Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mundanespotting January 2007

Posted by frankh at 10:42 PM
A few years back when I learned about this Movement I was attracted to the idea. But I thought, surely there is a reasonable amount of mundane sf being published in short form. It can’t all be time travel crap. I decided to try reading some of the magazines to look for such stories. In the past I was generally discouraged by the quality of magazine stories, and relied on the Best Of editors to filter the field for my occasional fix. But now I had a Mission, to see if there was really mundane sf out there like I thought. In the process, I actively bypassed the obvious fantasy or fantastic (my favored word for non-mundane sf) stories. Some of them might still be great stories but I wasn’t willing to spend the time finding out. Mundane sf was what I wanted to experience. I might just be another jaded fan without it.

So now, after a long break because I have had little time for fiction, I am at it again. I try to be pretty tolerant of different approaches to mundane sf. If it’s about something reasonably human on something that seems reasonably like Earth in the future, I’ll give it a chance. I have some biases, but for the most part I am looking for any kind of meaningful speculative experience. There’s plenty of high quality escapist fiction in my collection, so I feel no need to dig through the current sf magazines to look for more.

Finally, I have the excitement of the Sony PRS-500, the e-reader with the funky “ink” technology that you can read about elsewhere (readability and low power drain are the big hooks). It is my first e-reader and it has surprised me by being substantially better than expected (after I got over the initial quirks). I am using the “large print PDF” format from fictionwise (which itself is a quirky source, but generally an excellent way to go), in landscape orientation (half page at a time) at the highest available magnification (medium). Now if I read from a digest magazine it seems like such a dirty experience. Skipping over the non-mundane stuff is also relatively easy. This overall scheme isn’t particularly cheap, but the experience of having my own growing library in the palm of my hand is a new one that I am liking. Maybe in the next generation of hardware it will be possible to read a full-blown facsimile of a digest magazine page on one of these things.

For this first new round of mundanespotting I have read or skimmed through the nominal January 2007 magazines in e-form. I report below on the short fiction, sorted alphabetically by author. Although Analog is a double issue, a lot of its pages were devoted to articles and a serial. I was pleasantly surprised for the first time by the experience of reading it. I will see if I sour on it in the future.

Contents from:
F&SF January 2007
Asimov's January 2007
Analog January-February 2007
[na = novella, nv = novelette, otherwise short story]

— “The Face of Hate” by Stephen L. Burns (Analog): aliens
“Gunfight at the Sugarloaf Pet Food & Taxidermy” by Jeff Carlson (Asimov's): sort of a whimsical chase story; very little speculation and thus perhaps a bit too safely mundane
“Café Culture” by Jack Dann (Asimov's): a decently edgy psychology-of-terrorism story complete with an Asimov’s brand disclaimer
“Double Helix, Downward Gyre” by Carl Frederick (nv Analog): a somewhat preachy chase story that is nonetheless mundane enough for me and a nice story to see in Analog
— “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” by Neil Gaiman (F&SF): an otherwise mundane story with fantasy or fantastic elements; I stopped halfway through, though the story probably had more going for it than the Gerrold…
— “The Strange Disappearance of David Gerrold” by David Gerrold (F&SF): a Being David Gerrold Story with fantastic or fantasy elements; I gave up halfway through
— “Radical Acceptance” by David W. Goldman (Analog): some sort of fannish non-mundane story, I guess
— “Exposure Therapy” by R. Emrys Gordon (Analog): interstellar travel or aliens or whatnot
“Safeguard” by Nancy Kress (nv Asimov's): bio-political intrigue; not all that convincing but still a nice story
— “The Unrung Bells of the Marie Celeste” by Richard A. Lovett (Analog): FTL
— “Poison” by Bruce McAllister (Asimov's): overt fantasy
— “The Darkness Between” by Jeremy Minton (nv F&SF): generally traditional sf story about science and superstition in a fantastic future
— “Numerous Citations” by E. Mark Mitchell (na Analog): a somewhat mundane story with a bit too much unconvincing AI to make the cut; I would probably give this a mundane rating if the storytelling did not break down badly towards the end
“The Hikikomori's Cartoon Kimono” by A.R. Morlan (nv Asimov's): a really funky story about art and culture in an otherwise straightforward mundane setting; my favorite story of this bunch—worthy for any “Best of” collection—Recommended
— “Battlefield Games” by Games R. Neube (Asimov's): non-mundane military sf
— “If Only We Knew” by Jerry Oltion (Analog): generally mundane story with hint of fantastic or fantasy elements I was unwilling to forgive
— “The Dark Boy” by Marta Randall (F&SF): mundane non-sf with a thin veneer of fantasy
— “X-Country” by Robert Reed (F&SF): I’ll call this a contemporary fantasy; interesting, but not credibly mundane
“Super Gyro” by Grey Rollins (nv Analog): mundane sf power fantasy
— “The Taste of Miracles” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Analog): near Earth space story in a blatantly traditional non-mundane future
“Kiosk” by Bruce Sterling (na F&SF): distinctive Sterling story about Eastern Europe and consumerism and technology and stuff like that; could easily be bloated into a novel that would bore me; works well enough in this form and is mundane enough for my tastes
— “Trunk and Disorderly” by Charles Stross (nv Asimov's): I think this was supposed to be about a future sport in a non-mundane future; I didn’t try reading very far into it
— “Emerald River, Pearl Sky” by Rajnar Vajra (na Analog): blurbed and skimmed as some sort of far future non-mundane science-is-like-magic story

OK, so that’s 7 stories that made the cut, including a fair number of long and memorable ones. That would make a good-sized mundane sf magazine for January if there was room in the field for a periodical with editorial tastes other than “eclectic,” “fantasy” or “Analog.” I will optimistically move on to February, thinking that the field for mundane sf may be improving. The next batch won’t include Analog because of the double issue this time, but I will be reporting on Interzone (in actual paper form!) and Jim Baen’s Universe (JBU) for the first time. Stay tuned.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Question: I just came across this mundane sf idea of you alls, and so pardon me if I'm ignorant. But wouldn't mundane sf and hard sf be the same thing. Hard sf is supposedly sf where science takes the spotlight. Real science. And that seems to me to be what you're looking for in mundane sf. I love the idea of mundane sf, but wouldn't it be easier to just get people to understand what hard sf actually is. Or are we still arguing about what science is and so therefore can't decide what hard sf is.

Sorry I'm so late with commenting on your post, but I just came across this whole thing now.


7/24/2007 01:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm also sorry for not using any question marks in my previous post. Is that annoying.

7/24/2007 01:34:00 PM  
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