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52 weeks, 52 things

Sunday afternoon musings

There’s something in William Gibson’s observation that “What I grew up with as science fiction, is now a historical category. Previous practitioners, HP Lovecraft, say, or HG Wells, had these huge, leisurely “here and nows“ from which to contemplate what might happen. Wells knew exactly where he was and knew he was at the centre of things.”. Gibson’s move towards observation, rather than prediction (his recent works have tended toward a near-contemporary setting and issues, although to be fair, he’s been moving in that direction since the beginning in the 80s) illustrates something that ties into Clive Barker’s rejection of genre as a distinction within story and, oddly enough, ties to John Clute’s adoption of ‘Fantastika’ as a byphrase for what has come to be known as the ‘literatures of the fantastic’, namely that this is a field in which the grammar of its tools has become commonplace, and the work created by those tools has become increasingly diverse.

Put it another way, rather than getting hot under the collar every time a writer who is evidently appropriating the language and vernacular of, say, science fiction, in order to place a work (be that Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ (Michael Chabon, for example “insists is not science fiction but an “adventure story in both its modern and epic forms that structures the narrative”), or any number of works by Margaret Atwood), might it be more interesting to examine precisely why those novels are not being classified as SF, and what that might mean for the placing of the field in the first place?

Gibson’s right – Wells is a historical fact, a marker for a time and a world-view that might have passed, but that has things to tell us, and in a sense too, what’s become known as First SF, is indeed dead – we’ve become overrun by the postmodern, the reappropriation of memes and devices and, in that morass, what remains is a profound confusion over what is and what isn’t. There’s a lot to be said for Fantastika, simply as a collective phrase it illuminates something that transcends classification – ‘The Road’ is part of Fantastika, simply and obviously, whether or not it’s marketed as SF or not. This, though is both a freedom and a trap. If we classify, then are we heading down the road of Waterstone’s Graphic Novel section, within which work from all parts of the canon are placed side by side, with little regard for content?

I’m still thinking.


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