Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

A Modernist Prometheus

The Gernsback-Campbell Interface

I've been trying to formulate some more coherent thoughts on the issues I blathered about in my Sci-Fi Bitch Slut rant and the responses that were thrown out on the Night Shade Books thread that kicked off from it. In a wee synchronicity, Matt Cheney, in his latest Strange Horizons column , has also taken a no-such-thing-as-SF stance, (and expressed it far more rationally than my Molotov metaphor approach, it has to be said).

His contrast of SF-as-a-genre with SF-as-a-style is rather more lucid than my rhetoric and invective, but underlying both, I think, is a distinction between definitive and descriptive views of SF. On the one hand, we have various attempts to nail down SF as a family of fiction, its members marked out by X, Y or Z essential content. On the other hand, we have the more laissez-fare approach where we describe SF as something which characteristically does X, Y or Z, admitting happily that none of those three features are either essential or unique to SF. One sets clear boundaries over what is or isn’t essentially SF. The other allows for works which might be SF and might not.

I think there’s a problem with the definitive view. While a description might simply point to the ways in which SF utilises rational, fantastic imagery, standard definitions of SF tend to nail it to some sort of idea of plausible, scientific speculation. This is perfectly sensible, considering that up to and during the Golden Age it was the tight-knit relationship between these two - the fact that plausible, scientific speculation resulted in rational, fantastic imagery extremely useful to the writer in a number of different ways - which made the form coherent and, more importantly, commercially viable. It seemed fairly obvious that a new genre was emerging for the Rocket Age, a popular form which, like the other pulp forms, had its own set of rules, clear boundaries, clear delimitations, defined somewhere between Gernsback and Campbell, in the world of nuclear power and space flight just around the corner. It needed a name and so they called it Scientific Romance, Scientifiction and, eventually, Science Fiction.

But the rules were never set in stone and we recognise this nowadays in marking out the SF which still has solid science - plausible scientific speculation - at its core as Hard SF; we’re acknowledging that from the year dot there's been a mass of fiction sold in the same magazines, on the same bookshelves, which never really gave a flying fuck about scientific speculation however plausible, but which simply used the tropes and techniques to its own ends, whether the aim was to tickle the cerebral cortex or the sensawunda gland. It’s saying that SF does not really require plausible scientific speculation. SF can, in fact, be wildly implausible. The science can be scenery and props. The writer may be more concerned with exploring the human condition or simply telling a good story (or better still both) than with speculation per se. It’s still SF.

A Golden Age Of Opportunity And Adventure

Even during the Golden Age this blurring of the boundaries was happening. The Hard SF sat at the core of the field, defined by its extrapolative vision of the future - space travel, robots, contact with aliens, off-world colonies - but that vision was already being co-opted by writers with different agendas, writers who saw two different markets both ploughing their money into this new field of writing Science Fiction - a juvenile market of kids who wanted adventure stories with exciting trimmings and a literary market of adults who wanted stories dealing with the modern era in a modern language of concrete metaphors, ideas expressed in symbols that were up-front, in your face. We talk of SF as the literature of ideas, but all stories and novels have ideas; what distinguishes SF is that those ideas are made concrete. Where a realist writer might express the dynamism of youth by saying ‘the boy rocketed through the room’, an SF writer will give us an AI rocket with an adolescent joy in its own destructive force.

Heinlein wrote novels such as Have Spacesuit Will Travel (kid with own spacesuit has adventure) quite consciously aimed at the juvenile sensibilities of one market. Bradbury wrote stories such as ‘All Summer In A Day’ (kid at school on Venus gets shoved in closet by other kids and misses a brief glimpse of the sun which comes only once every seven years) quite consciously aimed at the literary sensibilities of the other market. In neither of these examples is plausible scientific speculation really terribly important, and these are only the tips of two very big icebergs. Even during the Golden Age, it seems, the bulk of SF sat outside the strictures of Hard SF, drawn there because it was aiming for one or other of these markets (if not both), SF-as-approach rather than SF as a hard and fast genre.

