I haven’t been online much this week — more running around than usual and less reading/writing time — so this week’s links are abbreviated.
That said, anyone who reads science fiction or is interested in the genre should read Paul Graham Raven‘s review of Wikiworld by Paul Di Filippo. In the first three paragraphs, Raven analyzes the state of science fiction today to contextualize his review. Brilliant stuff. Here’s a long excerpt to give you a taste, but click through for the whole thing.
“SCIENCE FICTION” is in crisis.
The sign “science fiction” is now referent to two related yet distinct signifieds, and the crisis only inheres in one of them. Sf as a literary mode, as a rhetoric, has always staunchly resisted any attempt at precise functional definition, but is easy enough to locate (albeit approximately, as one might locate a fogbank, or a region of civil unrest) in the contemporary cultural landscape. As a way of exploring the relationships between people and their technologies (and the worlds constructed by those relationships), Sf is in rude health, and busily metastasizing its way into cinema, television, music, art, theory, policy strategy, and more; as Gary K. Wolfe puts it, the genre has evaporated, diffusing into other media, other generic forms. It is an increasingly active fraction of the global cultural atmosphere; modal science fiction has conquered by transcending its original materiality.
“Science fiction”, then – the science fiction that is in crisis – is the residue left behind by that evaporative process. That residue comprises the generic-ness from which the label genre stems: in this case, the outdated stylistic tics and aesthetics of a marginal pulp-modernist medium, the clichés, the well-worn assumptions and comfortable call-backs, and the outdated institutional values in which they were nurtured and framed.
The night before last, A and I were discussing his PhD thesis. He spent the past eight months coding and doing installations, and now he’s at the point of synthesis — pulling his ideas together, outlining them, identifying any holes, and making plans for writing. As he’s been working through his specific ideas, he also posted a larger question about artistic research, which is a phrase we first encountered in Switzerland. How widespread is this idea?
His questions about artistic research reminded me a little of the new PhD programs in Writing. Before, an MFA was the terminal degree for writers, and it’s a degree focused on practice. PhD programs have a theoretical or scholarly component. I strongly believe that good writers have to be good readers, but I also wonder about the balance between theory and practice.
And for a final link, another fun video. After Amazon.com trolled the world with its proposed drone delivery program, Waterstones bookstore trolled them right back: