Some Thoughts About Sf

Some of you will see this a couple of times because you follow my many breadcrumbs of data / content in several places. I’m not sorry about this. I’m spreading this burst as far and wide as I can in the vain hope that I’ll find a new vein of ideas.

When did Science Fiction stop being subversive?

– Me.

about the same time people started noticing that it was.

– A Reply.

Subversion refers to an attempt to overthrow structures of authority, including the state.

– Definition of ‘Subversion.’

And also it’s like porn, the definition of what’s extreme is constantly changing.

– Another Reply.

When society, in a super loose sense, internalized what were once ‘Star Trek’ concepts as understandable or normal.

– Me.

I suspect that I take the view that the quality of the writing is what matters when it comes to literary merit. Sf is an attitude more than anything else to me. It’s the attitude of having an idea, a shock, and then producing a fiction to explorer that idea and some of its logical consequences. Rather than just simply having fantastical stuff as set dressing to disguise bad or lazy characterization. Or because it is popcorn friendly fun.

– Me.


There’s a saying: “REAL programmers don’t eat quiche… they eat
Twinkies and Szechuan food.” This kind of junk-food mentality is true of
your typical SF fan, too. Your REAL SF fan doesn’t read Priest. He doesn’t
read Dick or Ballard, either. He reads David Brin and Larry Niven and Anne
McCaffrey. Junk food for the brain.

And what’s more, he’s proud of it. He holds his head high so the
light will catch his coke-bottle glasses, hoists his basketball gut, and,
with the odor of Twinkies on his breath, tells you, “I’m SPECIAL. It takes a
special kind of person to appreciate this stuff.”

And the hell of it is, every so often something that really IS
special comes along in a junk-food wrapper. Like a granola bar, or maybe
chicken cordon bleu on a bun — it looks like junk food, tastes like junk
food, but it’s actually got real nutrition in it. This year we’re lucky —
we’ve had a couple of rich, vitamin-packed granola bars already, and at least
one of them is being scarfed down by junk-food addicts everywhere.

Certainly they like the taste of NEUROMANCER (by William Gibson, an
Ace Special, $2.95 (Gollancz L 8.95)). I mean, this is high-tech enough to
satisfy the most acned sixteen-year-old hacker whose only sex life is getting
his modem on-line with an X-rated bulletin board. Never mind that it shows
you how the future may very well BE, never mind the political issues, this
guy knows what it’s like the be plugged IN, man.

But that’s okay. Literature, the really good stuff, has a way of
changing your thinking whether you want it to or not.

But let’s talk about our other granola bar for a minute. You see,
the problem with this kind of literature is it’s got a short shelf life. A
book that comes out in September might as well have a little printed squib on
the back that says “Best if enjoyed before November 1,” like you see on bags
of Twinkies, because in no time at all it’s going to be gone.

– Cheap Truth #8.


  1. Ron May 11, 2010

    You know Why I hate writers, they tell us what we should read, what we should like, what’s good for us. They all see themselves as superior, above the unwashed and unenlightened masses. They like to think they are part of the elite, who get to sit there and guide and protect the masses from themselves.

    When you reach that stage you become disconnected from the real world and the people you are writing for.

    While I have read books like Stephen Leather’s cold kill, Good News, Bad News by David Wolstencroft as well as a host of other trashy airport novels that are not worth the paper they are printed on I am not arrogant enough to tell people what they should and shouldn’t read.

    Its hard to write a good book, that’s why there are so few of them around. Most the time authors try and write a good book but come off so pretenciuos that they are eating directly from there own colon. (see The Ringmaster by David Gurr for a prime example).
    Not evryone can write socially relevant books like The Group (Mary McCarthy) and what’s more not everyone will want to read them.

    Sure there are works like Foundation (asimov) Dune (herbert) Catch 22 (Heller), but people can and sstill want to read there trashy airport novels and movie tie-ins because they fun and easy.

    Real SF fans may not read what you want them to read, but they read what they want to read.

  2. Ron May 11, 2010

    As Science Fiction stopping being subversive, its because times have in many places caught up with the vision, certainly here in the west. Star Trek has stopped looking subversive thanks to globalisation and race relations.
    Truly subversive literature and art has been suffered from a number of factors, Globalisation and market forces which only publish stuff that sells (see damien hirst or RATM (Rage Against The Machine)), the genral betting of our lives here in the west (or making the gulf between have’s and have nots wide enough so the owners of the printing presses no longer have to care) or what counts as subversive in today’s society being held to largely middle class’s (see Little Brother By cory Doctorow, its about computers and control, and terrorism but not of the masses but of the advantage middle class American kids) Or finally it being largely suppressed by the newspaper industry (see the murdoch press, Dialy mail or the general suppression of Union activity)

  3. Ron May 11, 2010

    On to your final point
    “You see,
    the problem with this kind of literature is it’s got a short shelf life”

    This is rather easer to deal with and Im sorry to be blunt here but if your writing about technology and not about humanity your doing it wrong. (and should go and write for Gizmodo)

    If we can go back to the works McCarthy, asimov, Heller and herbert at any time, despite the fact they they are products of there time. Just people go back to Dickens, Brnote, Austen and Vern. People don’t go back to these books because they make them feel like the past, they go back to them because they still speak to the emotions and needs of the people today.

    If People Like William Gibson already feel old, maybe that is not a sign of sucess of an author but a failure.

  4. […] that was once very delicious, and still should be, but has gone off because of time. [Ginja_] Scroll to the section from Cheap Truth [Ginja_] Classic SF dates almost by design. It is a classic […]

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