In fact, over the decades, while the literary writers maintained their SF-as-approach independence, constantly challenging and overturning genre conventions, turning their SF tricks to satire (c.f. Frederick Pohl or John Sladek), to philosophy (c.f. Philip K Dick), or to whatever idiosyncratic interest they wanted to explore - while literary SF carried on into new territories, the juvenile market grew and the work aimed at that market replicated and codified itself, creating a far more defined genre than even Hard SF. Heinlein’s later works are relentlessly juvenile. The militaristic power fantasies of countless Space Opera series show that same pandering to adolescent tastes. Niven and Pournelle, at their worst, and so many others like them, are simply not adult fiction. They form their own little juvenile genre within the field of SF.

This SF Lite, as we might call it, with its boys’ own tales of plucky heroes, grizzled old-timers, dastardly aliens and so on, is perhaps less pervasive now in written SF than the juvenile strand of wish-fulfilment dealing with princesses, dragons and unicorns which permeates High Fantasy, the rocketships having made the hyperspace jump to the Silver Screen early on. But it is widespread enough to have impressed its conventions on the minds of those whose main contact with SF is through the movies; Hard SF is now a fraction of the field if we consider cinema and television along with writing, while this SF Lite is the solid core of genre which now sits at the very centre of literary SF, and which the vast majority of the populace think of when they hear the words Science Fiction. Science Fiction is not SF to them. It is not even Hard SF. It is SF Lite. Or to name the beast properly, it’s Sci-Fi.

The Boys And The Mensch

Even when Forrest Ackermann first coined it, many SF writers were uncomfortable with the term Sci-Fi, perhaps because, as a diminutive and a pun, it’s rather too cute and clever in a suspiciously juvenile way. It hints, perhaps, at a sort of puerile baby-talk whereby Samuel R Delany could be referred to as Sammy-Wammy, while Harlan Ellison would find himself saddled with Harley-Warley as his moniker. Applied commonly to the most schlocky written fiction or to its cinematic and televisual counterparts, the term is now inextricably associated with the corner of the market most lacking in critical faculties, the adolescent fan - the one we probably all remember being - with an obsessive-compulsive urge to buy every book in a series, every book by a certain author, any book about X, Y or Z, regardless of quality. Worse still, it reminds us of those grown men or women who continue consuming formulaic drivel which even many 14-year-olds would scoff at. And it is therefore associated with the hacks-for-hire ready to supply the demands of that juvenile market, not for a little escapism, but for a wholesale retreat from adulthood. So with this uber-fan in mind we use a distinct term to mark out the juvenile - Sci-Fi - from the mature - SF. The boys and the mensch.

The writers creating more gutsy SF, tackling adult themes instead of pandering to juvenile desires, might be seen as more aligned with Hard SF in so far as their work was driven by ideas, but by the time of the New Wave writers, whose interests lay more with the social sciences and humanities, who often abandoned even the pretence of plausibility, and who were more interested in experimentation than speculation, the envelope had been pushed out so far that many writers were already seeking new descriptions and definitions for the form - Speculative Fiction, Science Fantasy. What stuck was actually a negation of description, a rejection of definition - SF, which might mean any of those things or all of them. Where Sci-Fi is a cute and clever term, SF is short and snappy, no nonsense, like the utilitarian acronyms of soldiers and businessmen.

That the New Wave writers were and are still called SF is surely a tacit acceptance that plausible, scientific speculation is only one of the characteristic features of this form of fiction, rather than the key essential ingredient we need if we want to truly define SF as a genre. Many of these 60’s and 70’s writers seem, in fact, quite at odds with the idealisation of rationalism that underpins Hard SF, tapping into a new zeitgeist, the wonder at the Rocket Age replaced by fears of Future Catastrophe (Ballard is the obvious example here). The codified conventions of the juvenile form of Sci-Fi also seem at odds with the diverse nature of this wider SF, but if we want to define SF as a genre then that seems to offer our other option - to trace out the conventional plots, characters, settings and themes, cobbling together some combinatory system where SF is at heart playing out the permutations of such content. Personally, I baulk at the idea of SF as essentially a formulated set of tropes, and I suspect that others do too. This is where the idea that there’s no such thing as SF starts to sound appealing, where we might simply say, like Norman Spinrad, that SF is whatever is sold as SF, or like Damon Knight, that it’s what we point to when we use the term.

