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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Fads and Fashions In Science Fiction

I've read the blogposts"Cory Doctorow, the Singularity and Progressive history"
and
"What if the Singularity Doesn't Happen?"
(on the blog Stone Dead Parrot)... and it got me thinking about fads and fashions in genre fiction.

Science fiction has its own catalogue of fads and fashions. "The Singularity" is but a recent one. It also reminds me about other sci-fi fads which have come and gone in the past... and often, in hindsight, caused embarrassment.

Examples of past "fads and fashions" in SF:

1. "Psi powers" (Hey kids! You can have super powers by just wishing for them!)

2. "Intelligent life on Mars" (Real soon now, the Martians will make a noise! Any... moment... now.)

3. "Faster-Than-Light space travel" (We can enter hyperspace! Just add Handwavium.)

4. "Evil intelligent computers take over the world" (There is no spoon -- and no Windows blue screens!)

All science-fiction fads, when you look back at them, seem naive. They are invariably rooted in the wishful thinking and cultural anxieties of their time and audience. But they were popular because they offered a phony wish-fulfilment "solution" to real problems, or articulated an irrational anxiety.

1.
Real problem:
The reader, though intelligent and educated, is physically puny and gets sand kicked in his face by stronger, dumber guys.
SF "Solution":
Psi powers ("I may look weak on the outside, but I have hidden mental powers!").

2.
Real anxiety:
Where are the aliens?
SF "Solution": There is intelligent life on Mars (despite zero evidence to prove it).

3.
Real problem:
Space is enormously huge. Traveling to other stars would take hundreds or thousands of years.
SF "Solution": Faster-Than-Light space travel (Ask Star Trek fans how the warp drive works. Yes, really. Ask them.).

4.
Real anxiety:
People who don't understand computers are scared of them, and fear losing their jobs to automation.
SF articulation of anxiety: Evil intelligent computers take over the world (despite zero evidence of this actually happening).

5.
Real anxiety:
You're going to die.
SF "Solution": When the Singularity comes, we'll all be uploaded into a giant computer network and live forever as digitized souls.

It's not that I dislike using one's imagination -- far from it. But when SF readers and writers confuse "If Only" with "For Sure," you get embarrassments like "psi powers" and "the Singularity Movement"... or the "Super Adventure Fun Club" (created by a science-fiction writer). People start mistaking obvious fictions for future reality. Intellectual speculation becomes Manifest Destiny.

The tell-tale sign of this kind of infatuation with a make-believe idea is that the "believer" lacks a sense of humor and/or irony about it.
The fault lies not so much with the fiction itself, as with the way it is being read and "sold."

Of course it's perfectly okay and legal to write free fantasies -- add as many fire-breathing dragons as you want. But let's label it properly: Fantasy. (And it won't hurt to have a sense of humor, too.)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

An Apology

Right now, a large number of men are demanding the death of a schoolteacher... for the sake of a teddybear's name.
(Incidentally, several of these self-righteous men are bound to have the exact same name as said teddybear, but hey -- let's not demand that they behead themselves in the name of consistency.)

You angry men... this is for you:
-----------------------

A.R.Yngve

AN APOLOGY.


Dear angry street person,
you who are so busy burning flags
and effigies
waving your banners and placards
shouting your death threats
with such vigor
demanding apologies
for all the wrongs committed against you:
This is an apology.

We apologize
for being billions of people
around the world
who don't care
about what you say.

We apologize
for the billions of people
who lived before you were born
who cared even less
for what you say.

We apologize
for those not yet born
and not yet counted
who will without doubt offend you
in some way.

We apologize
on behalf of the countless thinking life forms
in the known universe
who won't care
to apologize to you
and who have the gall
to be ignorant
of your existence.

We beg forgiveness
for all the fictional characters
and drawings
and motion pictures
and mere thoughts
that offend you.

Let us also not forget
to apologize
for all the insulting things
that may be said
or pictured
or imagined
from now on
and billions of years
into the future.

We apologize
for being afraid
of your threatening demeanor
and for fearing your intolerant friends
who kill us.
We apologize
for being so rude
that we wish to live our lives
without constantly being told
that we should obey your commands.

We apologize
for believing in democracy
and freedom of speech
and equal rights for women
and freedom of mind.

We apologize
for our love of reason
and consistency
and logic
and common sense
and our aversion to killing people
for disagreeing with us.

