22JUL21 / accessions

To be written about for the BSFA Review, sent to Sweden with rather impressive haste by the publisher, MIT Press. (I hope they’re aware of the rather slow turn-over of reviews at the Review.) Wells is definitely a feature in the retrospective and historical sectors of the intellectual zeitgeist at present; the historical rhyming of the now with the interwar years of the c20th has much to do with that, I suspect, but so does the ongoing revival and rehabilitation (or recrudescence, depending on who you ask) of utopia. Wells could arguably stand as the gold standard (double meaning very much intended) of the technological utopian mode, and as such there’s no dodging the sprawling architecture of his thought if one intends to travel around in the utopian landscape. Adam Roberts’ recent literary biography of Wells—which I have read recently, though not yet written up for Vector—has been hugely useful in situating Wells’ thought in his life and in his times; the historical rhymes mentioned above are cautionary and worrying in that regard. Anyway, this should be an interesting review to write; the Chairman Bruce intro will doubtless provide some interesting insights and angles.

Some domestic notes for those curious about C19 vaccination side effects: six weeks ago, my first dose of the Pfizer didn’t make me feel sick, but did result in three days of only ever feeling half awake, followed by two more days during which my still-recovering ankle ached far worse than it had for some time—an effect I interpreted as my immune system devoting all its bandwidth to dealing with the vaccine, and leaving the ongoing muscular-skeletal work largely fallow while it did so. After yesterday’s second dose, I definitely wasn’t at optimal regarding my ability to think or read, but nowhere near so doped out as the first time; I didn’t experience the notorious overnight fever, either (though I had some unusually surreal dreams, the details of which vanished on waking, as they almost always do). The ankle aches this morning, but not ferociously, and mobility seems largely unimpaired. So it seems that, counter to the common wisdom, I felt a deal more impact from the _first_ jab rather than the second… though I suppose there’s still the possibility that it’ll sneak up on me slowly.

accuracy only happens by mistake

Aiming to reboot the blog-as-commonplace-book practice, here—a habit which hasn’t so much fallen away as become blocked, in that I keep storing up things to clip in my inbox, but never actually, y’know, clipping them. (Which is a little like continuing to buy cigarettes but not smoking them? Though if I put it that way, it sounds more virtuous than not.) This particular piece came to me via *checks notes* Sentiers, back in… May? So yeah, definite workflow issues on the blogging front. But I’ve been busy with the dayjob, so I’m not gonna beat myself up about it.

ANYWAY, here’s an interview with one Eliot Peper, sf author and consulting strategist type, of whom I must admit to having been heretofore completely unaware. But I like the cut of his jib, at least on the basis of this statement:

Current events are a painful reminder that unlike fiction, reality needn’t be plausible. The world is complex and even the wisest of us understand only a tiny sliver of what’s really going on. Nobody knows what comes next. So while it may feel like we’re living in a science fiction novel, that’s because we’ve always been living in a science fiction novel. Or maybe speculative fiction is more real than so-called realist fiction because the only certainty is that tomorrow will be different from today and from what we expect. Depicting a world without fundamental change has become fantastical.

As a writer of speculative fiction, I’m an enthusiastic reader of history. And in reading about the past to slake my curiosity and imagine possible futures, I’ve learned that the present is exceedingly contingent, fascinating, and fleeting. For me, speculative fiction is less about prediction than it is about riffing on how the world is changing like a jazz musician might improvise over a standard. Accuracy only happens by mistake. The most interesting rendition wins because it makes people think, dream, feel. And thanks to technological leverage, to a greater and greater extent people are inventing the future – for better and for worse.

So I’m not worried about reality catching up with speculative fiction because speculative fiction is rooted in the human experience of reality. Every black swan event is simply new material.

While this offers a good defence of speculative practices in general, I think it may also point at the enduring popularity of cargo-cult scenarios from the Hot Take Futures Factory: building on the jazz metaphor, generic forms achieve a popularity of their own, and for every Miles Davis pushing the form in new directions, there’s however many dozen local jazz combos cranking out derivative clones of whatever got people dancing last time… point being, solutionism fulfils an emotional need for its audience, and may be being played for people for whom its ideological underpinnings are completely unnoticed, let alone unexamined.

Not sure where I’m going with that idea, to be honest… one of the reasons for wanting to reboot this practice is that I can feel the shortfall in my ability to fit a snippet of an idea into what passes for my philosophical position. But as I’ve been finding out in my non-intellectual life, the first set of pull-ups after a five month pause in your exercise regime is painful, formless and disheartening, and that’s all the more reason to get back to doing them regularly again. Hey ho…

science fiction / social theory / infrastructural change / utopian narratology