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The Mundane Movement in Science Fiction

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1geoffw_uk
May 2, 2008, 3:59pm Top

BBC Radio 4 / Front Row / Friday. 02 May, 7.15pm
Listen Again - Use link below:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/arts/frontrow/past_programmes.shtml

The Mundane Movement in Science Fiction
Should sci-fi writers create plots which feature futuristic space ships flying faster than the speed of light, or should they focus instead on today’s real scientific discoveries and the changing nature of the planet we live on? That's the debate that been sparked off by a new manifesto for Mundane Sci-Fi. Geoff Ryman, one of the founders of the movement, explains his aims to Kirsty Lang.

The May edition of InterZone Magazine is dedicated to Mundane Sci-Fi. It is published on 8 May.

2PeterKein
May 2, 2008, 8:31pm Top

manifestos and being given a 'choice' between two alternatives makes me turn and walk (quickly) in the opposite direction.

3geneg
May 2, 2008, 8:43pm Top

Which position is the Mundane Sci-fi position?

4jmnlman
May 2, 2008, 11:01pm Top

Mundane is "today’s real scientific discoveries and the changing nature of the planet we live on".

5timjones
May 2, 2008, 11:14pm Top

I share #2's response - I've seen many literary manifestos in my time, and they rarely bode well. But my own interests have shifted notably during the time I've been reading SF. In my teens and twenties, it was FTL travel and galactic empires all the way. But as I've got older, I've pretty much lost interest in that type of SF - the "New Space Opera" is of little interest to me.

These days, I usually prefer authors who deal with the future of the Earth and worlds near it, such as Kim Stanley Robinson. And my own SF stories are mostly set some time in the near future and deal with the - largely unpleasant - consequences of the world we are making now. Is that Mundane SF?

6GwenH
Edited: May 3, 2008, 11:56am Top

I don't get what there is to debate about. Since when did science fiction have to be about one thing or some other thing.

I would find it disheartening if sf writers allowed themselves to be herded into one subset of possibilities. It's feels like someone is trying to tell sf writers to cut out the speculation and get busy designing something more "practical".

I personally like the challenge of near future extrapolation, but I also like a well crafted alien world with an interesting story or a far future speculation. All of it has the potential to say something about the world we actually live in.

7lorax
May 3, 2008, 2:36am Top

I think this really says all that needs to be said.

Myself, I looked at the initial post here, said something along the lines of "oh, how nice. A false dichotomy and a straw man. Lovely." and moved on.

8iansales
May 3, 2008, 4:51am Top

I don't understand what all the fuss is about. Sf has always had its movements, and they've made a lot of noise for a brief period, and then slowly disappeared, often leaving something worthwhile behind. It's a just a way of stirring things up a bit when people get complacent and continue to churn shoddy unimaginative works. And there hasn't been a great deal that's imaginative going on in sf for the last few years.

9andyl
May 3, 2008, 5:03am Top

Mundane SF is also taked about in the Ian Mcdonald replied some 3 years ago with this LJ post

The mundanes are a funny bunch. Take Geoff Ryman, his last novel Air features stuff which would take it outside the mundane movement in my opinion (despite what Damien Walter says in the Grauniad).

For those who are interested The Fix reviews the mundane IZ here

One good thing that has come out of the whole movement is that it made for some fine bitching (and debating) within the SF community a few years ago and is now getting some mainstream coverage. Maybe the "I don't like SF because it is all Star Wars and talking squid" brigade might look on the genre slightly differently - but in reality I doubt it will.

10PeterKein
May 3, 2008, 9:52am Top

#8 - I wouldn't refer to my objection as 'fuss'- dialetic is certainly well and good. What I object to is (similar to #7) the assumption that something as diverse, multifaceted, and multi-purpose as the material that is pigeon-holed into the purported genre of SF can be reduced to a mutually exclusive (and binary) distinction; the implication that there is a 'right' approach and a 'wrong' approach and allow me to hold forth on why (conveniently) the approach I favor is the correct one.

I don't like neither the arrogance that underlies any 'manifesto' nor the sloppy thinking necessary to reduce complex phenomena to such artificiality.

One can have the same fruitful conversation without either.

