Notes from New Sodom

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Great Books of the History of SF/F Movements

Just recently we've had movements bursting out all over the place, some serious, some ironic, some flippant, some even a sort of strange combination of all three. The latest is New Edge, a back to basics approach to Sword & Sorcery which seems to have been the straw that broke many people's backs. Personally, I felt the New Edge editorial of Flaming Swords reads more as submission guidelines than anything else, prescriptive only in the sense that it says "our favoured type of writing features X, Y and Z, and this is what we want to see and do"; fair enough. However it did get me thinking about just how many movements there are and how we define them. And it struck me that perhaps the best way to define these movements is simply to point at the definitive texts, the "benchmark" works whose impact changed the shape of the genre forever.

Now usually people think "benchmark" means "groundbreaking", but "Nay!" I say, "Nay!" The truly definitive books of any movement, I submit, are those that come well after the ground has been broken. Those that do not break the ground but rather mark out the boundaries, raise the walls, run the flag up and arm the gun-turrets! It is with these great works, these exemplary acts of formulation that any genre or sub-genre truly comes into its own. To that end, I hereby offer this celebration of the Great Books of the History of SF/F Movements. If you think I've left any particular sub-genre out, by all means, please do let me know…

Classic SF:
Voyage To Infinity: A Rationalist Romance (Scientifiction)

In which the intellectual and somewhat aloof Professor Calculus and the intrepid-but-naive young man of action, Douglas "Doug" McClure, embark on a journey through time and space, encountering Cephalons, Brutii and all manner of concretisations of 19th Century social theory.

Escape Into Space (Juvenile SF)

In which intrepid-but-naive young man of action, Tom Kidd, dreams of escaping his mundane life on Earth for adventures in the stars, and - by a Twist of Fate - is then thrust headlong into a sequence of events which involves him escaping his mundane life on Earth for adventures in the stars.

Equation (Hard aka Mundane SF)

In which Professor Calculus is faced with a fascinating quandary arising from the practical ramifications of an entirely plausible scientific speculation, and solves this problem using all his skills of plausible scientific speculation. The plausible scientific speculation is explicated at great length.

The Goshwau McGuffin (Space Opera)

In which intrepid-but-naïve young man of action, Tom Kidd is thrust - by a Twist of Fate - headlong into a sequence of events which involve a life-or-death dilemma arising from the practical ramifications of a not particularly plausible but really neat scientific speculation… and solves this problem by having an adventure in the stars.

Kurtz's Corps: Space Marines (Military SF)

First of a long running series of books in which intrepid-but-naïve young man of action, Tom Kidd, has adventures in space as a raw recruit under grizzled veteran, Colonel Kurtz, in his corps of Space Marines, encountering hive mind Bugs, Feminazis, and all manner of concretisations of 20th Century right wing paranoia.

Classic Fantasy:

Krud, Barbarian of Yore (S & S aka New Edge)

First of a long running series of books in which grizzled warrior, Krud, wanders the wilds of a pre-feudal world and finds himself thrust headlong into a sequence of events which involve life-or-death dilemmas, encountering the wicked Mages, Amazons, and all manner of concretisations of 20th Century macho neuroses. Krud ends up marrying a princess and being made king.

Jack Hunter, Hero of Aerth (Sword & Planet)

First of a long running series of books in which intrepid-but-grizzled warrior, Jack Hunter, wanders the wilds of a pre-feudal (alien) world and finds himself thrust headlong into a sequence of events which involve life-or-death dilemmas, encountering wicked Mages, Amazons, and all manner of concretisations of 20th Century macho neuroses. Hunter ends up marrying a princess and being made king.

Chronicles of the Object of Power Saga, Volume Umpty Ump (Epic Fantasy)

In which intrepid-but-naive young man of action, Tom, dreams of escaping his mundane life in the village for adventures in the wilds, and - by the Hand of Fate - is then thrust headlong into a sequence of events which involves him escaping his mundane life in the village for adventures in the wilds. Tom ends up having been a prince all along. Tom gets made king.

The Boy Who Would Be King: Book ∞+1 of the Camelot Cycle (Arthurian)

In which intrepid-but-naive young man of action, Arthur, dreams of escaping his mundane life in the village for adventures in the wilds, and - by the Hand of Fate - is then thrust headlong into a sequence of events which involves him escaping his mundane life in the village for adventures in the wilds. Arthur ends up having been a prince all along, and so gets made king. But not a very good one, since he dies. Never mind, someday he will be king again... when the exact same story is retold in the exact same book with a few adjectives changed.

Princess of Shania: My Little Unicorn (High Fantasy)

In which intrepid-but-naive young princess, Shania, dreams of escaping her mundane life in the castle for adventures in the wilds, and - by the Hand of Fate - is then thrust headlong into a sequence of events which involves her escaping her mundane life in the castle for adventures in the wilds. Shania finds a nice boy called Tom who is handsome-yet-sensitive. She also gets to ride a unicorn.