We apologize
for all our belief systems
and philosophies
that are not as perfect as yours.

We apologize
for not much caring
about an afterlife
and for our selfish need
to improve living standards
in the here and now.

Humbly we apologize
for your birth.
Oh, what insult
that someone as divinely guided as yourself
was squeezed out between your mother's thighs
and born screaming in blood and pain,
like any other human being!
Someone as perfect as you
should have simply descended from the heavens.

How can we ever apologize enough
for the excrement
that insults your righteous behind
and dares to offend your nose
with its foul stench?
Your waste should have smelled of roses.

We apologize for the universe
and its reckless indifference
to your sacred convictions.
So many stars, so many planets
so many galaxies
are formed, and live, and die
without a care
for your hurt feelings!
We deeply, sincerely apologize
for the totality of existence
which has offended you
by not apologizing.

And finally we,
these billions of human beings
who so offend you
with our existence
apologize in advance
for the distant chance
that someday our patience
might run out.
And should that ever happen
then please tell God
that we're sorry.
-------------------------

(c)A.R.Yngve 2006. This is a work of fiction. Its intent is satirical.

Friday, May 25, 2007

On Consumer Identity And Reader Identity

Seth Godin tells an anecdote, and concludes that: "So many of the products and services we use are now about our identity. "

It struck me, reading Godin's blogpost, that some readers use books as a part of their identity. (Especially "genre fans," but perhaps not only them.)

Of course, from his marketing-guru point-of-view, this is something to use and exploit to sell stuff. But that's where we part ways.

I like to read the fiction of American author Philip K. Dick. (Ah, so that's why some call me a "dick." ;-)) Does this make his works a defining part of my identity? How far could that "identity" go?

- Dressing up as favorite characters from Dick's novels at costume parties and events?

- Writing "fan fiction" featuring characters and settings from his works?

- Going to special conventions for Philip K. Dick fans?

- Camping in ticket lines for NEXT (another movie based on Dick's stories)?

- Start believing that the author's stories are reality?

Naah! Why bother? What was it Chuck Palahniuk wrote in FIGHT CLUB?

"You are not your job. You are not how much you have in the bank. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your khakis."

It happens that people use their favorite books (such as a "holy book", or The Lord Of The Rings, or Ender's Game) to support their sense of self at volatile, vulnerable times in their lives.

And as long as they don't get overly fanatical about it, I suppose it won't harm them. But: You are not your favorite book/TV show/movie series. You are not fantasy. You are not sci-fi. You are not romance. You are not detective fiction. You are not horror. You are not mainstream lit. (You are not Tyler Durden.) Read something different once in a while.

That goes for writers too. You are not your favorite writer. You are not a genre. (You are not Chuck Palahniuk.) Don't trap your creativity for the sake of a narrowly defined "writer identity."

Buying or reading my books to express your identity probably doesn't work very well.
(By the way, I look forward to whether J.K. Rowling will try and write something completely different after her "Harry Potter" novels. What will she think of next? Isn't it more fun when you don't know in advance?)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Dave Langford On "Thog's Masterclass"

British writer and humorist Dave Langford invented "Thog's Masterclass" as an ongoing showcase of (unintentionally) hilarious prose quotes from science fiction and fantasy books.

Normally a standing feature of Langford's SF newsletter/webzine ANSIBLE, "Thog's Masterclass " has also been presented in his SFX Magazine column, and as live presentations at several SF/Fantasy conventions.

This page contains a text transcript of the live presentation of Thog's Masterclass
.

The fascinating thing about these snippets of comically inept fiction-writing is that they are lifted from printed novels released by major publishers, even written by world-famous authors. As Langford puts it, "Every author, even Terry Pratchett, gives hostages to Thog."

No Big Name is spared in quotes such as these:
-----------------------------------
- Robert Heinlein sensitively describes a kiss from the female viewpoint in The Number of the Beast: 'Our teeth grated, and my nipples went spung!'

- Isaac Asimov in 'Satisfaction Guaranteed': 'She looked away, then let him slide gently into the corner of her eye.'