11RobertDay
May 3, 2008, 11:01am Top

>9 andyl:: andyl said "Maybe the "I don't like SF because it is all Star Wars and talking squid" brigade might look on the genre slightly differently "

The thing is that the presenters, reviewers and production team of Radio 4's 'Front Row' who ran the story in the first place fall into that category! They know nothing of any sort of SF and would never have looked at IZ or are unlikely to have heard of Geoff Ryman before in the first place. And I have to agree with Andy about Ryman's suitability to be a spokesman for this movement based on his writing career to date in the first place.

What I find REALLY irritating is that I've subscribed to IZ since about issue 5, and all this has blown up over an issue which hasn't hit the newsstands yet and which I haven't received. This feels like pretty Bad Faith on the part of the publishers to me - especially as I was unsighted on the Mundane SF movement until last week (and there was no mention of it at the Eastercon AFAIK)...

12andyl
May 3, 2008, 11:43am Top

#11

Actually both the Grauniad and the Indy mentioned the mundane movement when they reviewed Air. Also it did kick up a storm on various blogs a few years ago. I guess there wasn't a panel on it at Eastercon because a) no fan wanted to do one and b) the mundane movement is tiny in comparison to the rest of SF.

As a manifesto and movement it has made significantly less impact than cyberpunk (which was similarly provocative about having a manifesto).

I'm still waiting for my copy of IZ in the post as well, but I wouldn't say it is bad faith. Review copies of anything regularly go out before the real copies go on sale (or reach subscribers).

13CliffBurns
Edited: May 3, 2008, 12:11pm Top

I find the near-future, near-earth stuff rather boring. I prefer SF set far from home, far in the future, galaxy-spanning efforts a la Iain Banks EXCESSION or CONSIDER PHLEBAS. Purely a matter of personal taste, of course. Mr. Ryman is a pretty fine writer, nothing mundane about his talent at all...

Again, as with the "New Weird", I wonder how much of this is marketing--"Try our new, improved product" and how much is genuinely original, never-seen-before-fiction...

"Labels..." (he mutters, shaking his head).

Maybe I've been around too long but I've seen this stuff come...and go.

14CliffBurns
May 3, 2008, 12:19pm Top

...I've been waiting for Ian or jargoneer or some other smart-ass to opine, "I find MOST SF nowadays pretty mundane".

Folks must be in a good mood this weekend to let such an opportunity pass...

15dukedom_enough
May 3, 2008, 1:03pm Top

One of the ways writers proceed is to adopt some artificial constraint to work within or against - the sonnet form in poetry, or the mystery convention that clues to whodunnit be placed in the story. Apparently the work of operating with reference to constraints can (sometimes) enable creativity in ways that the truly blank slate does not. Mundane SF promises an interesting constraint, and I want to read more. More stories than you might think at first fit into the category, if not the movement - e.g., senjmito #5, maybe. I note that Charles Stross' latest, Halting State, is clearly a mundane story, though I don't think he says so anywhere. There's a lot of SF these days, and there's room for all preferences. And as andyl #9 notes, not all Mundanes are uniformly mundane.

Geoff Ryman's manifesto was clearly tongue-in-cheek - I recall that it stated that Mundane would shut itself down at some point - and not any kind of insistence that everyone write mundane fiction. I think the manifesto itself is not online, but there's a longish Ryman speech online.

I read all sorts of SF. I have been feeling lately a bit tired of seeing so many stories where a suitably advanced quantum-mechanical effect is indistinguishable from magic, or where everything is happening in the giant computer at the end of time, or where the ending is resolved by the pure white light of the Singularity - as excellent as those stories may be taken one at a time, and I do love them. It's fun to see what people with a literary manifesto can do with it.

16Jargoneer
May 3, 2008, 1:36pm Top

Underneath it all, isn't this just a repeat of the New Wave manifesto in the 60s - that it's time for sf to grow up and start dealing with serious subjects, rather than adolescent fantasies. The difference between now and then is that in the 60s there were a number of 'adult' writers who gained prominence in the field because they were embraced by an audience desperate for something different. Now it appears that the mainstream sf audience doesn't want change, they are happy with ray-guns and bug-eyed monsters, and promising writers no longer want to enter the field - that is why mundane sf will fail.

