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May 27, 2005

Art vs. the tick-box
Posted by Patrick at 09:55 AM * 66 comments

SF writer Ian McDonald realizes with a start that his latest novel, River of Gods, meets all the demands of the “Mundane SF” manifesto. But, he observes, he wrote it—

without knowing of the Mundane Manifesto, let alone that such a movement existed, and certainly without having read a single word of the dogme. If I had, it would have been much worse a book for it. For at one level you can call such a dogme creative constraint. At another it’s box ticking. Ignorance, in my case, was bliss. And I wish I was ignorant again, because I don’t want those boxes there, to either have to tick or ignore. The real creative freedom is the constraint of writing the book you want to write, nothing more. And that can be very very hard in as small and communicative a world as SF.

Will I then be co-opted against my will, like being converted to Mormonism after your death? (How unfair is that? Now you really canít win.)

It’s not just the Mundane Manifesto is totally unnecessary to produce the type of science-fiction it celebrates (one very very much worth celebrating, and that is due its time in the sun), it’s that the genre has a much richer palate of colours. It’s a poor manifesto that would venerate Verne (tech-speculation) but consigns much of H.G. Wells’ core texts to the ‘bonfire of stupidities’ (interplanetary war, aliens, time-travel). To me, one of the strengths of SF is that it is an allegorical literature: parables and myths of our age. That TV has appropriated and devalued many of them is tribute to their strength, not their weakness. To me, any literature that writes about the future (not all SF does by any means) cannot be realist…, to quote likelihood of a possible future is just hand waving.

I tend not to write about big space-ships, interstellar travel (in my work, it tends to be uncomfortable and very very slow) or aliens. In this way, my work may seem to fit the Mundane Manifesto. But when I need to, I will use those colours to make the allegorical point I want. In Sacrifice of Fools I used the alien Shian in a pastiche of the movie Alien Nation (great premise, shit movie—just another stupid drugs film, eventually) because they were the most effective tool to satirise my own country of Northern Ireland. Had I applied the dogme of MSF, I fear it would have become a dull, tendentious, grim and worthy chunk of urban grime. (Of course, you may very well think this about SoF anyway.)

Right. SF isn’t futurology, although futurology is one of its several methods.

On the larger matter, I’m once again drawn back to Chip Delany’s point, in a New York Review of Science Fiction essay from two or three years ago, that we need to stop trying to define SF, and work on describing it instead. As Chip observed, definitional arguments, by their nature, invariably wind up quibbling over edge cases at the expense of examining the broad middle. In a way I can’t quite lay my finger on, it seems to me that the turn of mind that’s attracted to definitional argument—a turn of mind well-represented in our subcultures—is also the turn of mind that makes check-box manifestos. And that while this kind of quibbling and box ticking definitely scratches an itch, it’s not the same itch as the one that leads to art.

Comments on Art vs. the tick-box:
#1 ::: JeremyT ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 10:54 AM:

I couldn't agree more with Mr. Delany. The whole business of manifestos strikes me as rather elaborate cat-waxing anyway.

#2 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 11:07 AM:

Even though I have, in the immediate ancestor of this quasisexually merged bi-blog, conspicuously violated "Chip Delanyís point, in a New York Review of Science Fiction essay from two or three years ago, that we need to stop trying to define SF," I concede his point.

The central question of the Metaphysics of the Mundane, however, is the Ontological Qustion (what is "real?") and the Epistemological Question (and how do you know that?").

The role of Futurology (and I say this as a cardcarrying Futurologist) and of Science Fiction overlap in a complex way, with a fractal boundary.

Space Ships were SF when I was a child; Heinlein et al. converted me to a True Believer who helped build and fly Real Space Ships later in life. Ditto for Robotics and Asimov.

The Hardest of Hard SF has patentable designs in it. Cf. Waterbed/Heinlein, various things/Robert Forward.

I don't believe in Interstellar war -- for Class I civilizations, on whose bottom rung we rest. It may indeed make sense for Class II or III civilizations. Much of cosmology may be a misinterpretation of the battlefield.

I don't believe in Time Travel, after studying General Relativity for years, and teaching a course on Time Travel several times.

But I agree with Ian McDonald, whose books I love, about Allegory.

Finally, it is almost impossible to eliminate a didactic componenet in any work of Science Fiction.

#3 ::: Daryl McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 11:19 AM:

I had never heard of the mundane SF manifesto. Thanks for the link. It seems to me that the authors of the manifesto were careful to not take it too seriously themselves (saying that it was in force only until the signatories were bored with it). It seems to me that there are two different interpretations of such a manifesto: (1) That there is plenty of material for SF to be found sticking close to home (this was Asimov's point in his wonderful collection "Earth is Room Enough"). (2) That there is something foolish about going too far beyond what is known.

I don't see any point in number (2), although I certainly agree with number (1). Not being much of a participant in science fiction discussion groups, I don't know to what extent (if any) Mundane SF is to be distinguished from the thriller + science combination found in Michael Crichton. For some reason that I don't understand, people who claim to hate SF seem to enjoy Crichton.

#4 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 12:08 PM:

Dear God, that manifesto sounds like Ayn Rand wrote it. *shudder*

#5 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 12:25 PM:

Also, whether or not one believes in Futurology, Science Fiction has (since I mentioned Didacticism) a place in the History of Ideas. The aforementioned Manifesto seems curiously ahistorical and antiphilosophical to me.

Ideas: a history from fire to Freud
Peter Watson Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 822pp, £30
ISBN 029760726X
Reviewed by John Gray

"Peter Watson believes the first person to conceive of intellectual history may have been Francis Bacon, which places the birth of the subject in the late 16th century. In Greece and China more than 2,000 years ago, there were sceptics who doubted whether the categories of human thought could correctly represent the world, but the recognition that these categories change significantly over time is distinctly modern. Thanks to thinkers such as Vico and Herder, Hegel and Marx, Nietzsche and Foucault, the notion that ideas have a history is an integral part of the way we think today, and it surfaces incongruously in unlikely places. Thinkers of the right may rant against moral relativism and look back with nostalgia to a time when basic concepts seemed fixed for ever, but these days the right is committed to a militant belief in progress - and so to accepting that seemingly permanent features of the conceptual landscape may turn out to be no more than a phase in history...."

#6 ::: Dan Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 01:18 PM:

From one of the papers linked in the manifesto:

While the benefits to the present science fiction are many and the marriage between science and science fiction is fruitful, such science fiction fantasias may actually be damaging if we neglect the real world problems of today. To ignore practical concerns is pretending such problems don't exist. Global warming, oil depletions, extinctions, unnecessarily exorbitant expenditures, the search for and conversion to viable alternative energies, social inequalities, and the like still exist...

But this is only part of the problem: sf causes hairy palms, blindness, and insanity in young men.

#7 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 02:36 PM:

Folks. The "manifesto" is clearly described on the site as the work of a bunch of Clarion students. This strongly implies to me that even they weren't taking it too seriously.

(Teresa, do you remember the "Wet Spot on the Road" joke T-shirts we were going to have done from Viable Paradise II? I actually might have made them, too, except that I made the mistake of describing the idea to Rae Montor, who was, for reasons I never understood, horribly offended by it.)

