Tag Archives: literature

The flavours of science in science fiction

Regular readers (especially those from the Genre-fictional League of Critical Motherfuckers) will be aware that I loves me a good taxonomy.

And what do you know, here’s one now: a chap called Eric Van (who I’m not sure I know) has categorised the flavours of science in science fiction [via Niall Longshanks Harrison]. The list was originally developed to comment on sf cinema, but Van suggests it’s easily adapted to use with the written form; I am very much inclined to agree.

Of special note for its concise definition of a very slippery concept:

Bad Science. An attempt is made at one of the above categories, and although the science isn’t demonstrably Wrong, it still doesn’t work for you; it takes you out of the story and makes you wince at its stupidity. That’s Bad Science. Whether Speculative Science strikes you as Bad usually depends on your scientific knowledge. With the other varieties, Bad Science seems ultimately a matter of taste. That the alien mothership in Independence Day apparently runs the Mac OS is Fake Science, but for many it’s Bad Fake Science. Botching the hand-waving explanation is a classic form of Bad Science; The Force in the original Star Wars trilogy was (like almost all psi powers in sf) simply Magic Science, but the introduction of midichlorians in the prequel trilogy struck many as a turn to the Bad Side, in that the explanation added nothing. In fact, a good criterion for identifying Bad Science is that fixing it would improve the story—if Jeff Goldblum’s character had to struggle to interface with the alien OS, that could have been exciting and funny and needn’t have taken more than twenty seconds of screen time.

This, incidentally, is the one you always see from writers who thought they’d take a crack at writing sf without knowing anything of the genre beyond the mainstream cinema and televisual canon. As a result, it’s almost impossible to explain to them why it doesn’t work.

Distinguishing the good from the great

The Guardian‘s Jonathan Jones on why the creative world needs critics more than ever before:

It is the job of a critic to reject the relativism and pluralism of modern life. All the time, from a million sources, we are bombarded with cultural information. A new film or the music of the moment can enter our minds regardless of quality and regardless of our interest. In fact, in this age of overload, indifference is the most likely effect of so many competing images. If we do make an aesthetic choice it is likely to be a consumerist one, a passing taste to be forgotten and replaced in a moment.


Real criticism is not about distinguishing good from bad; it is about distinguishing good from great. There’s plenty of terrible art around, but it usually finds its level in the end. The curse of our time, in the arts, is mediocrity and ordinariness: the quite good film that gets an Oscar, the OK artist who becomes a megastar. Truly remarkable art is rare and to see it when it comes, to fight for it, to hold it up as an example for the rest — that is the critic’s true task.

Not sure I agree with him entirely (I’m not letting go of pluralism just yet, because I see it as less of a creed and more of a phenomenological map of the human cultural consensus, if that makes any sense), but I like the general shape of his argument. What about you?

Demonization – two different ones

Some RSS feed synchronicity for you; juxtapositions and contrasts FTW.

First, Seth Godin on transparency:

The closer you get to someone, something, some brand, some organization… the harder it is to demonize it, objectify it or hate it.

So, if you want to not be hated, open up. Let people in. Engage. Interact.

Yes. That goes way beyond marketing.

Now, from the other side, demonization in action – a critical ZING from M John Harrison on urban fantasy:

A normative manouevre, defining a “good” dysfunctionality (he’s an anorexic self-harming killer elf but he’s our anorexic self-harming killer elf), urban fantasy was often described as having an edge. As a result, by the late 80s, “edgy” had become the publishing synonym for “young adult”. Later, even in publishing, it came to have the same meaning as “bland”.

Poor Anita Blake.


Elsewhere, and certainly not an instance of demonization, is my review of David Marusek‘s second novel, Mind Over Ship, published at Strange Horizons yesterday. Short version – if you like the heavyweight idea-crammed sf mode, you need to read Marusek now.

Scene, but not herd

Jay Lake on the future of written science fiction:

Given that our field has always defined itself, and even prided itself, on outsider status, the mainstreaming of our concerns has pushed us toward specialization as a way of defending our specialness.

Is this a good thing? Probably not, but I’m not convinced it’s bad either. Literature is like rock and roll…new movements come along, but the old ones never die.

I’m sure someone else said something like that once. 😉

Friday Photo Blogging: 42 days?

Slippery Slope

No, Mr Brown. You are a weasel, a fearmonger, a small man in a big man’s expensive suit, and – like your predecessor, and many others – a panderer to corporate interests and waning governments with imperial ambitions which mirror that collapsed edifice which Daily Mail readers still feel should stretch around the globe by dint of nothing more than divine grace, stiff upper lips and unbridled paranoid bigotry based in a fundamental fear of otherness.

No one in the world ever has nor ever will do as much to curtail the freedoms I was fortunate enough to born with, Mr Brown, as you and others of your ilk. You wield fear like a whip, but you turn it on those you claim you are elected to serve.