- Brian Aldiss demonstrates his knowledge of arcane geography in Remembrance Day: 'She wore large bronze earrings made in an obscure country which rattled when she laughed.'
-----------------------------------

Is there a lesson to be learned here? Well, apart from Nobody's Perfect So Get Over It, I'm not sure... ;)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Marshall McLuhan's "The Medium Is the Massage" (YouTube)

In order to understand (or meditate on) how writing (and other technology) affects our thinking, you MUST hear Marshall McLuhan's "The Medium Is the Massage" (YouTube):

The Medium Is the Massage, Part 1.1.
Part 1.2.
Part 1.3.
Part 2.1.
Part 2.2.
Part 2.3.

Choice quote:
"The artist: the Enema of Society."

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Ny Skräck På Svenska: Antologin SCHAKT 004

Min novell "The Man Who Fell Out" kommer ut på svenska i antologin SCHAKT 004: KRÄLANDE CTHULHU och andra bedrägliga blindskär.





FÖRHANDSBESTÄLL SCHAKT 004 SENAST 31 MARS!

Det kommer inte att tryckas några ytterligare exemplar av Schakt så enda möjligheten att köpa är att abonnera, förhandsbeställa eller att köpa lösnummer hos SF-Bokhandeln.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Graham Sleight On Alfred Bester's Two Classic Novels

In LOCUS Magazine, Graham Sleight discusses Alfred Bester's two landmark novels THE DEMOLISHED MAN and THE STARS MY DESTINATION, their content, and their impact on the science fiction field:

Yesterday's Tomorrows: Alfred Bester

Required reading! (I still count those two novels among my SF favorites.)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Traducción al español: "CONVERSACIONES TELEFÓNICAS"

The Argentinian webzine AXXON has published a Spanish translation of my satirical short "Telephone Conversations."
This means "Telephone Conversations" has now appeared in English, Swedish, Chinese and Spanish -- my most translated story so far. Genial!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Dumskalle!

Den nya svenska bloggen Sajberspejs har publicerat min (mycket) korta novell "Dumskalle!"

TRANSLATION: Hurdi gurdi murdi Cyberspace Hardi murdi gurdi sturdi "Dummkopf!"

James Nicoll: "Readers are not owed anything by the writer"

When you're blogging, the comments to a post are what make it interesting.

Such as this blogpost by author James Nicoll: "What Readers Are Not Owed By Writers".

Now, Nicoll is expressing frustration with how the writer-reader relationship can go sour, when a reader becomes increasingly demanding.

Do I expect readers to treat me with awe, to scrape and bow before me and offer nothing but praise? Nah. It'd get boring. All I ask for is the Golden Rule: Treat me as you would like me to treat you.

But it seems people get confused about the author-reader relationship. It is not as simplistic as this:

Author=Producer
Reader=Customer

But then again, it's not really like this either:

Author=The Waiter
Reader=The Customer (Is Always Right)

Or like this:

Author=Soul Mate
Reader=Soul Mate

Some (deluded) persons see it like this:

Author=Evil Overlord Oppressor Who Claims "Copyright" Of Characters & Story
Reader=Loving Fan Who Writes Erotic Fanfiction With Author's Characters, And What's Wrong With That?

Or like this:

Author=God-Like Creator Of Immortal Art
Reader=Author's Slave

Not to sound overly cynical, but apparently nothing sours the author-reader relation like success. The more books a writer sells, the more readers start to think the author "owes" them something or other.

Alix Amnamáre puts it this way:

"I think all this can be boiled down to one thing: readers are not owed the fulfillment of their expectations. That is, readers can expect whatever they want, but if those expectations are not fulfilled, they cannot place the blame on the writer."

Author S.L. Viehl weighs in; much commentry ensues.

(See also my post on how critics expect things and get disappointed when expectations are not met.)



Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Robert Silverberg's "When We Went To See The End Of The World" (Podcast)

A treat: an audio reading of Robert Silverberg's short story "When We Went To See The End Of The World" (Note: large MP3 file).

Other such sci-fi podcasts are available at escapepod.org

Monday, January 01, 2007

Short Story "Nobo" In SURPRISING STORIES

My short story "Nobo" has been published in the webzine SURPRISING STORIES.

"Nobo" is both a satire of today's modern world, and speculation about a possible near future. Its ending will not come as a surprise... but the ending alone is not the point of the story.

When you write short fiction, the important thing about the ending is not that it's "shocking", but that it makes sense: everything in the story builds up to the ending and connects to it.

(If only the ending mattered, why not write only the ending and skip the story? ;-))