#8 ::: Dan Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 03:03 PM:

Mundane SF: The Blog is at They seem to be following developments in the news to determine what science may now be used plausibly (i.e. Mundanely) in science fiction. I'm not sure that the manifesto was a one-off deal at all. I mean, maybe they think it's funny, but posting for five months for a joke? The posts seem a little too earnest for that.

#9 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 03:06 PM:

"... while this kind of quibbling and box ticking definitely scratches an itch, itís not the same itch as the one that leads to art."

I couldn't agree more.

(See also my somewhat longer response to Ian and the Mundane manifesto on my blog. Linked to rather than regurgitated here due to length.)

#10 ::: scapegoat ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 04:08 PM:

ditto on what Charlie Stross said.

There's a time and place for taking all your pretty toys and puting them in a box. That time and place is not while you are playing with them.

#11 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 04:10 PM:

Their main argument seems to be that non-mundane is wish-fulfilment. I think it's possible to have a non-mundane world that isn't wish fulfillment.

Either that, or when you push the definition you find that all fiction is wish fulfilment.

#12 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 04:18 PM:

I am mildly irritated because, using their definitions of mundane, "realist" SF, it is quite possible to write the most dreadful escapist pablum imaginable; their whole manifesto says nothing about the human characteristics of science fiction and everything about the chrome trimmings. This is what you get when you grab all the 1980's cyberpunk manifestos, stick them in a blender, then cream off everything that made cyberpunk halfway exciting in the first place.

#13 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 04:22 PM:

maybe they should rename their project the non-wish-fullfillment-and-still-good manifesto...

#14 ::: scapegoat ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 04:31 PM:

And in reply to what CS said on his blog:
I just don't read or write things I don't like. I know what they are, and if someone asks me, I'll tell. No point in wasting the effort in coming up with a definition for them that I expect everyone else to follow.

#15 ::: Trent ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 05:20 PM:

But, Patrick, I don't think you mean that. Would you say that Robert Frost, because he insisted on playing with the net up, didn't/can't do art? (If you don't care for Frost, maybe I can think up someone else.) Can Hard SF not be art? Mundane SF is no different than Hard SF except more inclusive on subject matter while more stingy on tropes.

Besides, though it has been a few years, I think you have a general understanding of where I stand on art.

Your old Clarion student,


#16 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 06:20 PM:

Trent, I think you're going to have to spell out the connections a little bit more clearly, because I'm honestly not following you.

Of course "hard SF" can be art, but "hard SF" isn't the product of a manifesto, it's a term readers and producers of SF have come to find useful as a way of pointing to a cloud of loosely-associated aesthetic products. It didn't come about because someone said "there shall be hard SF", and in fact we routinely use the term to describe works of art that are opposed to one another in significant ways.

As to Robert Frost, I'm stumped as to how you get from what I said to an argument against artistic formalism. We at are quite favorably disposed to artistic formalism.

#17 ::: Fran ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 06:28 PM:

I'm sorry we got off on the wrong foot in strong disagreement the first time I came here, especially considering I agree with the political stuff I see you've posted since. But, if you don't mind, I'm going to jump in this one time to say that I find The Mundane Manifesto SF thingie you've posted about interesting. That site's comment about this planet most likely being our only future is something I've often argued. Guess my pretty useless Earth and Space Science degree had to come in handy for something someday.

I too find supereasy space-travel and supereasy colonization depictions in fictional worlds irritating, so I agree with some of the MM's points but don't necessarily think they and especially the whole manifesto should be storytelling dogma. I think the world is big enough for many kinds of stories. I also think a story that did buck the numerous-aliens-in-easy-to-understand-communication-with-each-other-and-doing-extensive-easy-space-travel cliche, especially a story that addressed the likely extreme difficulties in extensive space travel and colonization, would probably be an interesting one. I'm usually a very cynical skeptical person; guess I prefer very cynical skeptical stories. Unfortunately, I would classify most sci-fi as being overly optimistic and full of "faith," faith in the future, in science and in humanity in general, so I don't enjoy most of what I read (or at least try to read but cannot ever finish...).

But I think Kim Stanley Robinson's RED MARS kind of fits into The Mundane Manifesto of what makes good sci-fi; it is one of the most "realistic" science fiction stories I've read. It also illustrates a potential flaw in demanding too much reality from and therefore putting in too much real "science" into science fiction, especially for stories that involve space travel and colonization: the story will likely get bogged down in all the necessaries involved in solving real-life supercomplex and often practically-impossible-to-solve engineering problems. Not sure if Robinson's intention was to show how potentially problematic colonizing would likely be, but he ultimately did show that--or at least that's what I remember.... It has been several years since I read the book completely; maybe my comments on this are very inexact. (And I see this article describes the book as utopic--I don't remember the story that way at all. Oh well.)

But my point is: I enjoyed RED MARS because it seemed realistic to me, with my having studied both science and engineering, but I also DIDN'T enjoy RM because it seemed so realistic that I found myself stopping to check if the science was accurate, which rudely pulled me out of the story. To me, science fiction is fiction; if people really want to read and write real science, they should read and write textbooks. I don't normally enjoy reading textbooks disguised as novels, which too much sci-fi today seems to be (IMO at least). I've read more than a fair share of science textbooks over my lifetime; I've worked in scientific publishing. When I pick up a novel, I want to read a STORY. The science info-dumping in RED MARS detracted from the characterizations to me. I think Robinson does characterization very well. If he had stuck to that more, had stuck to exploring the interesting RM characters more, the book would have read better. As it is, although I enjoyed reading about the world he created, the story was a struggle for me to get through, which fiction shouldn't be. I still think it's a good book, one of the best science fiction books I've read; it just could have been more enjoyable reading....

Which brings me to this manifesto page

Too many people seem to think writing is a choice between doing two things: entertaining or enlightening. I say, stories of any kind can and ideally should both entertain and enlighten. Those two things aren't necessarily mutually exclusive; I think that many writers are not good enough (and brilliant enough) to do both, so some people have come to believe the two are mutually exclusive given the paucity of fictional works that seem to do both compared to the number of fictional works that seem to do neither or only one of those. On the OTHER hand, it could just be that, IMO, most people unfortunately seem to love believing in and using absolutes and either/or scenarios, pushing possible outcomes into a choice between only one or two supposed "certainties," when in actuality there could be and likely are many possibilities and few if any certainties--or so it may seem at least (!).


#18 ::: Trent ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 07:30 PM:

Well, artistic formalism is exactly what we're about--for a good number of reasons, most of which are political/philosophical which is why someone has to sign on to be Mundane. I'll elaborate on the blog later this weekend. I've got to go visit family for the weekend. The following page on the site probably answers some of your questions (we even critiqued ourselves long before we showed the manifesto outside the group):

A teaser:

"Why does Hawking refer to the classics of SF as 'space westerns?' How did the nom de plume of fiction about science come to mean fiction not about science? Who hasn't heard reporters question a scientist if such-and-such theory were real or science fiction? "

The site indirectly answers some of the points Charles Stross raised, i.e. at what date is Mundane SF null and void. If you grab the philosophy first, then you can see how we're less interested predicting the future than getting people to face some of the difficult aspects of our future (Earth, for instance, will probably be affected by global warming 500+ years from now, depending upon who's figuring the climate system). At the same time, we want people to get excited about what science and technology are already projected to do rather make wild guesses about time travel.

