reader, though intelligent and educated, is physically puny and gets sand kicked in his face by stronger, dumber guys.
SF "Solution":
Psi powers ("I may look weak on the outside, but I have hidden mental powers!").

Real anxiety:
Where are the aliens?
SF "Solution": There is intelligent life on Mars (despite zero evidence to prove it).

Real problem:
Space is enormously huge. Traveling to other stars would take hundreds or thousands of years.
SF "Solution": Faster-Than-Light space travel (Ask Star Trek fans how the warp drive works. Yes, really. Ask them.).

Real anxiety:
People who don't understand computers are scared of them, and fear losing their jobs to automation.
SF articulation of anxiety: Evil intelligent computers take over the world (despite zero evidence of this actually happening).

Real anxiety:
You're going to die.
SF "Solution": When the Singularity comes, we'll all be uploaded into a giant computer network and live forever as digitized souls.

It's not that I dislike using one's imagination -- far from it. But when SF readers and writers confuse "If Only" with "For Sure," you get embarrassments like "psi powers" and "the Singularity Movement"... or the "Super Adventure Fun Club" (created by a science-fiction writer). People start mistaking obvious fictions for future reality. Intellectual speculation becomes Manifest Destiny.

Continue reading here.

(compliments of sf signal)


Blogger Killian said...

I'm sorry, but you do realize that it is called fiction for a reason, right? If people wanted to solid answers to current problems in the world, they'd read scientific journals. Fiction is meant to entertain, and yes, at times, educate; however, a reader shouldn't have to keep a copy of "Technology Review" next to their piece of fiction to make sense of what's going on.

1/02/2008 08:00:00 AM  
Blogger D.N. Drake said...

I think a major problem is that fantasy is often confused with science fiction... fantasy being anything that cannot or will not happen (past, present, future, or otherworldly).

I agree that fiction is entertainment, but entertainment shouldn't be mindless. I like some fantastical fiction (Marquez, Borges, Millhauser), but they are of literary quality. Fantastical SF such as Baens is pumped out in the same quantity and quality as romance novels. I think this blog's point is that the usage of the word 'science' in the labeling of the afore mentioned fiction is a misnomer -- there is no true science in Hammers Slammers.

That being said, I don't think Mundane SF is the genre's messiah by any means... but I do believe it is a breath of fresh air after two decades of staleness (Neuromancer came out in 1986).

1/03/2008 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

One purpose of science fiction is to explore the impact on society and culture that a certain technological development might have. This can be done even if the technology is implausible, and can elucidate ways in which people might, and might not change. I also enjoy whimsy as much as gravity in a story.

I enjoy this blog because it's thought provoking, but there is an uwarranted dourness in your view, in my opinion.

1/03/2008 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger D.N. Drake said...

"This can be done even if the technology is implausible, and can elucidate ways in which people might, and might not change. I also enjoy whimsy as much as gravity in a story."

I agree with you Sean, but I do not enjoy "whimsy" without the "gravity" -- which is why I was specific in naming certain publishers who produce zero-gravity fantastical fiction, which IMO has no place beside science fiction of merit, both plausible or implausible.

And so there is no "unwarranted dourness", I will also make sure to state that everybody has a right to read and enjoy anything they wish to enjoy -- literary or not. Obviously, the pulp fiction publishers are successful for a reason. This, however, does not mean that fiction relinquishes it's need for progressive writing and concept.

1/03/2008 06:57:00 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

"zero-gravity fantastical fiction"

Point taken, and that was a great line. Can I lobby for calling the SF you don't like "zero gravity" from now on?

1/04/2008 06:13:00 AM  
Blogger skmckinn said...

Real Anxiety: What if there aren't any good "fantastic" ideas left out there?

Mundane SF "Solution": Write "regular" fiction!

(I'm just kidding, by the way--I *love* Mr. Ryman's work, and I love your blog, too. I just can't resist arguing for some of my favorite writing, which does exactly, I think, what Sean and Drake are saying...and I would submit the potential for extended, extra-intensified metaphor, too... A contemporary and smart answer to allegory and myth...)

1/04/2008 05:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Pete Aldin said...

I make it a rule to never ask a Trekkie anything. :)

1/08/2008 02:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Starglider said...

The first three points are reasonable. What on earth is your justification for the last two? No, they haven't happened yet. That's why this is /science fiction/. They're both physically possible and reasonable extrapolations of current technology (very much so, compared to things like general nanoassemblers and very low cost spacelift capacity).

How can you possibly argue 'it hasn't happened yet, therefore humanity will almost never do this thing' and still call yourself a member of modern civilisation, never mind a science fiction writer?

1/13/2008 09:57:00 AM  
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