Monday, June 20, 2005

It's the story, stupid!

Wherein I discover the world of Mundane SF Futzing around with Technorati tags this AM, I found a link to writer Ian McDonald's lengthy discussion of Mundane SF. As I mentioned recently, I always seem to be months if not years behind the times, and this is not exception. So if I betray my ignorance of the issues in this brief position piece, remember: you cannot embarrass me with my lack of knowledge because I have no shame. But you knew that. Mundane SF comes to us from writer Geoff Ryman. (The linked page will lead you to the Mundane Manifesto as well as Ryman's blog.) In essence, Ryman espouses a theory of SF which sticks strictly (think Madame Madge Dominatrix 'strictly') to the realm of the possible. No more faster-than-light travel, no wormhole travel, no interstellar trade with aliens, no time travel -- nothing fun. It's diamond-Hard SF. If you write SF, Ian McDonald's thoughtful discussion (linked above) is well worth your time. Here's the line that had me applauding: "It’s not just the Mundane Manifesto is totally unnecessary to produce the type of science-fiction it celebrates (one very very much worth celebrating, and that is due it’s time in the sun) , it’s that the genre has a much richer palate of colours. It’s a poor manifesto that would venerate Verne (tech-speculation) but consigns much of H.G. Wells’ core texts to the ‘bonfire of stupidities’ (interplanetary war, aliens, time-travel…). To me, one of the strengths of SF is that it is an allegorical literature: parables and myths of our age." (emphasis mine) A few of you out there have read my stuff; you folks will recognize why something like a "Mundane Manifesto" gets my blood pressure up. I could sally forth against Mundane SF, but as an unpublished author my words don't carry much clout. YET. (Muwahahaha.) So, here's one small voice making a pitch for reason. The object of writing is entertainment. There. I've said it. We're not politicians and we're not social planners. You can't blame us for fostering an irresponsible attitude towards the environment. (So goes the claim of the Mundaners -- by willy-nilly planet-hopping, we encourage the idea that we can rape this planet and move on to the next.) We're performance artists, nothing more. I'm not saying there's anything bad about Mundane SF. I'm sure it has a healthy audience of readers -- all those hard SF wonks who jeered when Han Solo used 'parsec' as a unit of time. Just leave us allegorists alone, will you? D.


Blogger Musmanno said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/20/2005 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger Musmanno said...

My question is, excepting so-called "hard science fiction," how does one distinguish science fiction from fantasy?

To me, Star Wars is fantasy. Hard science fiction is 'science' fiction. I don't have a preference for either one - I love fantasy just as much as science fiction - but it seems to me the word 'science' in science fiction ought to mean something :)

6/20/2005 03:24:00 PM  
Blogger Pat said...

The Mundanes recognize
That interstellar travel remains unlikely. Warp drives, worm holes, and other forms of faster-than-light magic are wish fulfillment fantasies rather than serious speculation about a possible future.

Blah blah blah, obvious comment about how ~100 years ago, no one thought heavier-than-air flight was possible, ~50 years ago, no one thought faster-than-sound travel was possible, ~100 years ago, nearly every physicist in the world thought we were closing in on the day that physics would be a closed book, everything understood, calculated, and catalogued...

Never say never is my point, I guess.

6/20/2005 03:40:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

I spent about 20 seconds trying to come up with my own Inane Manifesto before realizing: what's the point? Today's blog is about all the time I want to waste on this.

I tend to think I write SF rather than fantasy because, to me, magic is a sine qua non for fantasy. I don't employ magic (usually). If a novel's characters accept all innovative material as being the consequence of scientific advancement (rather than magic), that's SF. If they think it's magic, then we're trading in fantasy.

Take something I know you've read, Scott -- Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth. Though it's never stated outright, I assume all of the 'magic' is technology whose scientific basis has long since been forgotten. Nevertheless, the characters see it all as magic. Furthermore, Vance's diction is far more appropriate for high fantasy than SF. Thus, Tales is fantasy IMO.

I agree that Star Wars is fantasy but only because of the Force. Subtract the force, and it's space opera. What do you think?

6/20/2005 05:38:00 PM  
Blogger Musmanno said...

I agree with what Pat writes, up to a point. If you start putting in perpetual motion machines, I think you run into the arena of fantasy, unless you have some scientific explanation for how it works. I think worm-holes, FTL, etc. can be utilized in hard science fiction, you just have to make a nod toward the science in doing it.

I agree with Doug with respect to Tales of the Dying Earth. It reads more like fantasy to me. I'd probably put Gene Wolfe's New Sun books in that category as well, though I don't remember there being so much magic in those.

Star Wars is space opera to me, with or without the force, but I'd still call it "fantasy."

It probably doesn't matter a great deal in the end. I guess my point of view may be shaped by the fact that when I first started reading science fiction I started with authors like Benford, Brin, and Asmimov, and particularly with works of their that would be called "hard" science fiction. That sort of cemented the idea of science fiction having "science" in it.

I was reading at one point that there is even a distinction between science fiction and sci-fi. Anyone know what that is all about? It seemed that the author was trying to make the case that things like Star Wars are sci-fi, whereas hard science fiction is "science fiction."

6/20/2005 06:23:00 PM  
Blogger mm said...

I really have no opinion. However, my 12-year-old son reads scifi - I'll ask him what he thinks...


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