If you look at our manifesto, you'll see we've left a clause open to write whatever speculative fiction we want, but then it won't be Mundane. Again, the key point is the philosophy of why we're rejecting the tropes. Of course, some are free not to want to read or write any other kind of SF. Lots more wiggle room.

Take care.

#19 ::: michelle db ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 07:46 PM:

Hmm. Many commonplace technologies today-- in vitro fertilization, circuit board design and manufacture, intercontinental communications-- were all implausible as little as a few hundred years ago. Many ideas and discoveries had to combine in new and unexpected ways to make these things possible. Who's to say what new discoveries and ideas are lurking around, waiting to turn our understanding on its head, transforming themselves from implausible to commonplace in the next few hundred years?

Besides, what's wrong with a little wish fulfillment? This is supposed to be fun.

#20 ::: Trent ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 07:56 PM:

Michelle, if you explore the site, you might find out what we really think instead of sitting back and projecting our views.

#21 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 07:56 PM:

FWIW, "the greater part of the works of Phil Dick," championed in the MM, contain the following: telepathic slime molds, alien invaders from other stars, time travel via ingestion of psychedelic drugs, spirit demiurges who receive prayer through radio transmissions, four-dimensional deities who leave messages in toilet bowls, insane creator-deities at war with successor deities, and so on.

Many of his stories don't fit into the limiting prescription that science fiction futures should show only ourselves and this planet.

My opinion: if the MM enthusiasts want to complain about overuse of improbable cliches in s-f (and market rewards for lazy extrapolation), then they should fine tune their rant.

#22 ::: michelle db ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 08:35 PM:

Trent, I explored your site; I read the manifesto and about probability over possibility and the rest: I disagree.

To my mind, probability limits in that it considers ideas in light of only what we know now. Possibility expands by pushing ideas to the edge of what we know and beyond. This is what I want to read.

#23 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 08:38 PM:

One scientific error in the Mundane Manifesto is the trashing of interstellar travel. As someone who has published refereed journal articles on interstellar travel, I am tempted to bluster and make ad hominem arguments, but this very blog has convinced me otherwise, in the past.

However. This debate brought about the first time that I changed the mind of Sir Arthur C. Clarke. We briefly discussed it when he was in New York City in 1968 for a "2001: Space Odyssey" premiere. I cited a paper that he had not seen. He said, to paraphrase, "unless that's true, you're nuts. But if it is true, I'd like to know." Then he quoted Clarke's Laws.

The next time I saw him was on the campus of Caltech, I think in 1969. I presented him with a copy of Spenser, Dwain F., and Jaffe, Leonard D., Feasibility of Interstellar Travel, Technical Report No.32-233, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 15 March 1962. He flipped through it, and said (again I paraphrase): "Well, you might still be nuts, but not about this."

Interstellar travel is expensive. The engineering is hard. But is is possible for mere fission technology, and easier for fusion technology.

Hydrogen Ice Spacecraft for
Robotic Interstellar Flight
Jonathan Vos Post, F.B.I.S.

"Starflight without Warp Drive"
Forget SF's magical warp drives. Can today's science give us the stars for real?
Conducted by Geoffrey A. Landis
participants: David Brin, Robert L. Forward, and Jonathan Vos Post

JONATHAN VOS POST: 210 NEW WAYS TO SPACE for an endorsement of me by Bradbury, Bova, and Clarke. Okay, that was ad hominem.

Having made this fundamental error, the Manifesto draws absurd conclusions about extraterrestrials not being able to do what we shall be able to do within mere decades.

The graceful retreat for the Manifestoids would be: "90% of all interstellar travel is crap."

Then they can purge those who "can't hack the quantum mechanics" (to cite another thread of this blog) and let the Hard SF authors who would write about interstellar travel anyway, write about interstellar travel.

The rejection of SETI is also ill-conceived. Okay, communication is slow. So what? How long did it take the "Elements" of Euclid to reach you, personally, or the Epic of Gilgamesh? I am not referring to the likelihood that aliens won't speak English. However, in internet terms, "Content is King."

Significant interstellar civilization communications can have content that changes the recipient, even if it is one-way communication. Moreso with dialog, however slow.

Roughly a gigabyte of classical Greek text triggered the renaissance. I'd suggest that a gigabyte of SETI data received would do the same.

The Deep Green agenda of pretending that Earth is all we'll ever have is offensive to me, albeit I consider myself an Environmentalist.

#24 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 09:23 PM:

I have an ingrained, debating-society kind of prejudice in that it seems crazy and impossible to me to be talking about anything unless we can say, in fairly rigorous terms, what it is. What it means. What, with some rigour, it consists of. Now, all right, I can manage fractal boundaries, and I am aware that stuff on the edge might be one thing or another, equally. But nevertheless, I itch for defining characteristics. So sue me.

#25 ::: J ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 10:25 PM:

As a very occasional reader of Sci Fi I agree with some of the points the MM raises. Can't help but think Douglas Adams covered the same issues in a funnier way 25 years ago.

#26 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 11:46 PM:

For contrast, allow me to link to The Battlestar Galactica 2003 Manifesto.

Note that while it's also anti-time travel and some other SF tropes, it doesn't say SF should should follow particular conventions. It says "our show" will follow certain conventions. It has a work of art connected with it.

I'd find the mundane manifesto more compelling if the authors put some of their MM-inspired fiction on the site.

#27 ::: Bosh ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 08:31 AM:

What sillyness. My favorite sci-fi was always on the distinctly soft/allegorical side. And any manifesto that exclude's Le Guin's sci-fi on the grounds that it is unrealistic wish-fulfillment just makes me want to tear my hair out since it misses the whole point so completely.

#28 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 09:44 AM:

Fran: Maybe I'm being slow, but what's wrong with having faith in the future?

The future will happen, after all, and unlike the past, changing it is within our grasp. We'll get there, if we survive, day by day in the very slow time machine. Your options are to see the future or die.

I think one of the things SF does best is showing that the future doesn't have to be the way the present is. It probably won't be like any of the specific ways SF shows it, but that doesn't matter, there isn't just one SF future, there are multitudes, all different. Any SF novel will provide characters living as if the axioms and assumptions of their particular world are real, different as they are from the axioms and assumptions of ours.

If a twelve year old reads a random handful of the most implausible sensawonda SF novels they're hooked by the scent of alien worlds and the giant robots and the ansibles, but what they've also seamlessly absorbed is the belief that however the future actually is, it'll be different from now. They won't accept the way the world is as set in stone. When they're actually faced with the way the world changes, they're much less likely to suffer "future shock". Also, if you have faith in the future, you might sulk about your missing flying car, but you might also do more to help make it somewhere worth going.

I think SF, like history, can help with perspective on the present and the future.

In the immediate aftermath of the planes hitting the towers, I heard a number of people saying "This is just like a Ken MacLeod novel" or "I feel as if I'm in a Jack Womack novel". Of course, I can't prove that it helped us deal with the experience better than people who had hitherto believed their life was a J.S. Salinger novel, but it certainly seemed to.

As for the future, I don't see what's wrong with working for and hoping for something better, while being well aware it might be worse. Whatever happens, there isn't any doubt it will happen, and that it will different.