17dukedom_enough
May 3, 2008, 1:48pm Top

I think the SF world is diverse enough these days that they'll still find admirers. They won't (have already failed to) take the world by storm as the cyberpunks did. I think the SF audience is much older than in the 1960s, and thus, in the usual way of age, less welcoming of change.

18geneg
May 3, 2008, 2:09pm Top

The few cyberpunk (I think) stories I read The Stainless Steel Rat I think was the name of one, although the touchstone doesn't think so, were about unpleasant people, in unpleasant situations, in unpleasant places, doing unpleasant things and all as a big joke. Great stuff! Enlightening. Real brain food, a personal preference if I'm going to devote several hours of my life to a novel.

I could be wrong, now, but I don't think so.

19Codexus
May 3, 2008, 2:32pm Top

One thing is sure, they really need a better name. "Mundane" evokes the idea of something extremely boring and unimaginative. How can they hope to gather interest with something like that?

20iansales
May 3, 2008, 4:42pm Top

#18, The Stainless Steel Rat is by Harry Harrison and is comic sf about a galactic super-thief turned undercover police agent. It's not cyberpunk. Important cyberpunk works include Neuromancer, Metrophage, Snow Crash, The Artificial Kid and Eclipse.

21avaland
May 3, 2008, 5:48pm Top

>18 geneg: Surely mundane is a play on fannish use of the same word for those outside of SF fandom? Call it an exercise in reverse psychology, the equivalent of a title on a book, "Do Not Read This Book".

I agree with both jargoneer and dukedom with regards to the mainstream SF readership being resistant to change. One can see this on these very discussion boards:-) I think SF, imo, at its best takes the conversations of today (or the conversations we should be having) and places them in a setting that is 'other' for us to reflect on more objectively. I see possibilities in this mundane approach that might encourage a return to what I think the genre does best . . .

22geneg
Edited: May 3, 2008, 6:00pm Top

Avaland, you have hit on one of the most important functions of all literature, not just sci-fi. In fact it is my opinion that a work that does not do this, is probably not worth reading.

Ian, thank you for clearing up my confusion between comic sf and cyberpunk. When I finish my Dick I'll romance the nuerons. Although, the idea of Metrophages sounds more appealing. Cleaning up the city, or something. But I will definitely read some cyberpunk.

23avaland
May 3, 2008, 6:04pm Top

geneg, how astute of you to pick up on that. At the time of writing it; however, I meant slightly more other;-)

Hmmm, Ryman is going to be at Readercon this summer, I may have to pay a bit more attention to him. . .

24iansales
Edited: May 3, 2008, 6:13pm Top

geneg, Metrophage is an excellent novel. I blogged about it here.

25timjones
May 3, 2008, 7:20pm Top

I'm with dukedom_enough (#15) in being underwhelmed with Singularity-based stories - they are a perfectly valid form of fiction, but the Singularity is also used as a literary device that allows the author to avoid all sorts of inconvenient questions about the period leading up to the Singularity - just press a button and sweep it all under the carpet!

When I was young, the future was of largely intellectual interest. Now, in middle age, with a child, the state of the human race in the first half of this century is of compelling personal interest to me, so fiction that addresses (whether directly or indirectly) the environmental, economic and social issues we face tends to attract my attention - which is one of the reasons I like Kim Stanley Robinson so much.

Having said all that, my favourite SF author is Gene Wolfe, whose work is pretty much the complete opposite of Mundane SF.

26bluetyson
May 3, 2008, 9:38pm Top

Unlike cyberpunk at the time, mundane sf is in no way something new.

27VisibleGhost
May 3, 2008, 11:05pm Top

I read many kinds of SF but I do have a soft spot for mundane SF. Some of Arthur Clarke's non-fiction writings dealt with the subject matter of how hard it turned out to be get humanity away from the teat of Mother Earth. Everything we learned from sticking people into space showed what wimps humans are. We're fragile. We don't handle radiation well, nor weightlessness, nor confined couped space shared with others. Hell, look at how some of the teams left at Antarctica for the winter have fared.

