personally, i've never been convinced that any manifesto that is strictly adhered to produces excellent work. mostly, in the cases of cyberpunk and the new weird, they become selling words for advertising and books get slotted into them as they come out. (though i have a bit of trouble trying to figure out who would say that they wanted to buy mundane sf--mundane suggests a certain level of every day nothingness to me. 'today i woke up on the spaceship. nothing to do again. bought milk two floors down. say kyle. asked if he watched LOST last week. he said no, it was shit. i agreed.')
agree with you, as a marketing tool, it's unlikely to shift bucketloads of stock --as I commented to my old mate David Rhodes, when I was visiting him asfter the BSfa bash: 'I was talking about Mundane Sf: his reply, 'how does that work? No alien invasion again today?'
got any names for these exciting indian and chinese writers?
any links to handy online extracts?
and, good to see you with a webpresence!
I always thought the manifesto sounded a little whiny when I read it for the first time a year or so ago. SF also, sometimes, needs to be fun - Peter Hamilton writes fun, large scale space opera and the genre needs it from time to time. We've got all the nanotechnology and Singularity fiction coming along at the moment which is fitting in quite well with the manifesto but I am quite interested to see what happens next.
I expect there'll be another crop of 21st/22nd libertarian space colonisation stuff coming along in the wake of the success of Space Ship 1 and, in its own way, while it won't break the manifesto it will be just as implausible as FTL etc..
BTW - I finished River of Gods the night before last. Thanks. That was a good read.
2005-06-01 01:32 am (UTC)
Libertarian Space Opera and Its Discontents
IMHO, libertarianism in our time fills many of the same psycho-ideological needs that Marxism did when Issac Asimov was young.
It's the perfect dumb ideology for smart, alienated young nerds. "But I, aha, _I_ understand what's really going on!" That's why you meet so many libertarians at SF conventions, though the trend may have peaked.
It's filling the niche vacated when people actually tried to implement Marxism and the results became widely known. Nobody's tried the Liberarian Republic yet, though the results would, I fearlessly predict, be just as God-awful if sincerely tried.
Libertarianism (and in its day, Marxism) differ from conspiracy theories and the tinfoil-beanie crowd (tho' there's some overlap and the basic mechanism is similar) in that you don't have to be clinically insane or stupid to believe in it, since in both cases (Marx and Rand) there's a certain superficial plausibility.
And it gives the recipient a unified cognitive field that explains everything.
Couldn't agree more about MSF.
On the one hand, I sympathize with Jeff's distaste for a lot of the big-spaceships-with-windows stuff. (I've got a neat sideline writing space opera but very few people seem to have noticed yet that it's, ahem, internally inconsistent and self-satirizing -- but that's another matter.) On the other hand, declaring that certain technologies are almost certainly not going to happen therefore we shouldn't consider the consequences of them is almost certainly about as wrong-headed as you can get, because ...
What I read the MSF manifesto as is a rejection of sense of wonder SF.
Let's not forget that those big space operas of the 1920's and 1930's were more about getting the readers to drop the book and say "wow!" than they were attempts at extrapolation. I figure the rigorous extrapolation fetishism of hard SF was mostly invented out of whole cloth in the 1960's and 1970's -- there was a thread of it running through Amazing SF from Gernsback on, but it didn't become the defining characteristic of the genre until later, and even Gernsback had to rely on adventure fiction to keep the readers coming back for more.
What I see in MSF is a rejection of the outward-looking search for a sense of wonder that characterises the hard SF boom of the 1970's and its bastard children, the cyberpunks. (Who, when not being dystopian, were still basically writing about a hi-tech future with a whole bunch of ghost-in-the-machine implausibilities, at least from the point of view of the time -- how many of us really took William Gibson's cyberspace seriously back in 1984?)