#29 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 10:43 AM:

Jo Walton:

I agree. I'm using a specific set of definitions (after being warned about check boxes and definitions):

"Science fiction is that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings."
-- Isaac Asimov, in "Modern Science Fiction", edited by Reginald Bretnor (1953)

"Science fiction is that branch of literature that deals with human responses to changes in the level of science and technology."
-- Isaac Asimov, in "Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine" (Mar-Apr 1978)

"Science fiction is that class of prose narrative treating of a situation that could not arise in the world we know, but which is hypothesized on the basis of some innovation in science or technology, or pseudo-science or pseudo-technology, whether human or extraterrestrial in
-- Kingsley Amis, in "New Maps of Hell" (1961)

There are other Definitions of Science Fiction that I could use.

But the future WILL be different than the past or present. This is not the assumption central to, say, Westerns or Mystery novels, or Romance, or P0rn. That future CAN contain interstellar space ships. Granted, Global Warming will have a more direct effect on most people, IN THE SHORT RUN.

Within 5 years if you're rich, and 10 years otherwise, you will have a billion measurements a year made on your mRNA, DNA, and protein metabolism, so that the medications you take are optimized for you and you alone. The entire medical system as it is now will collapse before that. "Big Pharma" isn't on the right path, and will be swept aside. Universities can't do the right research; they're too departmentalized. The combination of nanotechnology (in the lab-on-a-chip sense), massive databases far beyond The Human Genome Project, software that can search the biomedical databases and automatically make and test hypotheses, and other supportive technology will save me from dying of cancer as did my mother, her mother, and (last week) my father. That matters to me, in the short run, more than starships or Global Warming.

What matters is, it will be Different. The Mundane Manifesto misses the whole point of that accelerating difference. The seeds of the new world are here right now, and the megastory of how the old paradigm is displaced include an essentially unlimited set of possible Science Fiction stories.

There are 6 million stories in the naked singularity city.

#30 ::: Fran ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 03:11 PM:

Hi, Jo:

You said: "Your options are to see the future or die."

--Don't know where you got this statement from, but it wasn't from my post.... And how you could have inferred that from what I wrote and pushed it onto me is beyond me (if that's what you meant to do in your post--but maybe you meant "your" impersonally?), especially when I closed my post discussing the fallacies usually involved in making an either/or choice between two things only, and especially since there's the obvious combination that you can see the future and die anyway. But what will "the future" be? Damned if I know; I don't have a crystal ball. Wish I did.

Not only am I cynical, but I'm also nihilistic, so don't expect me to have "faith" in anything because, chances are, I won't. Still, I don't see anything wrong with dreaming. However, I do see a lot wrong with when dreams are confused with "realities," when dreams are confused with probabilities. I agree with some of the MM points; where I disagree with them is in their tone primarily, which I think is too dogmatic. I happen to like some "Space Westerns" (even though I don't normally like regular westerns). Generally, I try to judge each story as if it exists in a vacuum, based on whether it works in and of itself. Some Space Westerns are cool stories; for example, I love the movie OUTLAND. I prefer "lighter" science fiction. I think too much real science in science fiction is, well, too much. I'm not crazy about it for the reasons I've described above and more.

However, where I have another problem with a good deal of science fiction, and where I think the MM people might too, is when it seduces people who have no real experience in science into thinking humans and their technologies can solve everything, where it seduces them into thinking humanity has a crystal ball and can definitely see what the future will be simply because some author imagined it in a certain way, especially if that author has some experience in real science. Not all science is necessarily competent science, not all scientists are necessarily competent scientists. I think science follows the same spectrum of competence that other professions seem to follow, which often winds up meaning that the bulk of scientists are not good at what they do.

Some of the dogmatic comments in this thread making specific predictions about the future are exactly what bothers me. Doing that too often can be dangerous and foolhardy, and is often unscientific coming from scientists especially. Frankly, I don't like the term "Global Warming" and prefer the words "Climate Change" (or "Climate Instability") but not for the reasons the psychotic pathologically lying Bush crowd does. IMO, "Global Warming" seems to have become a populist term that has seduced some people into thinking humans are likely to get off easy with the earth just warming up overall. The reality most likely is: we don't know what will happen exactly, so, therefore, we probably cannot easily prepare for what will happen. That is a much scarier scenario, IMO. And it would be better to prepare for a whole host of eventualities, which very few if any people, or countries, seem to be preparing for.

Generally, when a change is occurring or a new dynamic is introduced into the atmosphere, or any system, complex or otherwise, the usual response in the system is a spectrum of reactions, not necessarily a single overriding reaction. There may be a single overriding END result as the system tries to and ultimately does reach some kind of equilibrium again, but before that happens, there is often a great deal of disorder and high unpredictability. It may be that all the carbon dioxide (and some other shit) that has been pumped into the atmosphere may cause a "global" warmup; it may also cause a global iceage; it may also not cause anything consistent globally but may change local climates into sporadic unpredictable atmospheric states, where the notion of "climate," micro, local or otherwise, is ultimately rendered moot because the atmosphere has become so unstable (personally, I think this is the more likely scenario over the short and possibly over the long term; that the "atmosphere" must exist and must always reach an overall "equilibrium" for the lifetime of the Earth isn't carved in stone anywhere I know of, and even if it was carved in stone in the "laws" of physics, there isn't necessarily a guarantee that the laws of physics, assuming they are "correct" and "real," will always exist, will always work, especially the way we have perceived them).

It would be better if scientists explained that much of this stuff is very up in the air (ahem), that making predictions on it will vary in probability as to how likely those specific predictions are to occur, and that all the predictions could even be incorrect. Labeling something as a "warming" may give some people the idea that they can prepare for the consequences because they won't be so bad, like we'll all just run around naked post-warmup, which I think would be great, but that is most likely only a possibility for the future, not a certainty. And is that scenario probable, highly probable, minimally probable? Given a lot of the stuff I've seen and read, I think that we're in for some very scary times, and an eventual cooldown over a good deal of the earth is the more likely scenario, assuming some kind of overall equilibrium is reached once again and there actually still exists a notion of "climate." Humans are generally more suited to warmer environments; warmer environments on Earth tend to support more lifeforms in kind and quantity. I think this planet's in great trouble. If human civilization lasts another twenty years without at least the obvious start of greatly destructive environmental catastrophes, I'll be surprised. Once a system reaches a critical mass or state, things tend to start happening really fast. I thought this planet hadn't reached a state like that yet, that there might be more time to avert reaching it, but lately I'm beginning to think that it has already reached it and now the Earth's riding on the downward slope (at least the parts we need to exist on). Probably nothing we could do at this point would likely change the final outcome(s), even though doing some things might prolong the amount of time before that final outcome occurs and maybe alter its nature slightly. I just don't think it can be altered enough at this point to prevent a lot of death and destruction, a lot of instability and insanity, a lot of scary stuff in other words.