Without genetic manipulation or a portable Earth-like environment it doesn't look like humans are cut out to live away from Earth at present. To get from present day to space opera settings humanity has to go through the three steps forward two steps back mundane everyday advancements in physics, biology, electronics, and other areas. These advances happen in fits and starts and also fall into the realms of unintended consequences. Decades can pass with little advancement. It's been 36 years since an Earther stepped onto a solid body that wasn't Earth. Very few SF writers writing in 1970 would have predicted that nor would many futurists have predicted that stall.

Sometimes mundane SF deals with science advancements in the background and puts economics and business in the foreground. This too can be interesting. Economics and business aren't going to disappear in the next fifty years. So what changes do they make on humanity? If the wealth of World the averages 5% per year increases for the next fifty years where do those hundreds of trillions of monies end up? Weapons? Endless Wars? Robot Wars? Directed Evolution for humans, plants, and animals? Green Energy? The absolute consumption of every last drop of fossil fuel? Plastic Surgery? Social Equality? Some find it boring but it's a good place for mundane SF to expend some of its collective energy.

Other have mentioned what previous movements the 'new' mundane SF reminds them of, so I'll throw out one. It has shades of the 'back to the gutter' movement. IOW, give the real everyday current/near-future science a sub-genre home. Movements and manifestos have always existed in SF and I will predict that in the next 50 years dozens more will crop up. In the age of the internet millions of words will be expended defending, decrying, deconstructing, damning, and just plain bitching about each and everyone of them. But that's the SF community; a group of individuals willing to enter a never-ending debate/argument declaring what SF is or what it should be.

28jseger9000
Edited: May 4, 2008, 1:15am Top

I thought I'd posted this already, but I don't see it. So here I go again:

I may have missed something, but I don't much see the difference between what was being described as 'Mundane SF' and 'Hard SF'. Everything he talked about (no faster than light travel, deal with current cutting edge science, etc...) sound like what guys like Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter have been doing forever. I don't know, maybe I'm missing something.

29andyl
May 4, 2008, 5:54am Top

#28

Typical Baxter doesn't count. Well Voyage and Titan probably do but that is all.

Part of the mundane manifesto is that contact with aliens (even sensible communications with aliens) isn't going to happen. Time-travel is out, so is telepathy, so is the singularity.

What would count?

KSR's Mars books, Antarctica and Captial City trilogy.
A lot of high-frontier novels (like Bova has been writing lately)
Stross's Halting State
McDonald's River Of Gods

However at least two of the writers there aren't fans of the label or the manifesto.

#25
The Mundane-SF blog even claims that PKD and Gene Wolfe "may have accidentally committed Mundane SF".

30dukedom_enough
May 4, 2008, 11:56am Top

andyl #29,

I suspect River of Gods does not count, because

-Spoiler Warning-

its post-Singular AI's are outside what we can now be pretty sure of in forseeable computer development, and their manipulation of time ever more so in physics.

IIRC, Gregory Frost's story "Madonna of the Maquiladora" counts as mundane. Could be wrong, been a while since I read it.

31jseger9000
May 5, 2008, 9:46am Top

I guess with Clarke and Baxter I was thinking specifically of the Light of Other Days and Titan, Evolution, Fountains of Paradise and The Ghost From the Grand Banks.

Nonetheless, Mundane SF still seems more like an attempt to 'rebrand' Hard SF than anything really new. As stated before I'm no sci-fi expert, so maybe I'm missing something.

32RobertDay
May 5, 2008, 10:25am Top

>12 andyl:, 15:

Well, perhaps I was in 'furious splutter' mode when I posted. And I doubt very much that IZ send out that many review copies given its financial situation as a small publisher trying to keep its head above water on a daily basis. So I think I have to reserve the right to be irritated by a debate that I might be expected to know something about kicking off without me (he said, modestly) (not being a blogger generally or having time to plough through the broadsheets regularly - I'm still working on LAST Saturday's Grauniad!).

dukedom_enough says "Geoff Ryman's manifesto was clearly tongue-in-cheek" and that wouldn't surprise me. A lot of what the UK SF community does is tongue-in-cheek. But then it irritates me more that Radio 4 took it seriously (and Ryman didn't come over as tongue-in-cheek in the interview). Then again, even R4 is a part of the glorious British media scene, and having worked on the periphery of that for a while I ought not to be surprised or even get myself worked up by anything that happens in that quarter that looks ill-informed or daft. But it still happens, nonetheless. Perhaps the problem's mine, not SF's...