Now, I figure that it is quite possible to come up with a posthuman post-nanotech future in which FTL travel and communications is impossible, and nobody gets beyond our solar system -- but in which the solar system itself has become so vast that it supports a cognitive ecology equivalent to planting our current-day Earth in orbit around every star in the galaxy. It's quite possible to come up with a no-FTL future in which the human or post-human experience of deep time comes front-and-centre. And it's quite possible to come up with a far future in which we meet aliens we can just about communicate and trade with because they're our own descendants, tweaked to survive in alien biospheres. (Alien biospheres themselves ain't a long stretch, now that we've had our expectations of extrasolar planetary abundance so thoroughly overturned in the past decade. Planets are common as muck, and planets in the water belt around their primaries are probably not much less common.)
I guess what I'm trying to say is that the MSF rejection of this stuff is uneccessary, even within the neo-realist terms they want to impose on the internal debate. All it does is straitjacket us, and I don't think that's healthy in the long run.
Let me add: what I think we can usefully rail against in SF today is the cult of the heroic archetype. Bloody George Lucas has a lot to answer for in his misappropriation of tropes from mythology ... stripped of their context, your average hero is a bloodthirsty sociopath, your average adventure is a horrible experience that you really want to avoid if at all possible, and (as James Nicoll remarks) your average SF writer's future scenarios demonstrate about the same degree of compassion for their fellow humans as your average Dalek.
I'm all for humanizing SF. But that's not the same thing as ignoring the horizons.
What you said.
It's another ideological box: I've yet to see a manifesto that didn't act to exclude more that is valuable than it includes (or fail to unnaturally constrain what it does allow).
In any case, even space opera can act as a powerful mirror to our society, our humanity...
Yes but it can also go wrong. The Sparrow, a book I must admit to hating with a real passion, masquerades as SF, with aliens and space ships and lots of other stuff. However, I found the end result would have been better set, say, in 15th century Japan.
If it had dropped the attempts at "science" and actually been
set 300 years further out and was space opera it might have been a better first contact novel.
More detailed response to this blog entry here
2005-05-27 05:53 pm (UTC)
Interesting bit about the cult of heroism. To be fair, Alfred Bester's Tiger, Tiger/Stars My Destination at least described that sociopathy well. I'll throw in All My Sins Remembered in case I'm getting the two novels confused. :-)
2005-05-27 05:18 pm (UTC)
Basically, my experience has been that the Mundane Manifesto is totally unnecessary to produce better science fiction. World-SF, anyone?
I broadly agree that writing to type or box is a formula for failure...even if one is commerically successful (e.g. Harry Turtledove, Margaret Weiss) and popular, it is not going to produce anything long-lasting (e.g. 2001, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), imho. I experienced this kind of epiphany when another 'DVD Box Set Sale!' for old Southpark seasons flashed on the TV - Southpark excels at being current, which gives it a high rate of obsolescence, I find. It would be sad to see all SF literature end up in a similar scope of flashpan lifespan.
Then there’s the question of cut-off –at what point does the likely future become so clouded that the manifesto fails? Twenty years, fifty years, hundred years? Ten years, five years?
Good question. I find that Baxter's Evolution posits an interesting biospheric worldview that keeps strictly to the scope of our world (no post-disaster alien archeologists a la 'A.I.'), but scales all the way to the very end of life on Earth. Ambitious, and really quite good. :-) I guess it is mostly up to the author's intentions of how they intend to scope their tale. While Ken Macleod's Star Fraction 'series' eventually leaves the Earth, the overall structure allows for a perspective of technological and social progression over a long span of time, but retaining the tight focus of a smaller moment in time, with the wealth of characterization that involves.
if it had existed at all, remembering that the Post-nuclear holocaust story was a major sub-genre –though not one for which I had much time) - well, if he didn't kill it, Heinlein certainly guaranteed its mortal maiming with a future projection of African cannibals. ;-)
Can you (or somebody) explain the purpose of this manifesto? I never know what the people who write this sort of thing have in mind. Maybe I just don't have the right calibration standards for my parody-detector. Is it supposed to be a prescriptive guideline for writers? (I understand that some people are trying to write something derivative, but none of the situations I know of have to do with anything like a manifesto...they're cases where a writer is just so saturated in the work of a much-admired predecessor it's hard to think beyond it.) Or is it trying to define the boundaries of a category, for the reviewers and librarians and others trying to sort already-written books? How does it connect to "if you liked X, here's a list of other books you might like, and their characteristics?" What's the difference between such a list and a manifesto?