Of course, it’s the fuzziness of the whole idea of genre which allows us to continue simply waving in the general direction of a set of bookshelves and saying, that’s SF, that’s genre fiction. We can say that a genre is just a marketing label, or that it is a set of conventions too diverse to pin down with precision, that there is an actual definition lost somewhere among the arguments of all the factions, or that any genre is just a slapdash clumping of works on fundamentally spurious grounds. This fuzzy logic allows us to call SF a genre and respect it, while simultaneously using the term generic to deride the blandest and most formulaic fare. The problem is that this can render the distinction a subjective quality judgement when, in fact, we could be critiquing on clear objective terms, picking out discernable juvenile tropes and themes from adult treatments - as Spinrad does, say, in his classic Emperor Of Everything article, showing Bester’s mature, intelligent inversion of the heroic rags-to-riches power fantasy in Tiger Tiger / The Stars My Destination. To a degree, I think, we resist this critical judgement to avoid admitting how much of the work we like is juvenile Sci-Fi, like The Matrix or Independence Day. Objectively, in terms of plot and character, both are juvenile. Both are generic in comparison to Gibson’s Neuromancer or Stephenson’s Snow Crash. But if we like one of those Sci-Fi movies and hate the other, we can say that both are genre, only one generic.

A Fabulous, Formless Construction

My preference is a hard-nosed approach, equating genre and generic completely, because to distinguish between these seems to me a vague, counter-productive sophistry. Taking a functional definition of genre based on the root of the word being the Latin for ‘family’: genre fiction is fiction which is not just identifiable by its ‘familiar’ forms, but which fundamentally exploits that familiarity. What it offers the reader, what the reader looks to it for, is familiarity, a narrative composed of conventional elements, conventional forms - familiar plots, familiar characters, familiar settings, familiar themes. There may be originality in the treatment, but too much originality and that novel ceases to be generic; it ceases to be genre. By this definition, Hard SF might be considered a genre but might not be, not in the strict sense of the term. Its key stricture of plausible, scientific speculation works more like the strange artifices of an Oulipo writer than like the limitations of form that define a genre; it is only the formalisations of McGuffin devices, stock Crichton-style plots and so forth which renders the Hard SF novel truly generic. And these are now more in the domain of Sci-Fi which most certainly is a genre, like High Fantasy with its medieval settings, princes, quests and underlying archetypal psychodrama as described by Joseph Campbell. But by this definition, SF as a whole, which delights in offering unfamiliar forms, cannot be considered a genre.

Unfortunately, this is clearly an unpopular definition of genre. In fact, when we look at the other genres and the content of their member books, I suspect, it’s actually unworkable. Hard SF and High Fantasy, Crime, Western and Romance - all of these are considered genres and all have their fair share of works which are indeed genre by the rigid, functional definition. But Crime, for one, is in a similar position to SF in general, with as much twisted originality tearing up its orthodoxy of familiar tropes and tricks as SF. All these genres have their deconstructions and subversions, parodies and pastiches, reinventions and paradigm shifts. I say those novels are actually non-genre, anti-genre even, but I’m in a minority of one, I suspect, so rather than raise the flag of pedantry and hold fast, defending the less vapid use of the term, I’ll abandon it to the meaninglessness of a label slapped on a book shelf. Words change meaning over time, and I’ve never been a fan of the prescriptive approach to language. So for the sake of argument, I’ll shift position and accept that genre is just ‘the stuff sold as X’.

There’s another term that can be used here anyway, one that there’s much less argument over - much less to-and-fro over the limitations and boundaries of this form or that - over respectability or lack of - quality or lack of - pros and cons - proscriptions, prescriptions and endless attempts at definitions. Instead of genre, from here on in I’m going to use the term formula. I still refuse to refer to SF at large as a genre, though. Type is a suitably vague term, I think, for these vacuous groupings of fiction blithely oblivious to any actual differences in terms of form and function. So to put it in terms more acceptable to those who will insist on using oxymorons like ‘non-generic genre novel’, the argument is that this type of fiction we label SF, unlike Hard SF or Sci-Fi, has never actually been formulated and never will be. SF is not formula fiction. And in fact, the various formulas we consider subdivisions of SF may well be considered atypical.

