The flipside of postnationalism

Paul Raven @ 14-03-2011

Tim Maly has an interesting (and enviable) response to being insanely busy with non-blog stuff, in that he ends up posting more material than usual. (I know, right?) Granted they’re small idea-sketches and think-nuggets, but given that Maly can fit ten times the erudition into a few hundred words than I can squeeze into a whole week, well, I’m not complaining. Anyways, here he is thinking about the fluidity of city boundaries and identity:

The interesting thing about cities (not city-states) is that while they are clearly entities, they do not have borders. They bleed and blur around the edges. It’s very easy to come and go. It’s very easy to move there or to move away. In a political context where every now and then people like to trumpet post-national politics with a rise in urban power to match the drop in state power, this is very interesting. Once you have crossed the borders of the state (the ones that aren’t police states) you get free reign to come and go as you please from place to place; something that can have wonderful or disastrous consequences for the health of an urban environment and the people left behind.

[…]

In some ways this opens up a lot of exciting possibilities but in other ways it weakens civic engagement. Sometimes reforms are necessary and painful. A lot of the problems we’re facing are at a scale that’s larger than the city, but that if cities are the new seats of power that we must deal with tools at city-scale. If your opposition to a policy means you just move a county over to avoid it, policies are harder to enact. If you don’t want to pay taxes, you move to a bedroom community and rob the the infrastructure of life-giving dollars. But the problems don’t happen county by county. They happen all over.

This seems to me to be another failure of the nation-state model: circumstances vary too widely and too quickly for a centralised governance system to cope, and the variation is getting stronger and faster. I have a tendency to cheer-lead the decay of the nation-state (oh, really, you’d noticed?), but this is the dark underside of that process – there’s still a lot of issues that need sorting on a regional or global scale, and a general narrowing of focus to local issues will leave those problems out in the cold. And given the number – and weight! – of those problems, ignoring them even temporarily is not a very good idea.


Chris Beckett: sf is not a genre, it’s a toolkit

Paul Raven @ 26-04-2010

British sf author Chris Beckett has been browsing through the BSFA survey book, and decided to respond to some of Charlie Stross’ comments contained therein regarding science fiction’s longevity and mutation:

I agree with [Stross] that it would indeed be ‘the trump of death’ to try and endlessly recreate the science fiction of a previous generation.  But I increasingly think that it is mistaken to think of science fiction as ‘a genre’ or ‘an art form’ (singular).   Think of  Orwell’s 1984, Ballard’s  Terminal Beach, a Star Wars movie,  Dan Dare, Tarkovsky’s Stalker, District 9…   Are they really all the same genre?  Hardly. But they are all science fiction as I would define it.

Rather than think of SF as a genre, perhaps we should think of it as a resource which can be used for many different purposes, as a pack of playing cards can be used for games from Bridge, to Poker, to Canasta to Snap and Old Maid.  SF’s continuing value as a means of telling stories and exploring ideas is illustrated by the frequency with which authors who don’t think of themselves as SF writers nevertheless make use of it (Orwell is a case in point, but see also Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, P.D. James, Doris Lessing etc etc.)

Stross is rather sniffy about this sort of thing.  He speaks of SF being ‘colonized by backpackers from the literary faculty, who appropriate the contents of the [SF] toy chest’.   But surely it is precisely the concern to cling onto our toys, to be pure,  to discourage miscegenation, which lead to the kind of death by staleness and repetition that he himself warns about?

Another iteration of a long-running (and probably interminable) debate, for sure… but I was intrigued by its serendipitous chiming with Tom Hunter’s comments about literary outliers in the Clarke Award shortlist earlier today:

I’ve always been drawn to the idea of there being a toolkit for science fiction rather than a manual, but even more than this I’m drawn to the idea that, these days, the science fictional element is simply part of a much larger toolkit for the work of making art and unpacking meaning from our world.

Perhaps I’m being a bit disingenuous, because both Chris and Tom are talking in parallel with my own theory that science fiction is a floating-point variable rather than a binary.

But what about you lot – do you think there is a distinct genre that can be labelled as science fiction, and if so, where (or how) do you draw the boundaries? Can leakage across those boundaries be prevented, and if so, is such prevention an admirable goal?

[ In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that Chris Beckett is a client of mine, not to mention a jolly decent chap. ]


NEW FICTION: FLUIDITY by Eric Del Carlo

Paul Raven @ 01-10-2009

One of my hardest jobs as editor here at Futurismic is trying to write the introductions to our new fiction pieces that actually do them justice. This month, I’m not even going to try – all I’ll say is that Eric Del Carlo‘s “Fluidity” totally blew me away when Chris sent it over for me to look at, and that I’ve not read such a strong yet sensitive treatment of gender politics in science fiction for some time. See for yourself.

Fluidity

by Eric Del Carlo

Some prim Prior in Xen’s childhood had made a pulpit-pounding fact of this statement:  “To interrupt one’s Cycling is to throw oneself off a cliff!”  So often and with such spittle-spraying vehemence was this preached that it had locked in Xen’s mind.

And so when he pulled the braided sash and his burgundy robe heaped the ground around his bare ankles, he stepped forward over the ice plants with that Prior’s fervor guiding, not warning, him.  The ocean’s salt-tart wind handled his slim naked body carelessly as he came to edge of the bluff.  Cascades of ice plants turned to dark rock below, then colorful sand.  Xen paused to touch his exterior genitals.  It was a wistful gesture.

Off a cliff…

He went, making instruction of that long-ago thunderous remonstrance.  When he struck the dark rocks, he crushed numerous bones; when he bounced and tumbled out onto the beach itself, he lived only long enough for a group of startled concerned bathers to huddle over him. Continue reading “NEW FICTION: FLUIDITY by Eric Del Carlo”


Navigating the Metaverse

Mac Tonnies @ 14-08-2008

Mac Tonnies - Loving the AlienIf you were wondering why Mac Tonnies’ latest Loving The Alien column is a little late, here’s the answer — it turns out he’s been lurking in Second Life. What might the fluid nature of identity in the metaverse mean for our posthuman successors? Continue reading “Navigating the Metaverse”