Hey man, don't ask me, I'm too busy trying to be every-day extraordinary, not mundane... And, hey, Mr Cobley, I presume that's you, mucker?
Thank you for taking the time to voice for your thoughts. I love listening other POVs. You opinion is well-reasoned and, thankfully, lacks ad hominems pervasive in the field (if you can't reason, ridicule the dissenter's grandmom).
Don't worry about any backlash. I suspect I'll be the only member who speaks up although I have pointed out your response to the group. This weekend, I'll post a response on our blog (not my personal one, which is usually boring day-to-day):
When I manage, would you mind posting a link so we can support our case? (Mostly it will have to do with our playful yet serious tone that so many readers fail to pick up on, for whatever reason--as well as assumptions about what manifestos do that ours does not.)
Take care and thanks again.
glad to see your response ... the mundane blog seems to have been a bit muted of late. Yer right that far too much of sf debate descends into name calling (the first refuge of the conservative) and that is not what I'm about. When I find out how to post a link (bit of a novice at this, I certainly will.
Joss has previously stated that Firefly is all set in _one_ system, and all flight is lower than light.
It is, however, a large system.
Oh - and I loved Necroville. One of my favourite novels.
Journal entry on this topic here
. Thanks for posting!
2005-05-28 10:02 pm (UTC)
Not to worry?
To quote Larry Marder,
But if I knew anything from the history of art, it's that when artists start writing manifestos, that means the movement is as dead as a doornail. The Surrealists' Manifesto got written after Surrealism... It's codifying, it's ossifying something.
--The Comics Journal #201
, January 1998, p.71
Perhaps Mundane SF should best be considered a set of restrictions that authors can use as a way to challenge themselves, akin to how poets find that creative inspiration can flow from working in a strict metrical form.
"Perhaps Mundane SF should best be considered a set of restrictions that authors can use as a way to challenge themselves, akin to how poets find that creative inspiration can flow from working in a strict metrical form."
-- no, it's an attempt to control and limit _content_, not style or form. Different thing entirely -- apples and oranges.
2005-05-29 07:55 pm (UTC)
Dogma Are Made To Be Broken...
Anyone remember the "Dogma" movement, started by Danish film directors (such as Lars Von Trier)? It did produce some interesting films, but the movement didn't last.
You can only wring so much out of a "movement". And something as feeble as "Mundane SF" can't last very long.
Mostly because in the real world, the limits of what's "scientifically possible" keep moving... thus making the boundaries set by the Manifesto completely arbitrary.
Case in point: until very recently, the "accepted" cosmological model was the expansion of the Universe had to slow down. Then it was discovered NOT to be slowing down, but accelerating.
If the Manifesto had been published ten years ago, it's likely it would have placed "human cloning" in the "impossible" category -- as in "Ain't Gonna Happen In The Foreseeable Future".
I vaguely recall that as a kid I read in old GALAXY SCIENCE FICTION copies, how experts in the 1950s did not expect the secrets of DNA to be discovered/mastered in the "foreseeable future".
What the Mundane SF Manifesto is REALLY doing, is this: trying to predict the future. ("The future, Conan?")
Here's my prediction: Within 10 years, at least two of the scientific limitations set in the manifesto are going to be obsolete.
Should SF address serious problems of the present -- such as environmental issues? Of course it should. But you don't need a manifesto to accomplish that. If people want to write about climate change, they are going to write about climate change.
2005-05-29 08:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Dogma Are Made To Be Broken...
Anyone remember the "Dogma" movement, started by Danish film directors (such as Lars Von Trier)? It did produce some interesting films, but the movement didn't last.
