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!


Geoff Ryman on the origins of Mundane SF

Paul Raven @ 30-10-2008

Geoff Ryman and MonQeeThe charming, modest and erudite Geoff Ryman – author of Air, The Child Garden and more, plus the progenitor of the still-divisive Mundane SF manifesto – gets his turn in the interview hotseat over at the Nebula Awards website. Here he is explaining what inspired that controversial manifesto:

In 2002 Clarion I saw that a whole kind of SF writer, those whose work was based on science, were increasingly outside the SF and fantasy culture.  I wanted to help get them published and I very suddenly found myself writing The Mundane Manifesto, based on some of the things the guys (and they were guys) had said.  Both about old tropes driving out the new, and also an avoidance of the coming crunch in terms of oil, global warming, overpopulation, and development economics.

Some interesting stuff there, including an admission that Ryman himself may not have been the ideal figurehead for the subgenre. Go read. [photo by Danacea]


Reassessing the mundane – James Patrick Kelly on Mundane SF

Paul Raven @ 31-01-2008

Think what you will about literary manifestos, there’s no denying that the Mundane SF movement provoked a reaction among the sf community.

The original Mundane Manifesto, written by Geoff Ryman, has been lost to the digital abyss of the interwebs, but many others have built on his initial ideas, and the Mundane SF blog keeps up a regular barrage of thought-provoking posts designed to make the reader reassess the purpose of science fiction writing.

Over at Asimov’s, James Patrick Kelly takes a look at the thus-far short history of the sub-genre, and concludes:

“… I have written some stories that fit the MundaneSF prescription and some that do not. I find myself in sympathy with their arguments when I recall my intentions as I wrote those particular stories that pass their test. It is difficult to write about futures that could actually come to pass, and not only are most of the tropes they decry unlikely, but some are in dire need of an aesthetic makeover. And yet, since so many of my best known—and favorite—stories are clearly not Mundane, I can’t in conscience declare myself for the movement.

But I am listening to what they say.”

Futurismic, by definition, has a certain sympathy with the thinking of the Mundanistas – as do I on a personal level. But I still love wide-screen space operas and well-written far-future interplanetary stories – sub-genres that the Mundane movement would see relegated to the status of pulpish wish-fulfillment and fantasy.

As Futurismic readers, I assume you all enjoy reading stories that fit the Mundane template. But do you agree that those which don’t fir the template are failing to use the full potential of science fiction as a vehicle for ideas? Should fiction have any purpose beyond entertainment?


Playing games with time

Paul Raven @ 12-12-2007

Timewarp Time has a strange attraction for many people – it’s the one dimension that we can perceive but can’t control. But we can hack at the edges of it, like the Time Nuts: a 400-strong geek clade who collect high-precision atomic time-pieces. If you find you never have enough time to spend with your family, you may want to look into their methods – it’ll help you scrape up a few precious extra nanoseconds. [Awesome ‘shopped image by fdecomite]

Other people are trying to map time, instead – MetaFilter points out Miomi, a web2.0 startup with the tagline “user generated history” that aims to round up all the information in the world and assemble it into one coherent browsable time-line. Insert your own joke about conspiracy theorists and alternate history writers here.

On the subject of writers and time, the relentlessly provocative and controversial Mundane SF blog reminds us of DeSmogBlog’s “100 Year Letter” project, and decries the fact that science fiction writers seem to have taken no interest in it at all. Of course, they may simply not have know about it – this is the first I’ve heard of it, at least – but the Mundanistas lay a much weightier charge:

“… here, in 2007, the Science Fiction community has abandoned the future; or the future has abandoned it and gone on its merry way, following the laws of physics and thermodynamics with absolutely no consideration for our fantastic dreams. What a shame.”

What do you think – is it science fiction’s duty to deal with contemporary issues, or is it just for escapist purposes?

[tags]time, clocks, history, mundane, science fiction[/tags]

Christopher East – Defining Futurismic Fiction

Christopher East @ 30-11-2004

Christopher East lays out what Futurismic fiction is all about in his new column.
Continue reading “Christopher East – Defining Futurismic Fiction”