My feeling is that science fiction would be a more, well, responsible field if it did address what seems to be the more likely futures of life on Earth. Blasting off to the stars once we've fouled up this place beyond repair is a nice fantasy--who the hell wouldn't want to run away from catastrophe? (Okay, maybe a masochist wouldn't.) But to me the likelihood of that being an option in the near future is just too low to spend exploring in a huge chunk of fictional works. There are other possible and more likely futures that should be more widely written about today, but they're not being more widely written about, probably largely because they would be so ugly that the reading-for-entertainment factor would kick in, and people wouldn't buy those ugly unsexy future books as much as they'd buy the pretty sexy future books; I have personal experience in that for sure because my futuristic stuff isn't happy writing. But I think a lot of science fiction is escapism. A lot of fiction of ANY kind is escapism. Many readers seem to be turned off to realism; I happen to like realism, even though I recognize there's only so real "fiction" can get, and even though I don't like TOO MUCH realism, especially too much real science, anymore than a person who was/is a cop or a lawyer or law student enjoys reading fictional cop and legal thrillers. If you have some experience in an area, reading fiction in that area can be very frustrating. And I also think too much real stuff can give readers ideas, like because they've read a detailed realistic depiction of an operation on someone in a novel, which was written by a real scientist/doctor, those readers are now qualified to do that operation. There seem to be a lot of kooky people in the world!

...Er, as usual, I've written a tome-post. I'll stop now. Sorry for the long posts to those reading them,


#31 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 03:45 PM:


That was excellent!

Re: Space Westerns: 2005 Annual Meeting of the Science Fiction Research Association.
Distinguished Guest Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Featured Guest Authors: John Barnes, Kij Johnson, Tim Powers
Venue: The Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino
"Remember: What happens in Las Vegas is
immediately reported to the Galactic Overlords on Planet 10."

Your opening up "Global Warming" into a properly phrased admission that we don't know what will happen -- very good!

"Blasting off to the stars once we've fouled up this place beyond repair is a nice fantasy..." I've been trying to explain that we will BOTH "blast off to the stars" and continue fouling up this pace, expect for a fractal area of quasi-restored territory, where the buffalo and eohippus roam.

Blasting off to the stars will, for a long time, be "Practical Robotic Interstellar Travel" and then various SFnal variants on sperm-and-ova-and-robots to the stars, living in Freeman Dyson's Genetically Engineered Trees rooted in comet nuclei, and weird Kuiper Belt to Oort Cloud human expansion which is sensitive to initial conditions, but inevitable once we get people to the Outer Planets and beyond.

If we nuke ourselves, poison ourselves, gray goo ourselves, the Human Interplanetary will not happen, let alone Human Interstellar. But, just as we Went to the Moon, and then blew as much in Afghanistan and Iraq as it would have cost to Got Back to the Moon and Go To Mars and Start Going to the Jovian Moons in person, I think we might expand into the Solar System while mucking things up back home, and then dogpaddle beyond the Solar System. We meaning less the USA (I am sure that we will blow up another Space Shuttle and then be out of the manned space biz for some time), than China, Japan, Europe, India, and then Brazil, Pakistan (if the Islamic Bomb is damped), Indonesia, and so forth.

Am I absurdly techno-optimist? I don't think so. Science cannot solve all problems, and sometimes technology makes things worse while trying to make them better. Like my mentors Herman Kahn and Richard Feynman, I think we have about a 50-50 chance to prevail, barring Bad Luck and Bad Management. Can't do anything about Bad Luck. Unfortunately inundated by Bad Management (White House on down). But 50% chance we make it back to the Moon; Rolling Stones to Mars; Farmer in the Sky to Jupiter; Varley 8 Worlds to Pluto; and then slowly interstellar, via Quaoar, Sedna, et al. See Kuiper Belt by David Jewitt.

#32 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 03:54 PM:

I'm having a semi-hostile reaction to the manifesto in question because I really hate analyses that reduce, attempt to reduce or purport to reduce stories to lists of motifs and ingredients. There's more to a good story than the ingredients. I'm more interested, as Delany suggests (see Patrick's post), in describing the final product, and discovering what the ingredients do than what they are.

Besides, I thought the Stith-Thompson index was the final word on this kind of list and tick-box approach.

#33 ::: Jackmormon ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 04:16 PM:

I tend to be more sympathetic with Fran's view on the MM, although JVP and PNH certainly make excellent points about the scientific of plausibility and the artistic usefulness of these tropes.

But more generally, folk, this is a manifesto. It's supposed to overstate its case, attack strawmen, proclaim rigid values, and generally make a pest of itself--because it recognizes that very few artists will pay any attention to it at all.

#34 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 04:20 PM:

I'm with Delaney on this one. I just don't care for anything that says what Art should be. If you like a particular kind of art, great. Say you like it, and why. If you dislike something, say so, and why.

But if you want to force a genre to change for the better, contribute to it, as brilliantly as possible, and the genre will follow you.

#35 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 04:38 PM:

In re global warming: average temperatures have been increasing at a fairly high rate for the past thirty or forty years. (Along with the decreasing populations of animal species, extinction of ocean life, etc.)

Ice ages come and go. We may not have reliable predictors for what's coming, but my vote's with the suspicious eco-DAs who're building probable cause for arrest warrants on atmosphere polluters.

#36 ::: Fran ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2005, 05:46 PM:

Hi, Lenny. I didn't mean to imply that I think there isn't/hasn't been a warming trend going on now; I was really responding to comments made by others about farther into the future.

I think that overall but not necessarily everywhere across the board at all times, there is more thermal energy in the atmosphere now primarily as a result of human actions over the past few hundred years and maybe even longer. And that is probably the real unpredictable problem: a suped-up atmospheric engine, if you will, not necessarily the actual temperature changes recorded, or that there has been an overall average warming measured. I think too many people keep focusing on that temperature-measure way of looking at it (which measurements seemingly haven't even been across-the-board uniform) as if that's an end unto itself.

I guess to me all this stuff could be "framed" better (and more accurately) than it has been by most. I normally try to look at things in a "larger picture" way. The atmosphere's a huge dynamic system. Pump more energy into it, whether directly or indirectly, especially over a short period of time, and then that already huge system has even more energy. Who knows where that will lead specifically? But, IMO, it is likely to lead to some excessive instability, at least over the short term (IMO, that seems to have started already--signs of excessive instability are here now). Maybe having studied atmospheric science has made me somewhat afraid of how powerful that engine in the sky really can be. But I also don't mean to imply that the atmosphere, especially the lower atmosphere, sits off by itself in its own little bubble; it's connected to what goes on the earth's land masses, in its waterways, to the Sun's behavioral whims.... There are so many variables involved in all of this....


#37 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 08:03 PM:

"Some of the dogmatic comments in this thread making specific predictions about the future are exactly what bothers me. Doing that too often can be dangerous and foolhardy, and is often unscientific coming from scientists especially. Frankly, I don't like the term 'Global Warming' and prefer the words 'Climate Change' (or 'Climate Instability') but not for the reasons the psychotic pathologically lying Bush crowd does. IMO, 'Global Warming' seems to have become a populist term that has seduced some people into thinking humans are likely to get off easy with the earth just warming up overall. The reality most likely is: we don't know what will happen exactly, so, therefore, we probably cannot easily prepare for what will happen. That is a much scarier scenario, IMO. And it would be better to prepare for a whole host of eventualities, which very few if any people, or countries, seem to be preparing for."

I would be very surprised if many of the people reading and contributing to this thread were unaware that the thing popularly known as "global warming" is actually an unstable and dangerous process that might not ultimately end in "warming."

The impression I'm getting from Fran is that we have to be incredibly careful and walk on eggshells lest our "dangerous" and "foolhardy" artistic imaginations cause the people to have thoughts that don't measure up to some exacting standard of politically and scientifically nuanced precision.