Yeah, here are the vows of chastity
. It's notable how quickly von Trier moved away from the idea when he was unable to make the films he wished within its constraints. Cinema would be a lot poorer if films could only be like The Idiots
and not like Dogville
. Likewise SF and the Mundane.
Some stuff about artistic constraint here
2005-05-31 10:43 am (UTC)
I guess you have to ask what SF is for. If you think it is for the serious prediction of the future, of social trends and the effects of present and near future technologies, then by all means be ‘mundane’ and see your novels die as they pass their sell-by date, if they haven’t already died through lack of interest. Many writers outside of the cloistered world of would-be SF literati have different aims: entertainment, sensawunda, taking readers away from the mundane, and most readers pick up SFF books in search of precisely those. And strangely, those writing about FTL big-fuck spacships, will often get more right about the future than those aiming for serious prediction, simply because they are not placing constraints on their imagination. Adopting such a credo strikes me as the usual cry of, “I’m not guilty of science fiction! I’m a serious writer!” Yawn.
2005-05-31 10:54 am (UTC)
Of course the writers of 'mundane fiction' would object to space ships with windows. Why look outwards when you're busy gazing at your navel?
thanks for posting! This topic does seem to be throwing up a pleasingly diverse debate. (one poster on the MSF blog seemed to think that debate was an unhealthy, competitive and egotistical exercise --bollocks. Debate and dissension is the beatingheart of our beloved meta-genre. The day we all sit down and gree what SF is about is the day the music dies.) The space-ships with windows line is one of Dave Langford's... unless it's the incredible stoopid Independence Day, when it's Space ships with Mac OS...
I've said this in a couple places, and it's pretty simple, but here goes.
My main quarrels with the Mundane Manifesto are about its readability -- it's turgid and the font is so small that it gives me a headache whatever I do to enlarge it (short of copypastiung it into Word Perfect and enlarging the font there, which seems to me to be more trouble than it's worth).
As for the content -- as far as I can figure, it boils down to "it's high time more people wrote more science fiction about what's actually maybe going to happen in the foreseeable future in the universe we actually know. Wouldn't that be neat? Hey, let's do that! Let's consciously egg each other on to do that!"
Stated like that, how can you possibly take offense? I would think that more people than not would respond, "well, my imagination isn't running that way right now, because I'm writing in the tradition I know and love and all these cool ideas keep bubbling up that are not in your description." But there might be some who say "That sounds like an interesting challenge."
It would have been nice if the presentation of the manifesto had been more like my summary of its content.
Personally I'm also kind of bored with some of the more magical "hard" sf tropes. And I have my own area of "realism" I'd like to se more of: more realism about the ramifications of the production of material necessities. I'm not about to denounce the stories that fail to approach that, or whose solutions to the question seem off to me, though: frequently the stories are doing something else cool, or the handwaving about food production or construction isn't germane to the plot. So, while I'm thinking about these things and writing about these things and commenting about them from time to time, I think I'll stop short of a manifesto.
But I understand the urge, oh yes.
And I also understand the urge to respond to the Mundane Manifesto as if they actually had said "Everybody stop writing about all these tropes right now and forever," instead of having said "hey, here's the challenge to write stuff without these tropes in it." The former begs a dramatic response: the latter either inspires a story, or it bores you and you don't have a response.
Manifestos in general irk me. I don't think SF is about what we know is possible or likely, it's about going somewhere different from our own world and following someone, something or some peoples' story within that different world.
Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution is a good example, I think, of a cyberpunk / msf cross which works really well outside of the box.
To say "this is the new SF, this is how it has to be" is just stupid and prevents skilled authors from writing very good stories: Joss Whedon's Firefly, Ken MacLeod's Newton's Wake, Peter Hamilton's The Naked God (granted it's tedious to start with, the premise is rather interesting though). Mundane SF would tell these books (and TV show) to piss off if it saw them walking down the street, but they have their niche, and they are very good.