Dragonfuckers of Porn (Science Fantasy)

In which intrepid-but-naive young girl of action, Shania, dreams of escaping her mundane life in the village for adventures in the wilds, and - by the Hand of Fate - is then thrust headlong into a sequence of events which involves her escaping her mundane life in the village for adventures in the wilds. Shania finds a nice boy called Tom who is handsome-yet-sensitive. She also gets to ride a dragon.

The New Wave:

The Wasted Earth (New Wave)

In which Dr Calculus is faced with a post-apocalypse scenario arising from the practical ramifications of an entirely plausible scientific speculation, and wanders the wilds, encountering death, delusion, despair and other such manifestations of 20th Century ennui. The plausible scientific speculation is explicated at great length. As is the ennui.

The 80's On:
Neofile (Cyberpunk)

In which smart-but-dumb young loser, Loser, has a mundane life in the city which is made to look cool and exciting because it's full of neat technology. Loser - by a Twist of Fate - is then thrust headlong into a noir plot involving neat technology. Loser resolves this noir plot by playing with really neat technology.

Nekrofile (Splatterpunk)

As above. Substitute 'violence' for 'technology'.

Albion's Engines (Steampunk)

As above. Insert 'Victorian' before 'technology'.

Singularity Beach (Singularity… um… punk)

As above. Insert 'really really fuckin weird' before 'technology'.

Where Now?

Unfortunately, I think it's still too soon to try and define the current trends and relatively recent movements with such clarity. Perhaps this wariness on my part is simply down to ignorance of the various strains of Alternate History, for example (outside the inimitable 1860: Nukes Of The South, of course), or of the fine distinction between Vampire Fiction, Goth Slash and Horror Chick-Lit in the face of novels like Letwat: Ponce of the Damned which flits so daringly back and forth across those boundaries. Nor am I sure whether Dark Fantasy is best defined by the wonderful Evermore and Urban Fantasy by the equally wonderful Bones Of The Night Museum, or vice versa (there is a part of me quite convinced that 'Dark', 'Urban' and 'Contemporary' exist in a sort of Three Card Monty of signification, whereby we can pick any label but will invariably find we have not picked the correct one). How, for that matter, can we even begin to define the sprawling, gargantuan, gothic phantasies of Gothamsgeist - which must be seen, surely as the archetypal work of New Weird?

And frankly I'll buy five pints for anyone who can point to such an obviously definitive work -- with a clear and simple formulation of its essence -- by which we might similarly concretise our understanding of Slipstream (aka Infernokrusher) as a rigorous, bounded genre.

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8 Comments:

Anonymous Duanawitch said...

Who knew I had so many classics on my shelves... *muses on my cutting-edge-ness* ;-)

7:41 pm  
Blogger RWM said...

Bones of the Night Museum? Bloody memes! That was my next book title.

11:04 am  
Blogger RWM said...

The Journey Home
In which bleedingly hip smart-but-dumb hermaphrodite youngster, Too-Cool, has a cool life in the city which is made to look like a manifestation of 20th Century ennui. Too-cool - by a Twist of Fate - is then thrust headlong into a noir plot involving a post-apocalypse scenario arising from the practical ramifications of escaping his cool life in the city for adventures in the wilds with totally fucking weird technology, all based on the literature of a pre-classical civilisation. Too-cool gets made king, encounters wicked Mages, Amazons, plausible scientific speculation, characters from well known literature such as Douglas "Doug" McClure, vampires, zombies, dragons and all manner of concretisations of 21st C breakdown of meaning. But really its just The Odyssey, again.

;-)

11:19 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

>>Bones of the Night Museum? Bloody memes! That was my next book title.

I thought that was Museum Of The Night Bones.

Or was it Night In The Bone Museum? Days Of The Bone Museum? The Bones Beneath The Day? The Days Of Bones? The Museum of Day?

The Journey Home... sounds great , Rich, (strangely familiar, can't quite place it, but definitely great)... but what genre is it?

11:27 am  
Blogger MJ said...

What - no ANGEL STATIONS?! :D

9:12 pm  
Blogger MJ said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:12 pm  
Blogger RWM said...

Well I thought it was slipstream, but its so hard to define...

11:03 am  
Anonymous djlivi said...

benchmark slipstream book?

rich was pretty spot on, thats five pints you owe him.

My own attempt:
City/Day* of Night/Light*

In which cool/geeky/troubled* youth/prostitute/scientist*
finds him/her/it self - by a Twist of Fate - thrust into a confusing plot where the world can only be saved from the evil/indifferent* robots/angels/demons/aliens/fantasy-authors*
by going on a journey of self-reflection/realization* through a landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms where he/she/it* must survive a succession of trials. But really its just Joseph Campbell's (JC! again!) Adventure of the Hero. Again.

*: delete as appropriate/at random*

3:47 pm  

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