Real emergencies (and climate change is a real emergency) have a tendency to encourage people to start talking like this. It makes me, politically engaged though I am, want to make art that's as flagrantly "irresponsible" as possible, just to piss certain people off.

#38 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 08:49 PM:

From a slightly older manifesto:

Of course the fiction writer is paid for his day-dreaming. But as far as the effect on the reader is concerned, it makes little difference whether the daydream is one's own or whether it has been written down by someone else. Daydreaming, whether original or secondhand, has the effect of taking a person away from the real world in which he lives. It causes him to live in a world of make-believe. This is the principal reason why the reading of fiction is not desirable.
...The reading of imaginative books or magazine articles is usually done in solitude. At least, the person who is engrossed in such reading is unaware of what goes on around him. From the standpoint of the development of his personality this is unwholesome, because it means that by spending his time alone he is depriving himself of the opportunity to mingle with people and develop the know-how of getting along with others....But when a teen-ager finds himself in an easy chair, poring over a fictitious story, how can he be developing at the same time a skill in mingling with people?
I know of one high school teacher who tells his students that they cannot expect to get good grades in such subjects as physics, chemistry, or mathematics if they read fictitious literature....The teen-ager who has formed the habit of reading imaginative literature has lost his ability to concentrate in reading except when the excitement of the story carries him automatically from sentence to sentence.
From On Becoming a Woman: A Book for Teen-Age Girls, Harold Shryock, M.D., 1951.

Darn that fiction, "seducing" people into thinking wrong things.

(Credit to this LiveJournal for the discovery.)

#39 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 09:17 PM:

Well heck, if we're really going to talk "manifestos," then I'd pick this one:

Only the Poet disdeining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, doth grow in effect into another nature: in making things either better then nature bringeth foorth, or quite a new, formes such as never were in nature: as the Heroes, Demigods, Cyclops, Chymeras, Furies, and such like; so as he goeth hand in hand with nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely raunging within the Zodiack of his owne wit. Nature never set foorth the earth in so rich Tapistry as diverse Poets have done, neither with so pleasaunt rivers, fruitfull trees, sweete smelling flowers, nor whatsoever els may make the too much loved earth more lovely: her world is brasen, the Poets only deliver a golden.

#40 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 10:14 PM:

My reaction to this manifesto is rather like my reaction to every other initiative to get people writing things that have been neglected - non-American, non-white characters, for instance.

And my reaction is, if you believe in the principle behind the manifesto, and can write a story that fulfills its requirements while simultaneously writing the story you needed to write anyhow, go for it.

If not...?

I recall someone on a message board once answeing the question why she writes fantasy as (paraphrase) "There's something inside me that pushes me to tell stories. That something isn't cowboy-shaped."

I agree; I'd be strangled if I had to make it all fit a standard Regency Romance format. Or with this manifesto, though since I hardly ever write SF, it hardly matters.

On the other hand, I AM perfectly capable of including people who accurately reflect a place's real ethnic mix, or writing women who don't all end up as baby-making machines* without breaking the story I want to tell -- in several cases, such touches only strengthen the story I want to offer.

The manifesto in its most rigid form** seems to me only useful in the place where technology is the basis for the story. It doesn't seem relevant to a story where the root and theme is in something non-tenchological, and the science or science fiction is backdrop. Sometimes the quaint impossible setting is just what is needed to set off the theme all the better - for just one example, because the author is doing something so different with a character that making the world around him/her seem at first a standard space fantasia is the best way to make the differences stand out.

*On baby-making machines: At one convention, I was talking to someone who told me they'd been deeply disappointed by the end of The Blue Sword because Hari proceeds to get married and have children, and therefore gives up her sword and all her adventures. I mentioned that I'd never seen it that way, in part because my mother took my brother and I with her around the world when I was nine. We saw Fiji, NZ, Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Bali, London -- being in the last for only four days, we never left the city. We were supposed to have stopped in Rome and Athens, too, but she was running lower on money than she felt was safe with children in tow -- she was courageous, not insane.

The person I was talking to looked thoughtful at that, and noted that her mother had pretty much let her life get subsumed by childraising.

Not saying one is better or worse, only that perspectives on settling down can be different -- although IIRC, in McCaffrey, those characters reappear in later books all settled as mommies of the subsumed-by childrearing types.

I have been happy to periodically see books where mothers get to figure out how to have adventures while handling their children -- ditto fathers, but being raised by a single mom makes the former more cool to me, though I don't find it so cool I intend to work on a manifesto requesting that particular trend, and I don't see one coming out of me in the next few years.

**I am aware the actual manifesto appears to have some give for those who desire not to follow it word by word. Please let me make my point without forcing me to write yet more stupid hedge phrasings.

#41 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 10:19 PM:


"I don't see one coming out of me "

One = A novel of that stripe, not another manifesto.

Sorry. Poor phrasing at the tail end.

#42 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 10:27 PM:

Jackmormon, I agree about what manifestos are supposed to do, but this one was just dull. It needs to be funnier, and more outrageous. It needs a rival group to write an opposing manifesto, and then the two groups can stage elaborate parodies of the other at conventions and get drunk a lot and mock each other in their stories. They should all get into vicious feuds that casually appear to be about artistic issues but on closer examination make little sense because they're actually caused by spats over who's sleeping with whom. Then a few years later someone declares the whole thing over and everyone does something else.

#43 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2005, 11:31 PM:

Improbable science fantasy may actually exert a stimulating effect on scientific research. A number of doctors and inventors of medical technology praise classic Star Trek. They say they were inspired by seeing the tricorders and laser healing devices to try to make them real.

>Darn that fiction, "seducing" people
>into thinking wrong things.

I'm not ready, yet, to abandon the notion that aesthetic (or moral) criticism of "artistic seduction" can be a good thing -- even if there are examples of it that obviously aren't.

With respect to the Mundane Manifesto, I'm in the happily seduced camp. I like imaginative science fiction and science fantasy. I'm not convinced that reading it is a "vice" compared to the "virtue" of reading other types of literature.

But the "criticism of seduction" business is one that I don't want to entirely discount.

#44 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2005, 03:43 AM:

Lenora Rose: I have been happy to periodically see books where mothers get to figure out how to have adventures while handling their children...

IIRC, John Varley wrote a short story where a mother decided that she was frustrated with bearing all of the sex-linked tasks of child-rearing (e.g. nursing) so she went and got a sex change (easy, fertile and reversible in that particular universe). Various family adjustments ensued. I enjoyed the story, but can't for the life or me remember the title.

#45 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2005, 05:54 AM:

JvP, I'm interested in your thoughts on where medicine is headed, and I think the arrows point in that direction, but who's doing the work that's going to bring down Big Pharma? Obviously the work isn't doing itself, and if it's not Big Pharma and it's not the universities (per your post), then who?

I also think we're talking more a 10- to 20-year time frame than a 5- to 10-year one.

In my day job, I cover the German biotech industry for a trade publication. Amazing things are being done, but it's almost all incremental. And moving from a discovery to something that people really use in medicine is also very slow. So what you'll see in treatments in five years' time is pretty much what's in development now. The drugs & treatments that are being tested for safety as I write this are the ones that will be available in 2010.