One of the interesting side-effects of the back-and-forth on the Night Shade forum (for me, anyway) was coming across an acronym-expansion for SF that I'd never heard of - Structural Fabulation. It's outrageously pompous and academic sounding but it rather appeals to me, a way of viewing SF more as an approach to fiction than as a type of fiction, or at least typifying it by its approach. By this view SF is an act of fabulation, a telling of tall tales with fabulous elements, where those elements are integral to the story on an architectural level, where the structure of the story is generated from the fabulous idea, where the process of writing the story is a sort of explication, a complexification of the fabulous, a construction which takes the fabulous as its foundations and as its material. Rather than defining it in terms of conventional elements, conventional forms of plot, character, setting and so on, we can see SF as a more holistic approach, the forms to some extent tricks of perspective, snapshots of whorls in cigarette smoke, emergent from and embedded in the wider process of fabulation. This is SF as I know and love it, a fabulous formless construction.

The Old Equations, The New Whatever

It strikes me that this approach is actually entirely antithetical to the use of fantasy in formulaic writing so, as a sort of inversion of it, I’ve coined the phrase Symbolic Formulation. Pompousness aside, I think they actually make a rather nice pair. Like clicking variables into an equation, Symbolic Formulation uses pre-existing structures, pre-existing tropes. The pre-fabricated components may be taken from different suppliers but the plans are also off-the-shelf; there is a craft in putting the formulation together, picking and choosing the right set of symbols, knowing what will work with what - and the process of formulation may be both analytic and synthetic, not simply following the codified structures of a known formula but rather actively formulating them, codifying those structures from a genuine understanding of what this or that individual work have in common, how they work in the same way, how that can be replicated - but at the end of the day if the symbols are basically interchangeable, if others could be used without affecting the basic structure, then Symbolic Formulation is using its fantastic elements in a largely cosmetic manner.

Michael Moorcock, in Wizardry And Wild Romance, comments on the creation and the reuse of fantastic imagery, as metaphor or as mere symbol: “A writer of fantasy must be judged, I think, by the level of inventive intensity at which he or she works. Allegory can be non existent, but a level of conscious metaphor is always there. The writer who follows such originals without understanding this produces work which is at best superficially entertaining and at worst meaningless on any level - generic dross doing nothing to revitalize the form from which it borrows.”

Copying is not an inherently bad approach, I’d argue. In fact it may well be a necessary part of learning how to write well. Symbolic Formulation, taking apart the SF work that’s gone before and putting it together in new ways, can result in mechanical and derivative formulaic hack work if the writer has no drive to understand and to improve, but it can actually feed into the process of Structural Fabulation, become a process of Structural Fabulation, when the writer’s aim is not to replicate the familiar in order to exploit the market for “more of the same”, but instead to recast it. Copying can be pastiche or parody, used to satiric ends as with Sladek’s take on Asimov’s Three Laws Of Robotics in his novel Tik-Tok, clearly a world away from the Hollywood formulation of I, Robot where the familiar McGuffin of the Three Laws is co-opted into a standard Mad Computer In Control Of The House story - c.f. Demon Seed, 2001, and so on down to, I believe, episodes of both the X-Files and the Simpsons. Hollywood clicks the maverick cop firmly into place in the formulated Discover What’s Going On And Stop It plot. Sladek decides to give us the robot’s point of view, and the fabulation grows from there.

Symbolic Formulation is a part of SF, one of the processes at work in what we typify as SF, but Structural Fabulation is far more characteristic of the diverse field of SF than this mechanical reuse of the old equations Cheney refers to in the title of his column. SF is an intrinsically eclectic type, a magpie’s nest of a bookshelf where the A-Z of authors runs from Aldiss to Zelazny. The 1950’s vision of the Rocket Age and the 1970’s vision of Future Catastrophe do still prime innumerable readers with the fears and desires which Hard SF with its plausible, scientific speculation plays to, utilising the resultant fantastic but rational imagery to captivate the reader with the potential wonders or horrors of scientific advance; but these wonders and horrors have been so appropriated by Hollywood (and Michael Crichton seems to be on a mission from God in this respect) that written SF seems much less focused on this than in the past. And as the Symbolic Formulation sloughs off into the Media section or the cinemas or the TV screens, what we are left with as the heart of SF may well be work best described in terms of approach rather than content. Attempts to classify a corner of this field as a latter-day New Wave, the New Weird, are misguided, I think; in co-opting the VanderMeers and Meivilles, Bishops and Harrisons to a Movement, we risk grouping them in terms of content, common tropes and techniques, opening the field up to a new process of codification. In a few years time we could expect Symbolic Formulation sold as New Weird, with mushroom people and cactus people clicked into place in new equations. This narrow focus also implies that it is only here, in this small corner of the field, where something fresh is happening. I can’t say I’m the best person to judge what’s going on outside this corner - I’ll get around to reading Richard Morgan and Charles Stross, honest I will - but I certainly don’t think you have to be in that corner to be writing good SF. New New Wave, New Weird, New Whatever - the real reason these writers stand apart is that their works, in being far less posited on plausible scientific speculation than others in the field, point up the fact that SF is not a product but the process itself, Structural Fabulation.

