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?

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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