I talked last week with some folks at Roche who think they may have the world's biggest proteomic database. It's doubling every year, but even allowing for that pace over ten years, it's still a fair distance from what you're describing. So to get there within 10 years, we'd need a transformative discovery, something like Venter's shotgun sequencing, applied to proteins. And that doesn't begin to get into problems like folding or interaction.

Anyway, this is all a bit off-topic. I think you're right about the essentials, but it will take longer than we'd all like.

#46 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 02:05 AM:

Larry: The Varley story is "Options."

#47 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 02:51 AM:

I am struck, really, by how much of the material of the "Mundane Manifesto" (if indeed the thing is more than an elaborate literary troll) was anticipated by James Blish in his essays "The Science in Science Fiction" and "The Arts in Science Fiction", collected in The Tale That Wags the God, and also in the broader body of his critical work. IIRC (and my copy is in storage, so I can't check it), the thorny critic Blish ended up by concluding that a great deal of the value in sf lies, exactly, in its impossibilities.

(The Manifesto has a great many problems. I can only wonder at authors who regard the greater part of Philip K. Dick's work as fitting that manifesto. One can only do that by declaring the majority of his novels as irrelevant--are we to count as insignificant all of the mystical works? The Man in the High Castle? And if quantum mechanics had no macroscopic effects we would be unable to design experiments to test its hypotheses. Etc, etc.)

There is always a need, of course, to emphasize the intractability of the physical in sf; that has been part of the field for a very long time. But there is a less-discussed and equally significant need to attend to the pliability of the physical in sf: to remember that humanity has achieved great dreams and to explore such dreams. The second makes sf possible; the first gives it structure.

A few specific comments on previous discussion: Fran, there is no certain way to tell the difference between dreams and realities; if there were we would know everything that was possible, and we do not. For reading about climate change, I yet again recommend, where you can see real climate scientists discuss the subject, or just read the IPCC reports, which are available on-line; scientists, who are generally rather smart people, are doing pretty much you suggest.

#48 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 02:57 AM:

By the way, I think Charlie has touched on something very important in pointing at a tendency towards hero-worship and uncompassion in sf. This is, of course, an old problem in the field, and one that many authors and critics have railed against. But it bears repetition; it's not like the tendency has gone away.

#49 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 11:19 AM:

JVP, Doug: There is at least one research institute that is consciously organized to avoid the academic stovepipe problem. (Claimer: they pay me money, I administer their computers.)

#50 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2005, 11:30 AM:

I'm not sure, because the Mundane Manifesto was pretty well unreadable even set at the largest text view on my browser, but it looked to me as if the kernel of it was "it's high time more people wrote more sf containing this here set of ideas we're excited about."

That's okay with me. It's not quite the same as "everybody write this and stop writing anything else."

But. Fran, I can't read your defense of it here -- I just can't follow it: it's too dense for me.

#51 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 04:50 PM:

The only worry I have about Chip Delany's observation, i.e. that we need to stop trying to define SF, and work on describing it instead--is that if we don't define it, the snobs will (and they have essentially, think of Michael Dirda's defensive quote about Gene Wolfe's work blurbed on the back cover of Return to the Whorl). I think that's why I had a vague feeling of dissatisfaction on recently reading David G. Hartwell's book (Age of Wonders). There wasn't even a mention, for example, of Theodore Sturgeon's old definition, which always seemed good to me.

#52 ::: Matt Arnold ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 01:54 PM:

SF isnít futurology, although futurology is one of its several methods.
I would like more elaboration on this statement.
Also, to the best of your knowledge does there exist a non-broken link to the text of the manifesto?

#53 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 02:11 PM:

This seems oddly relevant.

Sometimes people like to try to talk about what they're doing, and it seems like it's really hard to do it without looking like a dork and making people think you're a pretentious snob.

Matt: futurology is straight-up trying to predict what's going to happen, or at least what may happen. Science fiction is a lot of things, some of which are cast as future prediciting, and some of which are set in a putative future but without a serious attempt to predict, and some of which are what-ifs where the if-what is chosen for its interesting ideas and not because somebody seriously thinks it's a possibility. To limit science fiction to predictive works would cut out probably the larger part of what people want to read and write about.

Though if there are people who want to focus on predictive material, I only hope they do it as a creative discipline and not as a delusion that they're going to tell us what's going to happen.

#54 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 04:34 PM:

I've long thought -- and even said in public a couple of times -- that much of the concentration on the supposed "predictive" value of sf is connected to the broader utilitarian argument for the value of art. A novel (or some other work) is Good because it packs in Utility -- teaches some history, or argues a particular thesis, or explains some complex process to the layman, not because it has anything to say about the human mind or heart. SF has a special crunchy goodness because it deals specifically with the prospect of the intercontinental zeppelin post and the right to buy Isher products being the right to be an Isher Preferred Customer, and all that. Michener's Centennial has positive value because people who couldn't possibly take time out to read David Lavender or Dee Brown (never mind Richard Slotkin) will breathe deep of its Gabby Hayes-scented air. Oprah's selections will put your troubled soul in touch with its inner Oprah chakras.* And a one-dollar solid gold watch of a book like The Andromeda Strain is Significant because it persuaded Richard Nixon, our philosopher king, to put Neil Armstrong in a respirator in case he had picked up some alien microbes while breathing the Lunar atmosphere. (The fact that the book came out as the lid was coming off America's hot 'n' nasty affair with CBW seems lost to everyone, except perhaps Crichton's editor at Doubleday.)

Without presuming to second-guess LeGuin, I think this resides deeper in the bestseller's mojo than participating in its hrm, money, Padme,** hrm; one is acquiring the equity of useful knowledge -- or, since you can Google for that now, Double Secret Knowledge, like the fact that if Gram Parsons were made of contraterrene matter, he could blow up the whole Vatican and Silvio "My Ducats! My Duce!" Berlusconi and stuff, and John and Sandra Dee hid secret Leiber*** & Stoller lyrics in the manuscript of Chicken Soup for the Dark Night of the Soul with PGP encryption. And perhaps it is better to call this Illumination than to wossname the darkness, but I'm not sure.

Alvin Toffler found use, and even hope, in even swaggering tin-plated delusory prediction from sf -- people were going to get used to Change. But it's in the nature of paradigm tectonics that, while you can come to understand that there will be shocks, the shocks themselves are always something else. Still, when there's grenadine to hand, who wants to make Queen Charlottes? (The great thing about revolutions is that they usually take place in countries that make fine strong waters. America . . . Coors Lite . . . gonif.)

Oh, come on, there's gotta be a third-level undergrad with a trenchantly glaivey MLA stylesheet and a Charm TA spell out there somewhere. And while you're up, get me a grant.****

*Oprah chakra oprah chakra/I-I-I-You will buy/This book with fake detail/And it's priced below retail/Five stars on Amazon . . . uh, sorry.

**Not her.

***Not Fritz. I think.

****I know some of you here are old enough to get this joke.

#55 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 10:56 PM:

And while you're up, get me a grant.****
****I know some of you here are old enough to get this joke.

I am!

But I didn't get all of the rest, just most of it.

I wish I could do that.

#56 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2005, 11:43 PM:

John M. Ford:

Don't ignore the importance of the Ansible in triggering the development of Quantum Computing, that Sturgeon first described the Double Helix, that the Capek-Asimov axis led Moxon's Masters to build the first robots, and Greg Bear invented nanotechnology.