33CliffBurns
Edited: May 5, 2008, 10:41am Top

I find it fascinating that Radio 4 even picked up on a discussion as obscure as "the new mundane movement" or what have you. In Canada, our national radio broadcaster has absolutely no interest in SF whatsoever and the discussion wouldn't even have been a distant blip on the radar.

I've been playing around with my shortwave and the one damn channel I can't get is BBC. I can pick up Radio Netherlands, even Auckland, New Zealand. Where the hell is BBC? Radio 1, 2, 3, and 4 are missing from my dial. BBC is one of the reasons I've wanted a shortwave for twenty years. Perhaps when I buy my external antenna. Otherwise, I'm going to punt this thing like a deflated football...

34davisfamily
May 5, 2008, 12:18pm Top

>33 CliffBurns:

You might try moving to a different room in your house. (I grew up away from society and we would move our shortwave around depending on what we wanted to hear)

35CliffBurns
May 5, 2008, 12:26pm Top

Thanks for the tip, I'll give it a try. My office is on the top floor of the house and the radio seems to work best there. More interference downstairs. I'm going to take it along to the lake later this summer and maybe that will boost its signal as well. Being out in the boonies, less electrical crap and buildings messing with the atmospherics. I have a giant metal water tower at the end of our block, looks like a Martian spaceship, and that likely doesn't help.

But the external antenna is a must, methinks...

36andyl
May 5, 2008, 12:55pm Top

AFAIK the only BBC radio transmitted on shortwave is the World Service. BBC Radio 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 and 1Xtra (and other stations) are purely supposed to be domestic stations and are broadcast on FM and DAB only.

Therefore you have to listen on the internet which is so much easier if less romantic. You can even listen to most things at sensible times by using listen-again.

37andyl
May 5, 2008, 12:57pm Top

#31

Fountains Of Paradise maybe out because of the last couple of pages which has aliens. Apart from that it would be mundane.

Of course a fair bit of Clarke's earlier SF like A Fall Of Moondust would count.

38GwenH
May 5, 2008, 1:06pm Top

The more I read about this, the more I'm convinced the "Mundane SF" subgenre was dreamt up by someone who had some misconceptions of what SF consisted of up until that point. Previously, I've heard such work referred to as "Near Future SF", which to me is a bit awkward but a whole lot more accurate then "Mundane". I find it quite plausible that there will be extrordinary events in the near future. If I ever wanted to read mundane, I'd resort to Anne Tyler or some such.

39VisibleGhost
May 5, 2008, 1:39pm Top

More mundane. The Firestar series by Michael Flynn. And probably Wreck of the River of Stars. Rainbows End by Vinge. Doesn't go to the singularity. Some of Paul McAuley's stuff. Maybe Cory Doctorow for the technology and socio/economic near future stuff. Cory probably wouldn't be happy being classified as a Mundane though.

#38 We need a merger of movements. Call it the Near-Future Mundane Movement. Maybe the difference is that near-future possibly could violate the known laws of science.

40iansales
May 5, 2008, 1:45pm Top

I don't think you could claim Geoff Ryman doesn't understand what sf is.

I still think many of you are missing the point. Mundane SF is written as prescriptive because that's the way to make a point. It's also why they chose the name. If the mundanistas had said, "I say, wouldn't it be a jolly good idea if we tried writing some sf that didn't have all that bally FTL and aliens and whatnot in it?" everyone would have ignored them; and nothing would have come of it. Instead, they've whipped up a controversy - or rather, those who react with outrage when their comfortable little bubbles are pricked have created a controversy... All the mundanistas are trying to say is that we've become over-reliant on cheap special effects and lazy world-building. You only have to look at the most popular form of sf in the US to see that - crap military sf by the likes of David Weber and the rest of the Baen stable.

