June 14, 2015

Slice of PIE: The “Waves” of Science Fiction

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in London this past August, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below…

“Digital vigilante groups like Anonymous sprang to prominence a few years ago, but what have they achieved in that time? Scientology is still running, and banks are still being banks, while governments and companies are coming up with more and harsher laws to restrict digital rights. How do digital activists work around these restrictions? Do they have a future, and is it one that’s good for them, computing and the rest of us? Kin-Ming Looi (M), Cory Doctorow, Lilian Edwards, David Dingwall, Neil McKellar (PAGE 57)

Science fiction cycles...

As much as we (science fiction readers and writers) would LOVE to say we eschew cycles like the vampires, werewolves, paranormal romance, et al; we DO in fact have our own cute little set of cycles.

Take for example the Hugo Award kerfuffle. In a nutshell, it’s conservatives versus liberals, every bit as acrimonious as the current Congresses; Council, Parliament, and Court; Congresso Nacional; 内閣;on the rest of the planet. One side wants science fiction to be pure fun, the other wants it to be a tool for sociological change. I don’t have a problem with us doing both – but that’s a different issue.

I started reading SF just as the New Wave was breaking over the SF world. JG Ballard was one of my favorites, though I read Samuel R. Delaney, John Brunner, and Harlan Ellison as well. Supposedly, these authors pushed the limits of the general reading public and managed to puncture it, allowing science fiction into the “Literary World” with works like FARENHEIT 451, SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE, and THE LEFT HAND O F DARKNESS.

After the Wave passed over fandom, cyberpunk swelled right behind it. Named by Bruce Bethke in his short story of the same name, it examined the effect of the personal computer/personal access to computers had on society. Though his name got buried, it was because the present wave of science fiction was even then beginning far out to sea. More people associate Cyberpunk with Bruce Sterling, William Gibbs, and Pat Cadigan than any others, and it still has some influence today. An undercurrent of Cyberpunk might be Transhumanism, a cluster of stories and novels exploring what happens “next” in the evolution of Humanity once computers become intelligent and they are implanted into our bodies.

Last of all – at least as I see it – is the newest Wave, which appears to be one of Relevance. Science fiction has often marginalized those who are outside of the “white, male, wealthy” demographic.  Heroes of the stories I grew up with were almost exclusively guys. Heinlein didn’t have any black kids in his juvenile novels, nor did the “hidden female” writer, Andre Norton – and her novels had no girls in them as main characters. Anne McCaffrey allowed for some, but they were “conveniently” attached to some dominating male or other. The influential books of my nativity as a science fiction reader all let me view the future through the eyes of the demographic to which I belonged – wealthy, white, male.

Today, the backlash against my demographic is fierce – and ironically often championed by those very wealthy, white, male members of the First Demographic who are protecting the downtrodden and underrepresented readers of SF...and the loudest cry in the Hugo mess is that the challengers didn’t promote a diverse platform.

In essence, I think this Diversity Drive is good. It’s just being promoted the wrong way. The people who should be crying out loudest are young adults from diverse backgrounds. Yet I don’t see them flocking to read Alaya Dawn Johnson’s THE SUMMER PRINCE, which I loudly recommended for SFWA’s Andre Norton Award because the STORY was good and the color and sexual orientation of the main characters weren’t the raison d'être of the book – and I thought it would appeal to the students of the high school I work at. Despite the recommendations of the committee, SFWA voted to skip the recommendations of the Norton Committee and bestow the Award on Nalo Hopkinson for SISTER MINE. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hopkinson’s writing starting with her first novel, BROWN GIRL IN THE RING, but where there’s an abundance of urban fantasy with diverse POV characters; and there is a DROUGHT of science fiction with diverse POV characters.

This is the battle being fought now; the Wave attempting to rise. This is one of the main reasons the Hugo disaster has occurred...and ultimately, I think the real losers are going to be the young adults and new readers who will see the infighting as just another extension of the current angry, vituperative, and divisive politics of Left vs Right that has the world in its sharp and taloned grip.

Ultimately this is the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.

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