(Thanks for the alert, Bill S.)
Science Fiction, Science, Politics, Economics, Art and Bird Watching
Patrick has been reading articles and letters in The Guardian about Ascot. I got curious and looked at some of the hats. They are quite amazing and (I thought) quite awful. I then looked at Kentucky Derby hats -- also quite awful, but not in the same class. That led to the website of noted British milliner Philip Treacy. The best of his hats (I looked at a bunch) look like abstract sculture. I'm not sure they work atop human heads, but they'd look fine if you made them ten feet tall and hung them from a museum ceiling. My personal favoritie might be a row of brillo boxes that rise like a plume from the head. Treacy is a Warhol fan.A friend mentioned the Oscar dress made of credit cards, which I had missed. I found it, thanks to a good search engine, and it's quite wonderful, made of linked gold American Express cards. Completely memorable. Not boring. So that is two dresses out of many that I will remember.
I decided the equivalent fashion event in the US is the Oscars, so I went and looked at Oscar dresses. They are not close to the Ascot hats, though I do have fond memories of Bjork's dead swan Oscar dress.
The thing I was struck by after looking at a bunch of Oscar dresses is how unmemorable -- and boring - almost all are. They also look uncomfortable and unmanageable. Why the heck does anyone want to drag a train around? All that work for something that is boring. The dead swan dress was not boring.
I read the Margaret Atwood essay on Bradbury in The Guardian. As usual, Atwood cannot deal with science fiction. I was reading Bradbury in the 1950s, along with all the science fiction and fantasy I could get my hands on. It was pretty clear to me he fit within the category. I will defer to my kid self, rather than Atwood, who has some terrible issue with SF.Josh Lukin commented that Delany is going to be publishing an essay arguing that it's useful to read Jane Austen as science fiction. I replied:
I knew she could not write an essay about Bradbury unless she tippytoed around the fact that he is pretty clearly an SF writer.
This gets back to what I was thinking about a few days ago: the shape of current science fiction and fantasy. I would agree that it's a lot different than it used to be, due to importance of media SF in popular culture, and the number of writers who operate back and forth across the border of SF. Atwood's squid in space definition didn't work back in the 1950s, when F&SF and Galaxy published a lot of fiction that had neither squid nor space. She is really out of touch now, when SF images and ideas have flooded world culture and influenced many writers (including her) who do not see themselves as genre.
I happen to like the SF category. I have an absolute rule: if I wrote it, it's science fiction. Always. Even if it's fantasy, alternate history, fable, folk tale, a retelling of a saga incident... Arnason=science fiction. Unless the Arnason in question is not me.
I tend to think SF stands for speculative fiction as well as science fiction and includes fantasy, horror, alternate history and so on. So I use the initials -- pronounced ess eff -- for either or both.
Science fiction a way of life for me. I grew up reading it in the 1950s; it was the only kind of fiction that made sense of the Cold War and McCarthyism. I read other things -- a lot of poetry, since the house was full of it, the plays of Shaw... But in general I am poorly read in mainstream/mundane/literary fiction -- except for writers who write some kind of fantasy. Moby Dick is science fiction. Dickens' metaphors and exaggerations put him in fantasy. (His people turn into buildings or machines. His buildings turn into people. He has a dinosaur crawling up a muddy London street at the start of Bleak House.) Jane Eyre has supernatural elements -- and is damn strange to boot. Jane Austen, alas, is not fantastic in anyway -- except for writing romances with happy endings.
I love the idea of reading Austen as science fiction. It almost makes sense to me. I loved her novels and the plays of Shaw as a kid. They were similar in the play of ideas. I've always thought of SF as bright and flat. I think what I'm responding to is the ideas and the exaggeration. I love a fiction that slaps a concept down, dressed in a superhero costume. You want truth and justice? Here!
There are -- most likely -- career reasons for getting out of science fiction. Vonnegut started in SF and got out. I read somewhere that this was his publisher's decision and Vonnegut didn't care either way. I guess is Gibson is out now, because he writes very near future or present. I haven't been able to read Letham, so have no opinion of him.
My identifying with SF is partly loyalty. The field has helped keep me sane in a fairly awful world.
I also suspect, though I am not sure, that something happened to high art in the 1960s. I can remember my father saying, "I know there is good art out there somewhere, but I can't find it." In visual arts, the problem was probably the creation of a huge market for contemporary art. To make the money, you have to create something that rich people like; and -- as my father told me another time -- "the bourgeoisie have terrible taste."
Did something comparable happen to literature? It has a different funding stream, though it certainly helps if you write something that does not offend those in control of universities and publishing houses.
I guess in the end I like SF because it does offend. It may be a pillar of Hollywood, but it isn't a pillar of respectable capitalism.
I'm trying to sort through actually existing SF. There is vast amounts of fantasy, much of it generic. There is military SF. New Weird. New Space Opera. Slipstream. Feminist SF. Lots of vampires and zombies, way too many of both, though I suppose they represent late stage capitalism... Romantic SF and fantasy. Noir fantasy.Other people added Urban Fantasy, Steampunk, Heroic or Epic fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, Hard SF.
What I'm calling Romantic SF slips between romance and fantasy. Noir fantasy slips between fantasy and noir detective fiction, I think. I wonder if the best way to think of all this is as a braided river, streams running side by side, then joining, then dividing. I forgot alternative history, which slips between historical fiction and SF or fantasy. Classic slipstream (of course) slips between SF and literary fiction, whatever that may be. I wonder if the New Wave led to slipstream. It doesn't seem likely. New Wave was edgy and closer to Pop Art than to literary fiction.
The writers of the 40s and 50s, the people I grew up reading, shifted among many kinds of SF. But I don't remember having the sense of separate streams...
After A Political Setback
The thing to do
is take a hot shower,
put on a fancy necklace
and amethyst earrings,
smile at the mirror and say:
Those I love remain.
the workers and farmers remain.
Those who fight remain,
those who lose
as well as those who win.”
We need more flashmobs, more demonstrations, more Occupys...
More self-organized, nonviolent, fun things happening in public places...
More public places...
I am thinking about two topics right now. (Actually, I am avoiding getting dressed and going to the library, but that will happen soon.) One is, what's happening to publishing?
The other is, what's happening to science fiction? I'm not sure I understand SF these days.
I saw a collection of Sheckley short stories and Ubik in the new SF books section of Barnes and Noble and had an attack of nostalgia. I almost bought the books, because I knew they would be good, and I'd understand and like them.
Venus transit this evening. I did the last solar eclipse with paper and a pinhole. If Patrick has a tripod, I may try binoculars this time. The afternoon sun shines into our living room, so if there aren't a lot of clouds, we should have a good view.