What have you ever suffered or lost through the choices made by others on your behalf, Mr Brown? What have you given up to defend what you believe? What do you really know of fear, beyond the thought of losing the privilege you have amassed? Evidently not enough; as it has always been, the people will reap what the suits have sown. I hope that one day we will all turn around and feed it to you until you choke.

“Whoever lays his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and a tyrant and I declare him my enemy.” – Proudhon

We now return you to what passes for regular programming on this channel.

Writing about music

Another slowish week, but that’s not at all unwelcome. Festival season means the PRs are all tied up promoting things I’m not yet a big enough wheel to be of assistance with*. I can deal with that.

Album of the week

Not a great deal to choose from, really, so The Offspring take the crown easily with their eighth album Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace.

Writing about books

The Love & Sex With Robots piece is all but finished; last few paragraphs and a brisk polish, and that badboy should be ready to roll out of the warehouse, so to speak.

I’m about a fifth of the way into Schmidt’s The Coming Convergence; it should be a swift read, because I seem to be a lot more technoliterate than the reader it is designed for (so I can skip a lot of the passages telling me stuff I already know).


The new Futurismic bloggers are settling in nicely, and by the end of this evening I should have fixed over 380 dead incoming links that got broken when the old Moveable Type installation collapsed on us – which I hope will boost our PageRank and SERPS somewhat, and bring with it a boost in passing traffic.

The other good news is it seems the Project Wonderful ad slots are starting to mature nicely, in that advertisers are recognising their worth and bidding competitively on them. I’m hoping for more growth in this area over the next six months – especially if the dead link fixin’ mentioned above has some effect.


The tweaking of websites and the publicising of publishers continues at a steady pace; nothing substantial to show off yet, but there’ll be solid results by the close of business this month.

Books and magazines seen

Farah Mendlesohn - Rhetorics Of FantasyIt’s a lit-crit double whammy this week!

First off we have my long-awaited copy of Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics Of Fantasy – courtesy the author herself at last weekend’s AGM meet-up – which I have been looking forward to reading since hearing the framework of its taxonomy explained by Brian Stableford at last year’s Masterclass – bloody hell, a year ago.

Secondly I have my second review job for Foundation, namely The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (eds. Laurence Davis and Peter Stillman) – which, as far as Amazon is concerned, has been out in the States since 2005. So either it’s getting a relaunch on this side of the pond, or Foundation‘s reviews department makes me look like a paragon of organisation and productivity**.

The Utopian Politics of Ursula Le Guin's The DispossessedI couldn’t resist it, basically, though I wonder if maybe I haven’t bitten off a little more than I can chew – I’m even less qualified to talk politics than I am lit-crit***.

But Ms Le Guin’s blurb praises the book as not just a good and valuable examination of her famous novel, but refreshingly jargon-free, so maybe I’ll be OK. One thing’s for sure, there’s gonna be plenty of food for thought in there.

Aside from those two heavy-hitters, some fantasy titles from Orbit are all for which we have to thank the deities of the postbox this week.


So, on the surface of it – and by any metric of meaningful use beyond the confines of my own emotional landscape – it’s been a pretty good week, if not as productive as I’d have liked.

However, things haven’t been entirely peachy; I shan’t go into details (because this isn’t LJ or MySpace) but I’ve been an emotional wreck for no clearly discernible reason, and have consequently been shitty to people who didn’t deserve it – so there’s a nice nugget of guilt for me to chew over the weekend. Mmm, tasty guilt.

Couple that with a growing panic about next weekend’s impending Masterclass (for which I’ve still yet to read anything from the reading list that I hadn’t read before receiving it), and a certain degree of riding herd on my new bloggers at Futurismic****, and it’s obvious with hindsight why I’ve been sleeping badly and unable to concentrate on anything. Hence nearly being assassinated by a blind taxi driver while cycling to the day job this morning tipped me into a state verging on hysteria.

Thankfully my line manager is a good person, and listened to me gibber for a bit before recommending I use some of my vast backlog of annual leave allowance and take some extra time off next week. End result: I’m working a two day week from Monday, giving me two clear days to attack the Masterclass material while clearing down all my other work; then I return to work the following Tuesday. Signing the leave sheet was such a tension-release that I almost wept. I suspect I’ve been letting things get on top of me a little.

But hey, it’s the weekend! And there are few ills that The Friday Curry doesn’t at least provide the illusion of healing. After which I may go and listen to hideously loud rock music in a side-street pub, if I haven’t already fallen asleep. Enjoy your weekends, folks – hasta luego.

[ * Read as – no free festival passes for me this year. Meh. ]

[ ** Under-qualified like a toddler with dentist’s tools, then. ]

[ *** Only kidding, Andy. 🙂 ]

[ **** No discredit to them, by the way, they’re doing great; it’s just one of those jobs that eats waaaay more time than you ever expect it to before you start. ]