Words o’ knowin’

There are two things I’d love to share with the world this week. Alas, they are also the two things I must not, because they haven’t yet been confirmed.

Hmm. Perhaps I can offer a hint or two. The first is a possible review (positive; I’ve had a sneak at the draft) in a large-circulation glossy sciffy magazine. The second offers an opportunity to be published as a ‘new voice’ (despite last night’s drinking)

Anywho, this promises to be a busy weekend. I’ve got AllExperts grammar work to do, plus stuff goyn on over at SOSIG to which I must attend. Not to mention a slew (they always come in slews; don’t ask me why) of Open University assignments for to mark.

Today’s niggle:

I read a piece in the Guardian Review today that described the science fiction component of David Mitchell‘s superb Cloud Atlas as, quote

[what] you might call…science-fiction, but his most influential model is something much older.

Reading between the lines (that is, I note that this piece is not condemning the genre, but takes the perspective of an historical analysis of ‘ungrammatical voices’), why do people hesitate to apply the term ‘science fiction’ to something they like? Here’s a better example, from David Langford’s Ansible:

Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate, made a traditional Nice Distinction when defining `Landscapes of the Mind’ on BBC Radio 4’s A Map of British Poetry (6 Mar): `I don’t mean science fiction poems. I mean poems which establish a manifestly invented world in order to advance recognisable truths about human nature.’ Not like science fiction at all, then. [HS]

If it’s science fiction, call it that. I’ve heard the work of Verne, Wells and Wyndham described as ‘not really science fiction because it’s good’. Hello? Science fiction does not mean ray-guns and zero character development (though I don’t have too much of a problem when it does mean this, as long as the ideas themselves make good characters); it can mean anything within the realm of ‘What if?’ as far as I’m concerned. If you’re scratching your head, thinking, ‘Half a mo, doesn’t that describe all fiction?’ then I agree with you. It’s more grist to the mill: leave the genre labelling to bookshops, who are the only ones can usefully employ such categorisations as a way of channeling customers. This year I’ve been reading Faulkner, Tolstory, Grimwood, Ken MacLeod, Hemmingway, and McEwan. Do Grimwood and MacLeod stick out because they’re sciffy? Only in terms of what they want to do; but are good writers producing good books. If they’re representative of contemporary science fiction, I’m sure Mitchell would be proud to be counted among the number of science fiction authors. And why not?

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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