"Is SF Exhausted?" Interview with Paul Kincaid

Discussion in 'General Book Discussion' started by Nerds_feather, Oct 2, 2012.

  1.  
    Nerds_feather

    Nerds_feather Purveyor of Nerdliness

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    Not sure if you guys caught Paul's fantastic and controversial piece for the LA Review of Books, or Ian's blog post on the Hugos (which talks extensively about it), but I did a follow-up interview with Paul for my blog, and got some pretty mind-blowing answers back.

    Do you think SF has reached a "state of exhaustion?" Why or why not?

    Part 1: http://www.nerds-feather.com/2012/10/interview-paul-kincaid-is-sf-exhausted.html

    Part 2: http://www.nerds-feather.com/2012/10/interview-paul-kincaid-is-sf-exhausted_2.html
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    blacknorth

    blacknorth Stuck Inside a Cloud

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    Interesting, thanks. I wouldn't say exhaustion - I'd say complacency, nepotism and self-regard.
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    DrMclony

    DrMclony SF Author

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    very interesting read. thank you.
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    CyBeR

    CyBeR New Member

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    Would you care to expand on that statement?
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    nightdreamer

    nightdreamer Elf in Space

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    I, for one, feel a bit of vindication regarding his "crisis of identity" point. I had whined in some of my earliest posts in this forum that so much "science fiction" conveniently left science out of the story and thought it was enough just to stick a plot into a sci-fi setting, throw in some plasma rifles, and suddenly it's science fiction. I still have trouble calling Star Wars science fiction regards how big the spaceships get. I did mellow my viewpoint a bit after discussion with some other folks here (http://duane.duane-n-lisa.net/wordpress/?p=32) but maintain that it is a valid argument. I want science to be crucial to the plot.
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    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    That's one reason why I did Rocket Science. I've become increasingly bored by all the magic spaceships in sf, the way in which the models which have inspired sf stories have become more important than the fact they take place in space or on alien worlds, in difficult and dangerous environments.
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    Stephen Palmer

    Stephen Palmer author of novels

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    Star Wars is essentially a soap opera in funny costumes.
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    Nerds_feather

    Nerds_feather Purveyor of Nerdliness

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    I think Alastair Reynolds said one inspiration for Revelation Space was to the idea that you could do far-future space opera while obeying the laws and established theories of physics.

    ...and yes, completely agree on the "models" thing. This is a source of endless frustration to me in the genre.
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    Nerds_feather

    Nerds_feather Purveyor of Nerdliness

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    Btw it's not all bad in short SF/F. Though I agree with most of the criticisms that Paul and others like Ian have put forward, I also do think there's some great short SF/F being written at the moment.

    Here's a list of 6 stories I think are really good--with links to free copies for 4 of the 6. Worth seeking out the other 2 (Jennifer Egan's "Black Box" and Alice Sola Kim's "The Other Graces).
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    James Coote

    James Coote Spoon Thumb

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    Of course 'exhausted' doesn't only mean depleted. Scifi should take a nice long holiday and come back relaxed and refreshed to embark on some new direction :)

    The point made in the second part about trying to shovel in every scifi trope the author can think of really hit me with the new aliens film Prometheus. It just tried to do too many things and so did none of them well. Was Alien ever even science fiction? Perhaps it was so great (IMO) because it pushed the boundaries of both scifi and horror

    I think Paul Kincaid is wrong to say science fiction shouldn't be about escapism in the way fantasy is, because actually it's always been escapism. Otherwise scifi would be a very narrow genre of fiction by scientists for scientists, and wouldn't appeal to anyone else (this can be argued for hard SF regardless).

    Ultimately, really great fiction gives you an insight into human nature. The genre is just the wrapper. That's why non-scientists are able to enjoy science fiction, and it probably part explains the staleness of the genre

    Science fiction is no longer being written nor read by scientists, so the genre has evolved into fantasy set in the future

    The other half of it is that back in the 60's, we were sold a dream of spaceflight and mankind colonising the stars. What we got instead was something no less fundamentally radical: the internet.

    However, it has crept up on us slowly. Not suddenly and dramatically. There was no fanfare when the first google search was made or wikipedia article written in the way there was with the first footsteps on the moon.

    So we take it for granted. We live in a world of technological marvels, and we take it that they will just keep improving and that by and large, we don't need to know how they work. Nor do we want to know their limitations, just how next year's smartphone will be better.