Fancified, Fanciful Fancies

On the message board thread I compared this approach of Structural Fabulation with the idea of an 'imaginative conceit', a phrase I used in the rant to try and describe the characteristic approach which leads to a work being categorised as SF. But it's not a terribly well-formulated concept. There's a certain redundancy to it, considering that all conceits should, you'd think, be fundamentally imaginative. A good realist writer is hardly going to be proud of writing banal conceits. So to try and pin down exactly what I mean here, let's grab the definitions of 'conceit' from an online dictionary:

1. A favorable and especially unduly high opinion of one's own abilities or worth.
2. An ingenious or witty turn of phrase or thought.
3. a) A fanciful poetic image, especially an elaborate or exaggerated comparison.
b) A poem or passage consisting of such an image.
4. a) The result of intellectual activity; a thought or an opinion.
b) A thought or idea.
5. a) A fancy article; a knickknack.
b) An extravagant, fanciful, and elaborate construction or structure…

The primary meaning isn't what we're talking about and the others all seem rather fuzzy and redundant, but if we do a cut-up-and-fold-in on this, I think we could say that a conceit is a … fanciful, intellectual, ingenious, witty… thought, opinion, idea, comparison…structured, constructed…into a… fancy, elaborate, extravagant, exaggerated… turn-of-phrase, poetic-image, passage, poem. It all sounds rather fluffed-up, rather flouncy. Lurking somewhere in the connotations of those terms there's hints of flippancy, of being too clever for one's own good, of needless complexity… pretentiousness. A conceit is an idea with an inflated ego, whimsy masquerading as the grandiose. A fancified, fanciful fancy.

But let's look at a definition in specifically rhetorical terms, also snatched off the internet: Here, a conceit is defined as "[a]n extended metaphor. Popular during the Renaissance and typical of John Donne or John Milton. Unlike allegory, which tends to have one-to-one correspondences, a conceit typically takes one subject and explores the metaphoric possibilities in the qualities associated with that subject." This 'extended metaphor' idea plays down the ludic quality of the conceit - the inventive, 'fanciful' nature of the concept and the intricate, 'fancified' nature of its expression. It's just a metaphor, this says, writ large. That's the reason for distinguishing SF’s conceits as ‘imaginative’, I think, to reinforce the fancy and fanciful aspect that marks them out. The shock of the new and the intrigue of complexity are integral aspects of the conceit's power and that ludic quality should not be underestimated; what we really need to be aware of is that the ludic is not always as whimsical as a word like 'fancy' might imply. Playing loose with probability might well result in absurd whimsy; but even an idea we know to be impossible can still push our buttons, tempt or terrify us, playing on our desires or fears. Fancy is, after all, a derivation of fantasy. The words fantasy or phantasm may be as apt as fancy here.

A Modernist Prometheus

As an example of a wonderful conceit, in Jeff Ford's The Portrait Of Mrs Charbuque, a jaded painter is challenged to paint an accurate portrait of a woman he will never see, constructing his visual image of her from the life story she tells him while hidden behind a screen. In a way Ford’s novel is a fantasy novel, playing as it does with the dream of muses and sibyls, of divination. But it is not generic Fantasy by a long shot. It is not Symbolic Formulation, but a novel predicated on and explicating its imaginative conceit. It is a work of Structural Fabulation.

In Mark Z. Danielewski's House Of Leaves, a Pulitzer-prize-winning photojournalist begins a documentary on his own family's arrival in a suburban dream-house, which becomes an exploration of the house's disturbingly impossible inner architecture. This is framed within the narrative of an LA waster, reconstructing the journals of a dead blind man into an analytic study of this film. In a way Danielewski’s novel is a horror novel, playing as it does with the nightmare of labyrinths and catacombs, of death. But it is not generic Horror by a long shot. It is not Symbolic Formulation, but a novel predicated on and explicating its imaginative conceit. It is a work of Structural Fabulation.

