Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Job of Science Fiction and Then Some

Meme Therapy is swiftly becoming my favorite blog; certainly it's one of my top three. Once I realized this (and not before), I started bugging one of its three founding members, Jose Garcia, with ideas. Jose has proved to be very kind about indulging me when I suggest authors or topics. He's done so again, allowing me to posit the question "What is the job of contemporary SF? Does it have a job?" The results are posted today under the heading "What's the Point of Science Fiction, Part 1?"

The price for this indulgance, of course, is that I had to answer the question myself (that and a rather unflattering picture they've dug up of me in the captain's chair of the White Star), but my favorite response comes from science fiction author Paul McAuley, who says:

"Science fiction is the holy fool of literature. It can say what it likes and get away with an examination of truly radical and subversive ideas because no one takes it seriously. When it’s at its best, we’re generally in trouble. Science fiction flourished during the social and economic upheavals of the 1930s, during the Cold War, and during the Iron Age of the 1980s. It should be flourishing now, damn it, but too many people who used to hang out with it have wandered off into some kind of fluffy make-believe world or other. Real science fiction doesn’t make stuff up. It turns reality up to eleven. It takes stuff from contemporary weather - stuff no one else has bothered or dared to question - and uses it to make an end run on reality. It not only shows us what could happen if things carry on the way they are, but it pushes what’s going on to the extremes of absurdity. That’s not its job: that’s its *nature*. And what’s happened to science fiction lately, it isn’t natural. It’s pale and lank and kind of out of focus. It needs to straighten up and fly right. It needs to reconnect with the world’s weather, and get medieval on reality’s ass."


Meanwhile, I notice that Richard Rose, who I haven't met on or offline, has just posted his review of David Louis Edelman's Infoquake (the first review to be posted on Meme Therapy I believe). Rose remarks:

"With his debut novel Infoquake, David Louis Edelman constructs a believable yet highly imaginative vision of the future where nanotechnology and the science of bio/logics has erased the boundary between the real and the virtual. The first book in the Jump-225 trilogy, Infoquake focuses on Natch, a ruthless bio/logic programmer and head of a ‘fifecorp’ as he strives for commercial success... Infoquake definitely hooks in the reader and I for one can’t wait to get my grubby wee paws on the second installment of the Jump-225 trilogy and see where Edelman takes the story."

And speaking of Edelman, he has an interesting piece on digitizing Michelangelo over on the blog Futurismic:

"Can a reproduction ever entirely recreate the effect of the original? What if the reproduction was an exact molecule-for-molecule copy? How much is it worth to have an item that was actually touched by the artist, as opposed to an indistinguishable replica?"

Which makes me think of the "forged" Mona Lisa in the Doctor Who episode "City of Death." As the Doctor says, "Serves them right if they don't recognize good art."


Jose said...

Infoquake was in fact our first review. I'm steering clear of reviews myself but Rosie (the informal version of his proper name goes Dick Rose so he prefers to be called by his nickname) and Charlie will be doing some from here on in.

I've Reddited two of David's posts as well as posts by a few other authors. You can check them out (and maybe give them a thumbs up, hint, hint) here:

Liviu said...

Science fiction is interesting in a way that no other kind of literature intrinsically is. And that is in my opinion its main "job", to be interesting.
The one thing that strikes me reading a lot of these and related comments (in the vein of why no US good new sf and the like) is the pessimism of most writers and commentators which to me reflects short term headline indulgence coupled with a strong distaste of current political trends, while missing the biggest optimistic story of the present, the integration of 2 bilion people in the modern world (China and India), not painless and without risks of course but having the potential of moving the world to a new level of prosperity.
There is a criterion called "birth randomizer" (offhand I do not know who coined it) that judges a society, a world, and in general any organized human grouping, by considering the life of a random child. Or put it in a more sf way, design a society in which you would like to live, but the caveat is that you get to be a random child not the heir to the throne/business empire (for me I would take Iain Banks Culture over everything else imagined). Using this criterion, I would think that today's world is the best odds society that existed; even though the odds are still against you, they are the best in human history. And that applies to most countries too, horrible known exceptions notwithstanding.


Lou Anders said...

You know, for a healthy dose of futurism optimism, I always check out David Brin, but I think Ian McDonald would agree with your thoughts on India and China. I think your criteria that SF's job is to be interesting is spot on.