miércoles, 11 de mayo de 2022

Why? and Who?... Science Fiction

Now... today I am going to rescue two old entries, but translated into English, for the benefit of some people, I hope, and especially for J.

The first one, 'Why I read Science Fiction' is from December 2017. Here the original in Spanish.

The second one, 'Who is Science Fiction?', from May 2018. Here the original in Spanish.


So let's go!


Why do I read science fiction? (26th December 2017)


Sometimes it is difficult to explain why one has come to read a certain type of literature and not another.


At this stage of my life I practically read only science fiction. In this year 2017 that is ending, Philip K. Dick has been very present in my readings, as well as a string of names such as Brian Aldiss, Fred Hoyle, A.E. van Vogt, Frederick Pohl, Stanislaw Lem, Charles Eric Maine, John Brunner, Thomas M. Disch, and also, why not name him, Jack London.


Now, taking advantage of a trip of several days in which one never knows what is going to happen, I took the opportunity to take with me a pocket book, first edition, 1973, of the ghost stories of M.R. James, edited by Alianza Editorial. To re-read them calmly. And boy, did I enjoy them. Especially, and as always, "The Mezzotint" and "A view from a Hill".


And in this book there is an introduction, "M.R. James or the height of the ghost", by one of the best critics, at least as prologue writer, in the literary world in Spanish: Rafael Llopis.


Llopis tells us in brief outlines the history of numinous-terrifying literature. Which is also the history of many of my readings, greatly influenced by the essay by H.P. Lovecraft "The Horror in Literature", at least in its origins. That is, gothic novel, romanticism, Victorian novel, decadent novel, to finally end up in science fiction.


It's not that I don't enjoy many of these literary currents now, I sometimes go back to them. But the current field in which I operate is difficult to grasp, to systematize, to give shape to, because within science fiction, all kinds of styles and approaches to literature, society, and science continue to exist.


But I am going to quote Llopis. "Once the romantic eruption had passed, the terror of these naive spectres and innocent tricks began to wane."


Refers to the Walpole, Maturin, M.G. Lewis, etc... which is actually canonical reading for any newbie to this mystery called Man. Then the ghost story will be born, and later, in the 20th century, will come the rationalized mystery of the Machen or Lovecraft. And later on:


"This trend or stage -neoterrifying- ends up leading to science fiction, within which it continues to evolve. Finally, in the mid-1960s [remember that the essay is from the early 1970s], within the science fiction, a style -called "new thing" by its own cultivators- abandons both the scientism of primitive literature of anticipation and the sophisticated fantasy of terrifying space opera, to directly open the doors of the Beyond. This literature, which is already meta-terrifying, abandons all attempts to arouse the reader's terror and begins the exploration of the limitless inner space of man".


Llopis manages to summarize in a few words what comes to be, as I have already pointed out above, the history of my readings.


Today the ´new thing´ is usually called "New Wave", the new wave of science fiction that came mainly from Great Britain, with Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, John Brunner, Norman Spinrad, Michael Moorcock, adding some North American writer like Thomas M. Disch.


Obviously, since then, science fiction will have lived at least two or three more new waves, and now, entering 2018, it can be said that it is in a quite confusing period. It is increasingly difficult to define the contours of the genre, since it is no longer a genre as such, but any novel can be science fiction from some points of view, as long as the technology that surrounds us has a certain role. Although this is not always the case, of course. It goes without saying that today science fiction is often accompanied by fantasy, something that is not very positive for its future, in my humble opinion.


It is not easy to find a just published good science fiction novel. It is a genre that is undoubtedly better enjoyed with its grounds than with its foams. As in the past, among dozens of gothic titles, a few have gone down in history as great creations.


But back to where I was. Without a doubt, Rafael Llopis has helped me explain why I read science fiction. Because I have only allowed myself to be carried away by the logical sequence of the history of the human mystery made into literature.



Who is science fiction?  (13th May 2018)


Hullo there!


Back in December of last year I wrote an entry about why I read science fiction. The passage from the gothic to the terrifying. From the terrifying to the interior space that interstellar spaces suppose, so to speak...


Reading it is not the same as writing it. Thomas M. Disch did just the opposite. He went from writing science fiction to the purest horror. He dominated both fields with precision. Now that I'm reading his novel "334" I was thinking...