Though based in the premise of "technology and advancement", Science-Fiction is, in essence, a genre what deals with people and how they live in worlds, societies and cultures we would not otherwise get to see, visit, whatever.
2005-06-02 01:13 am (UTC)
Verne and Wells
Or, "Today's Hard Sci-FI is tomorrow's Steampunk".
Verne's stories have become the future of yesteryear, a look at an ugly, gritty past through rosy colored goggles.
On the other hand, Wells's stories have endured. They weren't stories about the future but about mankind. I've used the anti-colonial "War of the Worlds" to make parallels
to policies today. The Time Machine still is feared by behind the scenes in elite circles today, look at how butchered the 2001 re-make was of Wells's message.
And, frankly, Wells predicted the future better than Verne. Case in point, the 1936 movie "Things To Come". It was booed out of theatres predicting another world war at the turn of the decade. The real and fictional future diversed after that, but in many ways the movie was an exxagerated version of the 40's, 50's and 60's.
These "Ain't no such thing as Hyperspace you Algebra Flunkout" Dr. Downers are totally missing the point about Sci-Fi. It's entertainment and it's about man's fears and desires.
2005-06-10 09:04 am (UTC)
"Will I then be co-opted against my will, like being converted to Mormonism after your death? (How unfair is that? Now you really can’t win). "
Well, yes - you will be co-opted, and it's not fair. The joy of manifesto writing is that you can claim anyone you want. Just ask Hitchcock how it felt to be co-opted by Truffaut, or Marx on being adopted as a Marxist... So just lie back and think of the Province.
Agree totally, by the way, on it being the worst name for a movement ever - "Join the Mundanes" just doesn't rally the troops, does it? (Although I can imagine the badge - all lower case, 8pt Courier... one for Worldcon, I think).
'I'd rather be mundane, if you don't mind...'
2005-06-20 12:40 am (UTC)
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
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2005-06-20 01:40 am (UTC)
Good SF does one thing:
Good SF is, as you state, allegorical in nature. It takes an issue, situation, or standard of our time and place and places it in a situation enough different for us to see it in a new light. Mundane recognizes half of that. By limiting SF to probable futures, we can catch a glimpse of what may come of our current trends. We can think about the ethics and morality of things which we may well deal with in our lifetime or, perhaps, those things our children will deal with. That's great as far as it goes.
The other "half" of good science fiction comes from re-casting into a situation that may well never occur, but one which still gives us the opportunity to look at ourselves and our values in a new and potentially helpful way.
The value, then, comes not so much from the probability that what is written may well happen, but from the potential for seeing what we know in a new light. Asimov's robots may never exist, but they help us think about morality through the foil of the 3 Laws.
I'm all for encouraging writers to take on Mundane logical extensions of our current situations, but I still want to see the "flights of fancy" that catch me off-guard with truth from an unexpected direction.
IMHO, writers can cleave to any sort of dogma they like since writing fiction has at least as much to do with one's own conceit for amusement than anything else. I have no quarrel with folks who want to write or read this Mundane SF. But then, I find no fault with the tropes this pack seeks to eschew.
And I don't feel intellectually inferior or dishonest because I take pleasure in what others consider impossible or implausible. After all, if there were science fiction writers in the time of Newton, much of what we accept today as dogma courtesy of Einstein would be dismissed for not showing fidelity to the theories of the day. For all we know, the ongoing fiction that is science itself will be rewritten to accomodate all we know as well as things now held to be impossible.
If you don't like to write space opera, then don't. If you don't like to read intergalactic space travel tales, then don't. I don't find much appeal, however, in seeking to insult those who decide otherwise as being somehow fools in the grasp of tropes outside the bounds of conventional orthodoxy.
If some people want to look down their noses at others for certain flights of fancy while they themselves righteously refuse to play outside their "mundane" sandbox, more power to you. In any case, I will have a good time wherever I encounter a tale that amuses me without regard for anybody's rules.