A Different Kind of Science Fiction

James Boone Dryden @ 07-07-2008

Syringe and ampoulesAs science fiction writers and readers, we tend to think a lot in technologies, and medical advancements, and visitors from other worlds. But there is a vast array of science fiction that surrounds us that I believe a lot of writers have left untouched for a long time: social sciences. Dystopian fiction was popular in the 60s and 70s with the Cold War in full swing, and the obvious excesses of a corrupt government were evident (not that they’re any less so now). Now, people are fascinated with cyber technology and nanobots and all sorts of other modern marvels, and the way of the Dystopian (or the anti-Utopian) writer have fallen a bit by the wayside. [Picture courtesy of happysnappr].

African childWhat do science fiction writers think of global conflict? What happens when the world falls into chaos after environmental collapse? Where will the world be if we eradicate ourselves with biological warfare? There’s no grand technological breakthrough that lies at the heart of these types of stories. No, there stories that have been told many times, but they’re present, and they’re modern, and they’re pertinent: they are human, and that is what makes them so profound. Socially conscious writing is important, in my opinion, because it begins to bring back to science fiction what it began as: a way of questioning that which is potentially dangerous. [Photo courtesy of hdptcar].

Man is the greatest weapon the Earth has ever seen, and we work daily to destroy it. Unlike Mundane-SF (and the near-fanatical movement that surrounds it), traditional, socially conscious science fiction ought to teach the reader something; it ought to make them walk away with some new insight not only into the mind of the writer but also into the way in which the world around them operates. And while any good writer makes tech-driven science fiction a commentary about the world around us, those works written with the thought in mind of being there to teach, in addition to being entertaining, makes for great works that bridge the gap between the great literary canon and the small guys of science fiction.

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8 Responses to “A Different Kind of Science Fiction”

  1. Paul Raven says:

    Some interesting thoughts, Boone – though I think labelling the entire Mundane SF movement as near-fanatical is a projection of general opinion onto the people involved. There are a few chest-thumpers, sure, but they’re the minority, and Geoff Ryman himself is about as far from fanatical as you could get. And I’d also argue (as would Geoff) that Mundane SF is just as capable of giving insight into the world around us, if not more so. :)

  2. Jo Thomas says:

    It can also be difficult getting ‘social science’-type works accepted as science fiction. For instance, I put a story through critters that is set ‘near-futur’ and is essentially based about law changes. A number of the people who critiqued it said that they didn’t beleive it was science fiction. I can see their point but would also argue that that sort of social what-if wouldn’t fit into literary or main-stream context, either.

  3. JB Dryden says:

    Paul, I have no doubt that there are sane Mundanistas, but until I am approached in a civil manner by one, then I will continue with my bias :) At it’s core, the Mundane movement has good intentions, but its executioners are exactly that: they have a way of confronting other science fiction authors in a way that doesn’t lead to discussion, it leads to name-calling and flame wars. I think that there are a number of their members who believe that their brand of science fiction is intrinsically more pertinent or more important simply by default of their own personal credos.

    Science Fiction is so vast and wonderful that it’s sad to see so much of it wasted at times for fear of saying something out of line. I see a lot of authors who are timid about social sciences because so much of it surrounds political strife, religious wars, and moral debates. People don’t want to offend anyone because they don’t want to get exiled for having an opinion. So they go the safe route.

    But I think everyone has the potential to bring insight into the world, because everyone sees the world differently.

  4. B.Dewhirst says:

    … Apparently you’ve never heard of Ken MacLeod…

  5. Dave says:

    I think “mundane” is a bad epithet for a literary movement (I guess it must have been chosen for shock value — ironic, right?). Even fiction that is approximately about the present, real world does not want to be mundane.

    The wikipedia entry gives some (pretty reasonable-sounding) goals and principles for the Mundane movement. These of course describe much SF that was written before the rubric of Mundane SF was conceived. But when I think of a book like Red Mars — which complies with all the Mundane principles as described on Wikipedia — “mundane” is the last word that comes to my mind.

    “Mundane” is a near-synonym for “boring.” I don’t want that. Even if I’m reading realistic that’s near here in space and time, I want it to feel special. Duh!

  6. JB Dryden says:

    To B Dewhirst: I have heard of him, but I’m not sure what you’re referring to with his name. I wasn’t saying there aren’t writers like him; I was saying that there ought to be more like him.

  7. Tom Marcinko says:

    …traditional, socially conscious science fiction ought to teach the reader something; it ought to make them walk away with some new insight not only into the mind of the writer but also into the way in which the world around them operates.

    I don’t disagree, but you seem to be talking about a very traditional kind of sf, the post-Campbell Galaxy or F&SF kind of story like The Space Merchants, or 334 by the late (alas) Thomas M. Disch. You could almost sell those as mainstream novels today. Maybe we should, though they usually don’t get credit for being sf.

  8. B.Dewhirst says:

    My point wasn’t that there was a single example, but rather that… they all happen to live in Europe.

    I think there are more than you think, in other words.

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