41PeterKein
Edited: May 5, 2008, 2:11pm Top

On one level this 'mundane' movement seems to share characteristics with 'hard' SF and with 'near-future' SF. More generally, it seems to simply be restating the larger distinction between fantasy and SF. However, I would argue that all SF can and will violate the known laws of science. It is inevitable. Why? Because no one mind can change one idea, one piece of reality, and foresee all the direct and indirect consequences of that change.

Certainly we are less likely to make gross errors when concerned with the "near future' - but errors still will be made. There is a quote that runs something like, we predicted space travel but not the hula-hoop. Does something have to pan out before we can retroactively call it 'mundane' or 'hard' or 'near-future'?

This is why I think that discussion of what constitutes 'mundane' or 'hard' or other SF while maybe helpful (as far as any categorization is practically helpful), is misguided. Even most 'hard' SF has implicit errors in its science, even if those errors are not evident to those who read it.

Nonetheless, over 30 years ago Robert Scholes, in considering science fiction as structural fabulation states “it is a fictional exploration of human situations made perceptible by the implications of recent science. Its favorite themes involve the impact of developments of revelations derived from the human or the physical sciences upon the people who must live with those revelations or developments”.

I don’t see how this ‘manifesto’ is any different.

EDIT: The quote, by Robert Conquest is "The ballistic missile is anticipated, but not the Bikini bathing dress".

42GwenH
Edited: May 5, 2008, 2:13pm Top

If the mundanistas had said, "I say, wouldn't it be a jolly good idea if we tried writing some sf that didn't have all that bally FTL and aliens and whatnot in it?" everyone would have ignored them; and nothing would have come of it.

I guess the point I was trying to make, perhaps poorly, was that people were writing near future stories without FTL and aliens and calling it SF for some time now.

But no biggie. I've never paid attention to the subgenres people try to pigeonhole fiction in. I happen across the books I read by other means. So people can divy up the sf books however they want.

43GwenH
Edited: May 5, 2008, 2:18pm Top

But one critical question of definition I'd like answered is:

If suddenly the earth was indeed beseiged by a global disaster (take your pick of low probability but possible scenarios), would all the post-apocalyptic novels that have been written suddenly fall under the catagory of Mundane SF? ;)

44VisibleGhost
May 5, 2008, 2:53pm Top

#43 Unanticipated or non-predicted styles of dress violate the known laws of science? The vast majority of predictions in SF never come to be but many do not violate the known laws of science. The known laws of science can change rendering some predictions obsolete or inaccurate. Moving sidewalks did find their way into some areas but rolling roads for cars haven't panned out and there is no violation of known physical laws of science violated in that prediction that I know of.

45avaland
May 6, 2008, 1:18pm Top

I think iansales in #40 has hit the proverbial nail on the head. I suspect Ryman's manifesto to be perhaps the equivalent of Harrison & Mieville promoting the idea of the New Weird. Even Slipstream has worked into our lexicon. Some of us are unlikely to be around in fifty years to see if they survive. Will mundane follow the same course? Who knows, but for the present Ryman has us all talking about it, doesn't he? As Ian notes, this serves a purpose in and of itself.

46rojse
May 6, 2008, 10:54pm Top

Looking on Wiktionary, there are three different possible meanings for mundane - one is "worldly, profane, or vulgar, opposed to heavenly", the second is "ordinary, or not new", and the third is "tedious, repetitive, or boring."

If you are going to come up with a new SF genre, wouldn't you at least try and give it a half decent name instead of what could easily be interpreted as boring or ordinary SF?

47iansales
Edited: May 7, 2008, 1:53am Top

The name is a joke - "mundanes" is what sf fans call people who don't read sf.

48GwenH
May 7, 2008, 2:03am Top

#47 "The name is a joke - "mundanes" is what sf fans call people who don't read sf."

LOL, somehow I missed the part where I was supposed to call nonfans "mundanes". I must not be part of the in crowd! :-)

49dukedom_enough
May 7, 2008, 7:53am Top

GwenH #48,

It's a usage I dislike, and don't use. I've known many people who did not read SF, but were anything but mundane in their interests and impact on the world.

