“A kind of visionary energy”

“Self-censorship is central. Writers are avoiding difficulty in the structure or surface, difficulty in the science (when there is any); they’re avoiding political or philosophical positions which might offend, characters whose strengths or eccentricities might prevent reader-identification & stories which go against the broad grain of audience expectation & preference. The reasons for it are obvious, commercial & long term; but, since the 80s, turbo-publishing has turned timidity into a technical discipline–part of the “craft” of being a writer. The result is a novel without a meaning &–worse–without the pulp vigour of genre. For me these are the real losses SF has suffered: the loss of connection to the world, the loss of something to say about it & the loss of drive & energy to make the point in cascades of live imagery. I’ve had a problematic relationship with genre all my writing life, but at its best it has a kind of visionary energy–open, untutored, uncluttered by the need to be literary or to conform to the commentariat consensus of its day. It’s a kind of trash collider where half-digested science can be smashed together with metaphysics & politics in search of exotic states–demotic ontologies and epistemologies–showers of gorgeous if shortlived intellectual & emotional sparks. I could probably name a score of authors who do that, or try to, every time they write; but against their efforts have to be balanced thousands of LFTB happymeals a year.”

– M. John Harrison, “Pink Slime Fiction” (in the comments)

Poor Debussy, Poor Vaughan Williams

One of the more depressing things I’ve come across recently: searching the Seattle Public Library catalog for Debussy preludes brings up “Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album.”

Even more depressing: Vaughan Williams’s lovely Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis is also there.

Science Fiction? What Science Fiction?

Wow. John Schellenberg writes a whole hand-wringing article over at Aeon about how modern culture seems to accept “deep time” as a concept pertaining only to the past and not the future — and nowhere in the article is science fiction even mentioned. No Stapledon, no Stross, no Vinge. Not even Wells! And not even a dismissive comment like “Oh sure, sci-fi folks may do this, but when it comes to serious inquiry blah blah blah…” It’s as if the whole undertaking of SF simply never existed.

It’s almost like an ironic short story about an alternate universe where Western culture has no tradition of imagining the future. I was expecting it to end with some sort of alternate-world stinger like “If only there were writers brave enough to explore concepts like space travel or post-scarcity economics! But ever since H.G. Wells died in that trolley crash at the tragically young age of thirty, no writer has taken up the task.” Which would be a pretty clever story, incidentally — certainly more clever than Schellenberg’s article.