    That same thinking translates into attitudes towards spaceships. You don't have to be a geek to operate one, and in fact, the most interesting aspects of them are not the tech behind them, but the social implications
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    Toby Frost

    Toby Frost Active Member

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    I agree. I don't think SF has to talk about realistic or even feasible science to be relevant. A book with completely incorrect science can still have a lot to say that's worth hearing - take The Island of Doctor Moreau or The Day of the Triffids, for instance.
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    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    The problem is that science has come under attack in public discourse - climate change denial, creationism, etc. So putting the science back into science fiction is going to make it especially relevant. And yes, I think sf needs more science and less hand-wavy authorial bollocks. The genre needs to tie itself more firmly to the real world and remember that sf exists to make explicit the wonder which exists in the world around us. Sf is more than just its trappings - in other words, putting boyracer speed stripes on the side of your car doesn't actually make it go faster.
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    anhalo

    anhalo New Member

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    Spaceships, planets and space are quite a limited definition of science, especially in a world where people are starting to realise to a greater degree that there are other kinds of science (such as semiotics, sociology, economics, etc.) which aren't as physical as chemistry, biology and physics... :p
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    Nerds_feather

    Nerds_feather Purveyor of Nerdliness

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    There's a long tradition of sociological SF, including classics like The Dispossessed, Stand on Zanzibar, Neuromancer, etc. Iain M. Banks' culture series is also, arguably, as sociological as it is space operatic.

    A recent book I really liked, in large part because of its sociological bent, is Rob Ziegler's post-apocalytpic novel Seed. I reviewed it recently, and found that its vision of a near future society marked by increasing scarcity and degraded state authority and legitimacy was suitably complex and subtle.

    Let's just say, if a book or story tries to tell us something profound about the way humans relate to one another, it's got my attention. Sociological fantasy is similarly attractive to me. Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher series stands out as one of the best examples.
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    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    Doesn't every genre of fiction tell us "about the way humans relate to one another"? Shouldn't sf tell us about more than that? And, let's face it, given the lack of writing chops of the bulk of sf writers, anything they do have to say on the the topic is going to be either borrowed or banal.
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    Toby Frost

    Toby Frost Active Member

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    To my mind, the attack on science is an attack not on whether or not evolution is provable, but on the idea of rational thought and empirical truth. Behind every religious type claiming that "My way is right because God says so" (ie because I say so), there's the scene in 1984 where O'Brien tells Winston that if Big Brother says the sun rotates around the Earth, it just does. There's no science in that scene; it's about human lunacy. That to me seems like sociology in SF.

    It's probably a frequently-spouted cliche, but SF allows us to talk about generalities in a way that realistic fiction doesn't. It doesn't matter if The Handmaid's Tale is derived from the Bible Belt or Iran - it's about that mindset. Similarly, it doesn't matter if all the references to Japan taking over the world in early cyberpunk are dated or not. I don't think that good SF needs a strictly realistic basis. It just needs to be plausible in the context of the novel.
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    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    But if I write about Gilead as if it were a gated community in Texas, it's telling the same story as The Handmaid's Tale but it's not sf. So why use sf at all to tell that story? Likewise, I could set the story on an alien planet... but what is it that makes it sf? The alien planet? Not if I can change that and the story remains the same. However, posit that religious belief can be imposed through the use of neurochemicals, and your story is sf.
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    Nerds_feather

    Nerds_feather Purveyor of Nerdliness

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    Think you misunderstood me. I wasn't saying that this is what defines SF for me, but instead that if SF has something interesting to say, sociologically, then it's got my attention--relative to SF that doesn't. Only some SF is truly sociological. To cite an example, the Culture books are, in one sense, attempts to say distinct sociological things about scarcity; Hamilton's Night Dawn trilogy, by contrast, attempts no such thing. Though Hamilton is a decent writer, I greatly prefer Banks in no large part because he's got more to say about the problems and internal contradictions of human (and non and post-human) societies.

    Generally speaking, fiction that tries to say something "about the way humans relate to one another" A) doesn't necessarily do it in a distinctly sociological way (psychological, political, etc. as alternatives); or B) doesn't necessarily do it in a meaningfully and complexly sociological way.

    If I were to identify a defining characteristic of SF to me, it would be futurism--even retro or alternate futurism. The idea of looking forward, or to an alternate present given certain differences in historical events, where certain things are normative and other things are possible that are not necessarily normative or possible today, and then imagining how things would be. Science is an indelible part of that, because you can't really imagine the future without imagining things like technological advancement and how that might impact human relations. I also, for the most part, dislike flagrant disregard for the laws of physics.

    But SF doesn't have to be "hard" for me to enjoy it either.
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    James Coote

    James Coote Spoon Thumb

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    Yes, every other genre does exactly the same: Tell us about human nature. They just wrap it up in different clothes

    What else does science fiction do? Is it just futurism dramatised for easy consumption?

    The story is not about using neurochemicals to impose religious beliefs. It is about why someone would use them on others. Otherwise it is just a recounting of how a mechanical system works
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    James Coote

    James Coote Spoon Thumb

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    Even the telling of a story simply 'how it happened' without any hidden commentary on society or individuals in itself is the author saying "I think this story is worth telling, is interesting to others" which translates into "Hey guys, what do you make of this?" It is posing the story as a question rather than an opinion, for others to interpret

    I mean, how many scifi stories have no people in them?

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