50timjones
May 7, 2008, 8:00am Top

#49: I agree. It's a holdover from the days when SF fans felt themselves to be a beleaguered minority - it was an unfortunate term then, and is even more so now.

51PeterKein
May 7, 2008, 8:03am Top

Id also suspect it is those who are/were rather immersed in the SF culture- who are aware of that usage. I've read SF all my life but have never heard of the term.

Frankly I think the whole 'its tongue in cheek' ; 'Im kidding guys' look at the name, look at what I write-hehe- is childish. Its a defense mechanism against being laughted at- but notice how since it has gotten attention, it has suddenly to be taken more seriously.

52iansales
Edited: May 7, 2008, 8:42am Top

I think you have the cart before the horse. Sf is childish. And it will remain childish as long as it remains mired in tales of blaster-wielding derring-do in galactic empires designed to appeal chiefly to 14-year-old boys. If we want the genre to be taken seriously, and we do, then we have to demonstrate we have what it takes to play adult games. The Mundanistas have taken the time-honoured approach to this of setting out a prescriptive agenda and whipping up a controversy... cf the New Wave, and the Movement (AKA cyberpunk). Before that, of course, the genre was dominated by individual editors and whatever "movements" existed were a result of their shapings.

53CliffBurns
Edited: May 7, 2008, 10:31am Top

And for Christ's sake let's NOT allow SF editors to control the field. They're not intellectually or aesthetically qualified to run for dog-catchers, let alone identify and publish fine fiction...

54sussabmax
May 7, 2008, 11:55am Top

I don't think you can say that SF as a whole is childish. Sure, there is a strong element of the blaster-weilding derring-do type story, but people have been writing more thoughtful science fiction for just as long--it just doesn't get as much attention with the people who stereotype SF fans.

I agree with everyone who said that the original question is kind of silly. Should SF writers focus on one subgenre is a nonsensical question. A better one is, is this subgenre interesting, and worth exploring?

I do like the near-future stuff. I loved Rainbows End, for instance. Also, Pattern Recognition, although I couldn't bring myself to care about Spook Country. I read the short story form of Air by Ryman in a Tiptree Award anthology, and I liked that. I am not sure who else to turn to, now. I have been focused on reading some of the classics that I missed, and I just don't know what to get for recent stuff. I see andyl made some suggestions in post #29, anyone have any others?

55GwenH
Edited: May 7, 2008, 12:23pm Top

I don't agree that SF has only ever been "mired in tales of blaster-wielding derring-do in galactic empires designed to appeal chiefly to 14-year-old boys". Still, I'll leave that aside to pose this question to the Mundane category supporters: What is the difference between the "Mundane" movement and the more well known and more invitingly named classification of "techno-thriller".

For reference, here's an exerpt from Wikipedia's entry for techno-thiller"
The category of technothriller blurs smoothly into the category of hard science fiction; the defining characteristics of technothriller are an emphasis on real-world or plausible near-future technology and a focus on military or military-political action.

Is it more scientific details? Is it works written by SF authors? Focus on non-military/non-political? Or...?

56CliffBurns
Edited: May 7, 2008, 12:41pm Top

SF "as a whole" may not be childish but the exceptions don't make the rule. There are far fewer good writers crafting challenging, adult-oriented SF than there are juvenile-level hacks. Military SF is a disturbing trend in SF, definitely not geared toward brainier types. The share-cropping and media tie-ins, more examples of SF for people who don't like to work too hard mentally. Still that preponderance of "neat idea" stories and novels over well-crafted, literate prose.

John Scalzi had a recent post where he talked about YA science fiction books outselling adult SF by a significant factor. He got access to BookScan numbers and sales figures to back up that contention. Hope that means young readers are discovering and getting turned on by the genre and not merely old farts reading YA stuff. That would be depressing...

57geneg
May 7, 2008, 1:07pm Top

As an old fart, myself, I can tell you, IMHO, if all Sci-fi turns out to be primarily hackneyed YA stuff, I'll see y' all later. I'm enjoying the PKD stories as I read them (read "Paycheck" yesterday and did not think it was YA at all). So, I have high hopes for the genre.