There are dozens of definitions of what science fiction is and I'm not going to get into them. There are also many "mainstream" writers who once dared to write some science fiction and are not known for it. Others never left the field of science fiction.


Doris Lessing is perhaps the most exponential case of a Nobel writer who wrote science fiction novels. Philip K. Dick, on the other hand, always associated with science fiction, wrote a few novels that, in principle, are not (and are not worse for that, of course).


A few days ago, May 5, NASA launched the InSight spacecraft, in order to learn more about the interior of the planet Mars. It will arrive there in November. Anyone who writes, for example, a novel about the life and miracles of one of the engineers who has worked on this launch, will be considered someone who has written a science fiction novel, fictionalizing a series of concepts and works done on InSight.


Would it be a science fiction novel? Shouldn't it be categorized as a more realistic novel than anything else, one that narrates scientific realities?


Disch's "334" hardly smacks of science fiction. It's set in 2025 New York (+/-), and there are a number of weird facts to say the least, but is it science fiction for that? It is not because of the fictitious temporal slide that Disch intends to communicate to us, or because of a series of landscape brushstrokes, but because in this case, it is the writer who is interested in presenting a series of human situations that should make the reader think that we are facing a world that is not even half normal, and we categorize it, correctly in this case, as "science fiction". Although of course, we are in the year 2018, the novel is from 1972, and Disch hit the nail on the head in certain nuances and human behaviors, especially in terms of social and legislative structure. Like Orwell or Huxley.


Being impossible to define science fiction through the use of specific arguments or the approach of ideas framed in a certain future, I think that it is possible to define a science fiction novel not by its argument or by its explanatory claims of different spaces/times, but by who writes it, taking into account his past as a person, his personality, his psychology and his vision of the world. And with the right "mix," that writer tends to write science fiction, perhaps without knowing it himself. Neither do we, thinking that we are reading a "realistic" novel. Dick's "Confessions of a Crap Artist" could be sci-fi with a couple of trademark tweaks. But this is because Dick cared so much about describing something that was perhaps not obvious to everyone and had to make a living as a writer by going to the science fiction costume shop on the corner.


I have in my hands a little book called "The Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Criticism", with a series of essays. The essay of the good C.M. Kornbluth is called "The Failure of the Science Fiction novel as Social Criticism", and he begins by saying that he would like to talk about "the Science Fiction Novel as Fun for One and All, or the Science Fiction Novel as Psychotherapy for the Neurotic Author, but there is a job to be done...".


Any writer with enough sense of humor (Jonathan Swift), or enough neurosis on top of it (let's note Barry Malzberg's "The Worlds of Herovit" here or any Ballard novel), is likely to end up writing science fiction (disguised or not). Any computer engineer too (Greg Egan, for example). The social/human aspect is perhaps that of Disch, as was that of Wells, London, Kornbluth himself, Aldiss, Silverberg, and so many other writers who had a real interest in highlighting social issues in their writing, and who used the disguises they could.


All are valid, as long as it is something spontaneous, and there is satire, humor, neurosis or the desire to marvel at science per se, without any artificiality.


Are certain writers destined to write science fiction? Does writing science fiction imply being a certain "type" of person? You cannot settle the matter with these very basic questions. But I think it could be yes. Although there will be exceptions. Mechanically written "science fiction" products will hit bookstores. Perhaps they are not the exceptions. Perhaps it is what most abounds on the shelves. Products made by people who do not have the profile to write a science fiction that lasts and has more soul than its creator. A kind of deception that you have to be careful with. Of course, anyone can write what they want, but some have what is necessary inside, and others do not. And perhaps this "what is necessary" is defining of what science fiction can be.


So, I launch: a science fiction novel is not defined by its content, form or background, but by who writes it, and this writer is surely a clown (in the best sense of the word), or a neurotic , or a technician with good narration skills. Or all together.


Exaggerating, of course, but I hope that the idea has been more or less anchored.


I'll see how this idea stands the test of time. Today, May 13, 2018, what is sold as science fiction on the shelves of our bookstores is nothing more than a cluster of fantasies poorly written for the most part, and on the other hand, a certain anthology of the "classics and moderns" who have been lucky enough to reach them (the most obvious example is Asimov, whose science will be very good, but whose fiction is devastatingly inhuman and has done a lot of damage to science fiction publishing outside the Anglo-Saxon world).

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