Communion Of Dreams

Whither SF?

I’ve mentioned Charlie Stross several times here. As I’ve said previously: smart guy, good writer. I disagree with his belief in mundane science fiction, because I think that it is too limited in imagination. Which leads almost inevitably to this formulation on his blog today (and yes, you should go read the whole thing):

We people of the SF-reading ghetto have stumbled blinking into the future, and our dirty little secret is that we don’t much like it. And so we retreat into the comfort zones of brass goggles and zeppelins (hey, weren’t airships big in the 1910s-1930s? Why, then, are they such a powerful signifier for Victorian-era alternate fictions?), of sexy vampire-run nightclubs and starship-riding knights-errant. Opening the pages of a modern near-future SF novel now invites a neck-chillingly cold draft of wind from the world we’re trying to escape, rather than a warm narcotic vision of a better place and time.

And so I conclude: we will not inspire anyone with grand visions of a viable future through the medium of escapism. If we want to write inspirational literature with grand visions we need to dive into to the literary mainstream (which is finally rediscovering fabulism) and, adding a light admixture of Enlightenment ideology along the way, start writing the equivalent of those earnest and plausible hyper-realistic tales of Progress through cotton-planting on the shores of the Aral sea.

But do you really want us to do that? I don’t think so. In fact, the traditional response of traditional-minded SF readers to the rigorous exercise of extrapolative vision tends to be denial, disorientation, and distaste. So let me pose for you a different question, which has been exercising me for some time: If SF’s core message (to the extent that it ever had one) is obsolete, what do we do next?

Well, I dunno about Charlie, but I plan on writing a couple of prequels to Communion of Dreams, which I understand have touched something of a nerve in people precisely *because* it is hopeful in the face of a harsh reality.

Jim Downey

(PS: sometime today we should break through the level of 500 total sales/loans of CoD so far this month. Which is almost twice the previous month’s tally. Thanks for affirming my vision, folks!)

4 Comments so far
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I don’t know why everything has to turn into a “movement.” I don’t really care about a long list of justification for mundane SF; I just write it. Frankly, a huge amount of outer space SF could just as well be set right here on earth because it doesn’t really offer anything extra. Unless you’re writing about space ships and battles, much of what takes place extra-terra is about human beings, and the same kinds of conflicts and decisions have to be made.( Including among the new breed of literary critics, who aren’t that different from the old breed.)

Comment by Catana

Well, to some extant you’re right – the core of a good story is about human beings. But one way to understand ourselves better is to use the different settings and technology which SF affords. Expanding the imagination of the reader also allows the writer to say things which might not be accepted in a more ‘mundane’ setting.

Comment by James Downey

Mundane settings don’t have to exclude technology. I have a shelf full of SF novels that take place right here, but involve advanced technologies. For me, that’s much more interesting than using outer space to construct a story.

Comment by Catana

[…] something of a follow-up to yesterday’s post, first a quote: The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made […]

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