I'm currently reading Middlemarch which is as far from YA as it gets and still be fiction. To note some of the differences (and I may have to go back and re-read Heinlein from "Stranger..." forward to verify this) Eliot relies on good, solid, well constructed characters who are much more multi-dimensional and realistic than characters one meets in sci-fi, people that we can all identify with, people we all know and feel the same about as the characters of Middlemarch. These are real people, in real situations, thinking real thoughts, and having real discussions regarding personalities, the zeitgeist, morality, those things that make the warp and woof of human life.

The Sci-Fi I've read relies mostly on gadgets, tricks, surprise endings and so forth more than on what some may call "literariness", but I call intelligent writing for intelligent people (snooty? no, demanding of how I spend my time).

There is no reason why deep human issues cannot be explored in a space opera setting, or a "mundane" setting, or in the interaction between humans and aliens or in any of the settings where we find Sci Fi. Why do we not find literature of this sort in the Sci-Fi genre? It would at least elevate sci-fi from the genre trap into literature.

Did this make sense?

58CliffBurns
May 7, 2008, 2:21pm Top

I concur and that's why places like this forum are important, so I can find out about authors I might have been previously unaware of. The SF sections of bookstores are hardly stocked with ground-breaking SF. There might be a few titles of note but for the most part it's the umpteenth book of a series or some "Deep Space 9" spin-off or crap like that.

I like big ideas but, like you, cherish a fully fleshed character and literate, intelligent prose, composed by someone who isn't "tone deaf" to language and syntactically challenged.

Never read "Middlemarch", though I have it on my "classics" shelf somewhere around here.

59timjones
May 7, 2008, 7:01pm Top

#57: geneg: Your implied prescription for good SF, derived from your analysis of Middlemarch, sounds a lot like the first two books, at least, of the Mars Trilogy - Red Mars and Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (Blue Mars is somewhat less successful, in my opinion, although still well worth reading). These books, and much of Robinson's work, combine a much more extensive focus on character than is usual in SF with intensive world-building.

Yet many keen SF readers I know don't like these books at all. Have you read them, and what's your opinion?

As for Middlemarch, it was one of the few set books for high school that I truly enjoyed - but I have not yet got round to re-reading it.

60PeterKein
May 7, 2008, 7:49pm Top

Well I suppose we will have to agree to disagree that SF is 'childish'. I think a lot of it is hack - but not necessarily childish hack. Nevertheless, even if the genre was childish that doesnt really justify a childish response now does it?

As I previously said there is nothing new about it- it goes as far back as disparaging comments about Wells by Verne.

But if you see it as a cry for validation- well then I cannot argue with that. But, for some to parade this around as something 'new' is disingenuous.

Perhaps another good way to stop the bias against SF is to first and foremost stop publishing hack and perhaps also to shy away from the scantily clad sex robot covers.

I too dont believe that there is something inherent to the genre that excludes it from reaching the status of 'high literature' and instead the main obstacle is the writing of those who practice the craft. And if someone does reach such status, they are co-opted out of SF - e.g. Vonnegut and instead described as 'authors who have written SF' or some such. Having said that, there are certainly good authors, good FICTION that is SF as there is crap that is not SF.

Narrow prescription of the genre isnt going to miraculously increase the quality of the writing.

61rojse
May 7, 2008, 7:58pm Top

No doubt there are childish elements in some SF stories, but I would have to argue against the idea that SF is, in the majority, orientated towards the eternal fourteen year old. Are stories about the aftermath of a nuclear war, dystopian worlds, political commentary, and so forth interesting to the eternal fourteen year old?

62rojse
May 7, 2008, 8:02pm Top

#60

There are some SF stories that have become "high literature", even though they are science fiction, such as 1984 or Brave New World. Who knows what else might become high literature in fifty years time?

63VisibleGhost
May 7, 2008, 10:16pm Top

Does anyone know of a hard/mundane/core SF YA series released in the last ten years that is selling well? I've seen some of the BookScan numbers and can't post about them either but the stuff that is selling gangbusters is on the fantasy side of the equation. Let's just say vampires outsell SF by a very large margin. It gets classified as SF.

There is a new anthology called The Starry Rift that is attempting to update the traditional YA SF market. I have not read it yet.

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