Thursday, January 24, 2008

IO9 asks what issues SF should take on

Posted by A. at 7:45 PM
Io9 continues to kick much ass. Charlie Anders posits the following:

Now that an Omega Man remake has made it big, the time is ripe for some 1970s-style "message" science fiction. We need more ripped-from-the-headlines science fictional stories that deal with the issues we're all freaking out about. But we need more than just parables about global warming and ebil corporations.

The choices are:

  • Peak oil. (which Mundanes have been writing about and talking about for some time now, and Paolo Bacigalupi has even been winning awards doing it for some time.)
  • Subprime foreclosures. (Hmm. Fair topic, but tough to do in an SF setting.)
  • Refugees from genocide. (Too bad 'Pol Pot's beautiful daughter' was fantasy.)
  • The global war on terror. (Actually, having even more heavy handed "message" stories about the Global War on Terror would be about as useful to me as having the ability to whistle out of my asshole. Lions for Lambs anyone?)
  • Super-epidemics of drug-resistant organisms.

I'm actually in the middle of writing a short on the last one. Right now refugees from genocide seems to be leading the pack with super-epidemics following close. But honestly, this really gets to the heart about what this movement is about. Everyone seems to be focused on the Mundane Manifesto's call for limitations, and not so much on its call for relevance. You remember relevance, don't you guys? It's that stuff people experimented with a few decades ago, along with other crazy shit like drugs, love-ins, and the idea of science fiction being written for an audience bigger than ever-shrinking incestuous niche.

Pick up a newspaper, and you'll find that most of the things happening on the world stage---A crumbling healthcare system, climate change, nuclear proliferation, rising fuel prices, soaring food prices, depleting metal deposits around the world, an increasing capacity for government surveillance and the curtailing of civil liberties, the weaponization of space as 'the fist of globalization' as Tom Friedman put it, a neuroscience revolution that has more potential for social and ethical upheaval than at any time since Darwin, the increasing inequality between the richest and the poorest, control over the production of human embryos and the possibility of creating artificial life----looking around it seems that most of the issues of the day are, either centrally or in part, issues of science. And all the areas of science that are actually intersecting with and impacting people's lives just happen to be the areas of science that science fiction chooses to ignoring the most these days.

So for those of you still perplexed at what this whole Mundane thing is all about, or why some of us sound so angry all the time, maybe that helps enlighten our point of view. Science fiction is determined to only write about science when it has absolutely nothing to do with what's going on all around us.

Does anyone else see anything wrong or just a little bit negligent about this?

Does anyone else think that maybe there's something that SF does better than any other literary genre, that maybe being the literature of ideas that it has tools no one else does to confront these changes that are remaking the world?

Does anyone else think that as a genre, we can be doing a hell of a lot better?


Blogger Sean said...

I get your point, but I think you're missing the fact that SF can tackle huge, relevant issues, by using inventions that could never actually happen.

For example, Battle Star Galactica. I learned to hate the cylons over an entire season, and then we met Pegasus, where cylons were not only tortured, but raped. It was dark, and deeply disturbing.

The cylons were not even human, and certainly enemies, and yet that show had a way of making me confront the issues around torture, and racism that are in today's news.

By using robots and space ships, BSG was able to confront the basic questions of what makes us human, and what is real moral dilemma, than anything else I've seen on TV lately.

Contemporary issues like racism and torture are so sensitive and politically charged, that SF provides the remove of thousands of light years that we need to examine them in a new way. The show was relevant, despite the space ships and AI robots.

Even the dearth of resources and claustrophobic environs of a small fleet of ships housing all of humanity is a nice metaphor for the dwindling resources on Earth, that we're going to be dealing with more and more.

I understand that you think SF has lost its way down a tired road of tropes and cliches. I also understand that good writing should be relevant. A good writer can set something just about anywhere and be relevant.

The Crucible turned a Salem witch hunt into a close look at McCarthyism. Animal Farm turned an animal farm into a totalitarian state. The problem, as ever, is a lack of great writers, not the conventions that some writers use.

I'm interested in the new Corey Doctorow YA book due soon about terrorist detainees and privacy issues, btw, should be good!

1/25/2008 02:57:00 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

a couple of thoughts...

By accident I just recently saw Soylent Green and Logan's Run, two sort of message-y movies from the 70s ... let's take soylent green, it's not about food being made from people, it's about overpopulation, global warming, and appreciating nature while we have it. Food made from people is just the mystery on which they hang the rest of it.

Logan's Run isn't so much a message movie, but it does urge appreciation for old people, I guess :P as well as the outdoors.

But I guess what I'm saying is, it's one thing to say, "I'm going to do a story about refugees or super-epidemics" (actually, wasn't there a fair bit of that in the 90s?), and quite another to come up with an engaging sci-fi concept that encapsulates the issues and makes them... well, palatable and interesting.

Another thing is relevance, way ahead of its time. OK, peak oil & global warming & refugees & epidemics ... but this is stuff sci-fi has been warning about for decades. Hell, Mad Max was about peak oil, for goodness' sake. So what's the big message people need to hear *now* that isn't in the popular consciousness yet?

1/25/2008 08:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Space Cynic said...

My recommendation: Silent Running.

It'd be a great message about environmental destruction and as long as we aren't subjected to Bruce Dern in the lead role I think it'd do pretty well...

2/05/2008 03:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are there translations of the Mundane Manifesto?

Daniel Salvo

2/05/2008 05:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Toopersent said...

I tend to agree with Sean's perception of how SF can discuss current issues in far out, highly futuristic, seemingly impossible/implausible settings. Sometimes great SF can have quasi-ridiculous elements and still pertain to issues that are going on at the present(Stranger In a Strange Land comes to mind).

The way I see SF; not all SF should have to serve as a tool for the betterment of society. Sometimes pure entertainment is enough.

2/06/2008 11:13:00 PM  
Blogger Thivai Abhor said...

Did the Mundane SF issue of Interzone get published? Is it possible to order one issue of the magazine?

I ask here because Interzone's new site is difficult to navigate...

I am teaching a Science Fiction course and I'm going to use Mundane SF to question where Science Fiction may be heading....


2/18/2008 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger Jetse de Vries said...


The mundane SF issue of Interzone is planned for May/June 2008.

If you want to purchase a single issue please contact Roy Gray at Roy(at)ttapress(dot)demon(dot)co(dot)uk. Tell him I sent you!

2/23/2008 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, this has to be a mistake.

I read about this blog in, Asimov's SF, and eagerly rushed home to look around. To my dismay, the first thing I see is a nutty political slant that borders on childish; certainly uninteresting.


3/16/2008 03:53:00 PM  
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