"Andromeda Strain is Significant because it persuaded Richard Nixon, our philosopher king, to put Neil Armstrong in a respirator in case he had picked up some alien microbes while breathing the Lunar atmosphere." And "Marooned" caused the Apollo-Soyuz mission. And "Airfame" caused Reagan to fire the Air Traffic Controllers.

John and Sandra Dee costarred in one of those Judy Dench flicks about Elizabeth I, right? "Gloriana" maybe?

Gram Parsons ... made of contraterrene matter? Micrograms of antimatter are enough to take out a building complex, Hiroshima only converted 5 grams of matter to energy, about the weight of a nickel.

Leiber*** & Stoller lyrics... like Along Came Starman Jones (the Bobby Heinlein cover), or Some of My Blood is Redder than Wine, or Flesh, Blood, and Roll Them Bones?

Didn't they also write Three Cool Cats and The Wanderer, Little Aegypt, Conjure Wife's Love Potion #9, Down in Mexico a Spectre is Haunting Texas, Our Lady of Darkness Wants to Twist, Destiny Times Three Time Loser, Thumbin' a Ride to The Big Time, or was that Hard Times and the Big Time?

#57 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2005, 07:09 PM:

Do you know the connection between Film Noir and C. S. Lewis?

Depraved, seamy, deranged: Film noir as it's meant to be

Fox Home Entertainment's second installment in its new Film Noir DVD series features three vintage titles, including the 1947 cult classic "Nightmare Alley."
By Susan King
[Los Angeles] Times Staff Writer
June 5, 2005

Fox Film Noir
Fox, $15

Fox Home Entertainment's second installment in its new Film Noir DVD series features three vintage titles, including the 1947 cult classic "Nightmare Alley."

Nightmare AlleyA long-standing rights dispute between the film's producer, George Jessel, and Fox kept this grim masterpiece from VHS release ó though bootleg copies are available on EBay ó and it's rarely seen on TV. That's helped "Nightmare Alley," one of the bleakest noir films that Hollywood produced after World War II, achieve cult status.

When the film was released, audiences avoided it, even though star Tyrone Power received his best-ever reviews for a role of complexity and depravity.

Jules Furthman penned the uncompromising script; Edmund Goulding directed with a master hand. Lee Garmes supplied the evocative black-and-white cinematography.

Based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham ó his only successful work ó "Nightmare Alley" examines the seamy side of carnival life. Power plays a greasy charmer named Stan Carlisle who works with a washed-up medium, Zeena (a strong Joan Blondell), and her "rum dum" husband in a low-rent traveling carnival act. By using a secret code, she and her husband had been hits on the nightclub circuit before alcohol and infidelities ruined their careers. When Stan learns about the code, he romances Blondell and persuades her to teach him the code to beef up their carnival act. After Stan marries a naive circus performer (Coleen Gray) who also knows the code, the pair leave the circus and end up becoming headliners at a nightclub. But when an ambitious shrink (Helen Walker) enters Stan's life, she manipulates him and causes his downfall.

Gresham's life parallels Stan's downward spiral in the story. He became an abusive alcoholic ó his wife divorced him and later married C.S. Lewis ó and he committed suicide in 1962 in the hotel where he had written "Nightmare Alley."

Extras: Astute commentary from film noir historians James Ursini and Alain Silver.

[also reviewed at this hotlink:
The Street With No Name
House of Bamboo
Sam Fuller's remake of "The Street With No Name" "House of Bamboo" 1955

#58 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2005, 08:35 PM:

Jon writes:

Do you know the connection between Film Noir and C. S. Lewis?

Um, they died on the same day?

#59 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2005, 09:04 PM:

Bill Higgins:

Noooooo. You're thinking of 2nd September, when J. R. R. Tolkien died (1973) and Keanu Reeves was born (1964). Or maybe Friday, 22 November 1963, when C. S. Lewis died and J.F.K. was turned into a Film Noir ending, in which Deep Throat played a role, and I don't mean Marilyn Monroe. Or something. Was Oswald a crazed C. S. Lewis fan, pulling a Chapman-on-Lennon? We'll never know, since Gerry Ford forgave Nixon and John M. Ford alike. You talkin' to me? YOU talking to me? You talkin' to ME? But I digress.

#60 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2005, 09:05 PM:

The novel the story was based on was Joy Davidman's first husband.

Now that Narnia's being filmed, here are almost certainly stronger links between Kevin Bacon and Aslan.

#61 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2005, 09:17 PM:

John M. Ford:

Was that before or after Joy Davidman was secretly married to Robert Heinlein? And what does that make Aslan's Erdos number? Extra credit for citing Erdos' one film credit, and his Bacon number.

#62 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2005, 06:14 AM:

Indoor voice, Jonathan.

#63 ::: Buddha Buck eyes spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2014, 10:47 PM:

Sole posting on old entry, trigger phrases, looks like a spammer to me.

#64 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2014, 08:16 PM:

Note: the OP link to the "Mundane Manifesto" has died. Googling the phrase produced this entry, which claims to be a full copy of the text, and which I provide for its historical interest.

#65 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2018, 10:23 AM:

Rereading this thread (linked from a more recent discussion), I note a couple of testable predictions, preserved from a bit over 10 years ago. For general amusement, I will briefly consider their possible accuracy:
Jonathan Vos Post #29:

Within 5 years if you're rich, and 10 years otherwise, you will have a billion measurements a year made on your mRNA, DNA, and protein metabolism, so that the medications you take are optimized for you and you alone. The entire medical system as it is now will collapse before that. "Big Pharma" isn't on the right path, and will be swept aside. Universities can't do the right research; they're too departmentalized. The combination of nanotechnology (in the lab-on-a-chip sense), massive databases far beyond The Human Genome Project, software that can search the biomedical databases and automatically make and test hypotheses, and other supportive technology will save me from dying of cancer as did my mother, her mother, and (last week) my father. That matters to me, in the short run, more than starships or Global Warming.

2018: Full DNA sequencing isn't universal, but it's now available, while partial sequencing is easily available to the public, indeed oversold. They and mRNA and protein metabolism tests are useful tools in science, but IIUC, not so much used in medicine as informing medical treatments which will use less extreme methods.

And at #31:

I am sure that we will blow up another Space Shuttle and then be out of the manned space biz for some time

Well, no third Shuttle disaster, but we retired the Shuttle and have been hitching rides with the Russians.

On the other hand, Fran's comments about global warming at #30 are still distressingly plausible, and the disasters are already coming.

Regarding the overall discussion, I'll just say that both "SF" (or any other genre) and this Manifesto (or any of its sort), are basically lines scrawled across a map of literature, and de Chardin's warning applies: "The map is not the territory".

#66 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2018, 11:44 AM:

"...Universities can't do the right research; they're too departmentalized. The combination of nanotechnology (in the lab-on-a-chip sense), ..."

As someone who devoted his previous working life to the health of universities, may I say:

universities are not free of sin when it comes to advancing the frontiers of science and human welfare.

but I'll gladly put our record up against the record of Theranos.

We're entering another dark ages. Only this time it is called massive wealth inequality fueled by oligarchic concentration and mindless worship of tech-bro tin-gods like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel--and Elizabeth Holmes.

Universities will once again be the monasteries in which the hope for an enlightened future is preserved. The right-wing hates them for a reason.

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