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Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

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Frank Hebert’s Dune is one of the most influential science fiction novels of all time. Naturally, we have a lot to say about it.

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Marie’s blog

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Science! Religion! History! A far-ranging discussion of Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s epic post-apocalyptic Catholic-monks-in-Utah novel A Canticle for Leibowitz.

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Marie’s blog

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Growing Weary

I am growing ever more weary from some members of the sf community championing the idea that the chief value of science fiction and fantasy is entertainment above all else, that these genres should not explore deeper aspects of self, society and culture because they overwhelm the story and transform the work into “message fiction” no one wants. Never mind that a good story, a deep story, a worthwhile story does explore the inmost world of the author and the culture surrounding him or her. The books that stay with me are the ones that aren’t merely entertaining, they’re the ones push boundaries of human experience, that let me see outside of our comfortable societal ideas of the norm. These books are fascinating and emotionally resonant because they take advantage of fantastic literature’s chief draw: the ability to articulate worlds different from our own. A book can do this and remain a quick, compulsive read; to include other visions of the human experience outside our immediate context can only help push forward a narrative, not hinder it. To say that sf is solely a vehicle for entertainment devalues the field and dismisses both its readers and writers as people unable to seriously connect, examine, and find meaning (or create it) with the text. It is to say the text has no power. I feel strongly on this point, because writing and reading fantasy has been an important part of my life, to how I ended up negotiating and building my dislocated identity, precisely because it articulates other worlds. Tackling troubling issues in sf does not “ruin” it; rather it expands sf, allows it to touch a wider range of readers, and makes it a legitimate (and vital) form of expression for a broader range of writers.

I can’t accept the premise that trying to find meaning in the narratives you spin is somehow wrong. And I won’t.

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The Telling (2000) continues Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish cycle with a pattern familiar to readers of her earlier books: a messenger from the Galaxy-wide confederacy known as the Ekumen comes to a newly-contacted planet on an anthropological expedition. The Left Hand of Darkness has the same premise and takes place in the same imagined future, what changes are the characters and the planet’s society. Le Guin manages to exploit this technique without ever coming across as formulaic. Her writing strengths lie in strong, well-realized characters, and building interesting and believable cultures. The Telling is excellent.

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Hollow Earth theory doesn’t have much currency these days. There are a few conspiracy theorists, sure, but few really believe in realms unknown beneath our feet. And yet, the idea of the Hollow Earth has undeniable appeal. Ever since Sir Edmund Halley of comet fame came up with the model of nested earths the idea has appeared in all manner of fiction. The earliest was Ludwig Holberg’s A Journey to the World Underground (1741), a Swiftian-style satire about a man who plunges through a set of caverns into the Hollow Earth. It’s not very well known these days because, while the satire may have been Swiftian, the writing was not. Of more interest are the early scientific romances that used the idea. Again, most of this material is long forgotten, but there sure was a lot of it. Through much of the 19th century the Hollow Earth theory was still a possible proposition, leading to works like Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864). Even after the theory had been disproved by scientists, the Hollow Earth lived on in pulp fiction well into the 1930s.

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I’ve become weary of stepping into the sf community at large, since the whole place is so volatile even the slightest stumble can set off a spark leading to mass conflagration. The fantasy vs. science fiction debate is bad enough (just…why?), and while watching various authors bump heads is fun for a while I ultimately just end up feeling sad and more than a little conflicted about what the heck I’m doing with an sf blog when the community as a whole is, sometimes, downright insane.

However, I’ve been reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It is, unsurprisingly, a great novel (I never thought I would say that about any book featured in Oprah’s book club): McCarthy’s prose style is simply wonderful even if the content is extraordinarily bleak. However, thoughts drift from an America crawling with cannibal conquerors to the sf community-at-large and its hugely negative reaction to outsiders stepping into its territory. Outsiders like Cormac McCarthy, daring to write some post-apocalyptic goodness and winning a Pulitzer for his efforts, even though he never wrote no science fiction before. Whenever a “literary” writer starts up on a science fiction or fantasy project, expect a vehement outcry from authors and readers alike in some corner of the internet.

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Fantasy scholarship concentrates so much on works in the English language you’d think that William Morris and Lord Dunsany were the only ones writing this sort of thing in the 19th century, and everything that came later sprouted from English influence. You’d also be wrong. Independent fantasy literary traditions have developed outside of the English-speaking world with little in the way of influence from the west; or, if so, drawing on local literature to give them a unique flair. We’re missing out on a great deal of it because, while English fantasy novels often get translated into many languages, fantasy novels in other languages aren’t often translated into English.

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