Fantasy and Horror, like SF, are rich with such conceits, are predicated on such conceits, though both, like SF, suffer from the Symbolic Formulators who immediately step in, snatch those conceits and reuse them as mere ciphers with no real interrogation of their potentialities. In SF, those conceits may be more rational, coming as they do from the tradition of plausible scientific speculation. All three are however, essentially fantastic in nature, breaching the everyday world of realism with the strange, the unfamiliar, with things which should be possible but aren’t yet, or things which should not, should never, be possible. It is our reaction to the possibility and the desirability of these unrealities being made real, as much as the scientific plausibility of the unrealities themselves, that defines whether a story is SF or Fantasy or Horror, and it is because our reactions are complex that these three forms do not just coexist as separate types of imaginative fiction but instead constantly cross-over, feeding into and off of one another. Independent from formula and from the strictures of realism, this approach can be such a powerful tool in the hands of a skillful writer it’s little wonder many mainstream writers are now turning to the fantastic forms and why many fantastic writers are now looking to the mainstream as a viable market. Structural Fabulation, wherever it is sold, however it is marketed, whatever tropes it uses, is not Sci-Fi or High Fantasy or genre Horror, and the labeling of it as such, or as General Fiction, is largely a commercial decision.

SF’s gruff disdain for the wholly fantastical, the wholly irrational, does separate it out in some ways from Fantasy and Horror, but it is its revelry in the intellectual and the inventive, I think, that has established it at the top of the pecking order amongst the forms of fiction using these types of conceit, Fantasy and Horror more closely aligned with the unconscious and its desires and fears, the fiery stuff of the imagination, less arrogantly Promethean than SF which willfully tries to bend the irrational to its will, hammer it into rational shape, invest it with a clear purpose. SF is, I think the most crafted form of Structural Fabulation, the least in thrall to the unconscious. Bester’s PyrE is the conceit of every SF writer at heart, I think. SF writers are not theoreticians but technicians, less concerned with the plausible, scientific speculations than with the creative application of those as conceits, as tools, the technology of writing itself. At best they are craftsmen and artificers working with what Joyce termed ‘the smithy of the soul’. This is the process of Structural Fabulation and its why I’m quite convinced that SF is a fundamentally a Modernist enterprise, its best writers, like Bester - like Bester’s character Gully Foyle - part everyman and part Prometheus. It is no coincidence, I think,, that Bester gives a conscious nod to Joyce’s Stephen Daedalus from Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, in basing Foyle’s rhyme “Gully Foyle is my name...” on Daedalus’s. Tiger Tiger / The Stars My Destination is a thoroughly accessible novel, a quite commercial novel, but Bester tears the text apart towards the end to do his Burning Man justice, a thoroughly Modernist technique. This ambitious drive of SF, of Structural Fabulation, is what really characterizes it, the audacity it has to create and use the wildest of conceits, to concretize the metaphoric. In that respect it is a world away from the Symbolic Formulation it is sold beside but, like Prometheus, SF remains manacled to the rock of this formula fiction. It sometimes seems, looking around at the current crop of cross-over fiction, at the mainstream marketability of what is fundamentally Structural Fabulation - from the Magic Realists through to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel, Carter Beats The Devil, etc. - that those chains are crumbling and SF is about to shake off the rusting ties to formula, stand up straight and proud, but I wonder if it will still call itself SF when it does so, or if the various labels and definitions - Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Science Fantasy, SF as what’s sold as SF - are all now so deeply synonymous with Symbolic Formulation to everyone outside the SF community that the label too will be cast off. It seems a shame to me, but I do feel that by clinging to the idea of SF-as-a-genre, as something that can be defined in the way Hard SF or Sci-Fi or High Fantasy can be defined we are essentially clinging to that rock for its security. It seems a shame because SF-as-an-approach, Structural Fabulation, is so much more than that dead hunk of stone, not just vital but a source of vitality. SF-as-a-genre may be dead as Cheney argues, but SF-as-an-approach is a Modernist Prometheus, very much alive and kicking. I’m quite happy to identify my own work, my own approach, as SF, as Structural Fabulation, but when it takes you five thousand words to explain the difference between that and the Symbolic Formulation sold on the shelf beside you, then you know you’re fighting a losing battle.

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