Space: awesome and inspiring, or an impossible dream?

Paul Raven @ 20-10-2009

Are science fiction authors are wasting their time writing about interplanetary travel, space colonisation and the spread of mankind across the universe, given everything science has taught us about the realities, possibilities and costs of doing so?

That question is the topic for a discussion panel at the Sci Fi London Oktoberfest this coming Friday, part of the London Planetarium’s celebration of International Year of Astronomy, and yours truly is appearing on said panel alongside Brit sf authors Paul McAuley, Jaine Fenn and Philip Palmer – if you’re in London on Friday, why not pop along? (There’s other stuff on besides the panel, including a screening of the new Star Trek movie, no less.)

Futurismic veterans will no doubt notice the echoes of the Mundane SF manifesto in the question… which probably explains my inclusion alongside three authors who very surely don’t believe they’re wasting their time writing science fiction set beyond the gravity well! It promises to be a lively discussion, even though I’ll be playing Devil’s advocate to some extent.

You see, Futurismic may be devoted specifically to near-future sf but – much as I have some sympathies with the Mundane Manifesto – I’d never go so far as to say that space-based sf is a waste of time. Space opera and hard sf (plus the Space Shuttle missions of my youth, and countless books on the early space programmes) were a huge influence on my thinking, and an inspiration for my opinions on the general awesomeness of the universe, not to mention the potential of humanity as a species. Hell, they still are – look at this:

The Keeler gaap in Saturn's A Ring

That’s a recently-received image from the Cassini probe showing the Keeler gap in Saturn’s A-ring; the ripples there are the result of the little embedded moon Daphnis churning up those layers of dust and rock as it passes through. Scenes like that can only be caught once every fifteen years or so, thanks to the right combinations of orbital position, light source angles and so on… and even then, you need to have a probe in place to take them. If you can look at that and not feel your heart thump from sheer sensawunda… well, you’re a tougher cookie than me, that’s for sure. [via MetaFilter; image courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute]

That said, we do have a lot of more immediate and pressing existential concerns facing us here on Mother Terra, and science fiction surely has a role to play in inspiring us to tackle them head on – which is one of the many reasons I consider myself a supporter of the Positive SF movement, too.

What do you people think – should science fiction keep its feet firmly on the ground, or should it have its head in the stars? If you’ve got some points you feel I should raise on Friday, drop ’em in the comments below!

Your humble editor on the Sofanauts podcast

Paul Raven @ 25-04-2009

Stuck for some science fiction related listening on this fine Saturday? Permit me to make a suggestion; the second installment of the Sofanauts podcast features a discussion between host Tony C Smith (creator of the StarShipSofa podcast); writer, web developer and good friend of Futurismic Jeremiah Tolbert; Pablo Defendini, head honcho and all-round multitasking maestro at… and yours truly.

Tony rolled us through the sf-nal news of the week – the passing of JG Ballard, the Save the Semiprozine Award campaign and the Nebula Awards – with plenty of excursions into related territories. You can hear us debate the decline of the short fiction magazines, the future of the printed word and the rise of the ebook, the writing of Neal Stephenson, Cory Doctorow and Ian McDonald, and a whole lot more. If you’ve got an hour and a half in which your ears will be unoccupied, take a listen.

A Bit of a Generation Gap

James Boone Dryden @ 14-11-2008

It’s NaNo time ago, and I’m almost half-way through. I’m on pace with my word count, and things are looking positive.

While on the forums, I came across a particularly interesting thread regarding steampunk – which is coincidental considering Paul’s most recent post. I came to realize that there is a significant difference in my particular mindset on the way in which genre works and the mindset of those who are writing what they deem to be genre. I don’t think it’s necessarily a difference of one’s definition of genre, but a difference in the generation gap that lies between us. To me, such things as steampunk, cyberpunk, and even space opera are things born out of ideology: there was a reactionary, responsive feel to the works that originated these particularly specific sub-genres of speculative fiction. All of that seems to be lost, and there are other who agree (read Jeff and Ann Vandermeer’s anthology Steampunk, which has a foreword by Jess Nevins).

Once you’ve been in the industry as a writer or editor for any length of time, you begin to understand that the industry is both fickle and evolving. Some of it is to preserve the species, and some of it is to appease the public. What I notice in the change of ideology, however, is that it isn’t so much about either of these things as it is a matter of how the writers themselves, begin to become removed of the ideology and more interested in the trappings and the appearance.

What, then, is the ideology of today? What is the theme, the motif, that runs through speculative fiction that very well could produce a new sub-genre in the vein of these greats? Is it New Weird in the style of China Meiville? Is it Mundane SF after Geoff Ryman’s vision? Or is there some beast yet to rise that we haven’t quite caught a glimpse of?

The Failure of Web 2.0 (with regards to science fiction)

Jonathan McCalmont @ 15-10-2008

This month in Blasphemous Geometries: has the ‘Web 2.0’ phenomenon been a boon to science fiction fandom?

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont

Or, asks Jonathan McCalmont, has it simply accentuated its slide from intelligent discussion into naked commercialism? And if so, how can we reverse the trend?

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