Saturday, September 08, 2007

Robots Survive Dust Storm, Prepare To Conquer

They're alive!


I’ve just received advance copies of the hardback and trade paperback editions of Cowboy Angels. As usual, I can’t quite bring myself to open them just yet, but they look lovely.

I’ve posted another extract from Cowboy Angels, the fourth, on the web site.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Borderline Anxiety (1)

Despite New Wave fantasies about reinsertition of science fiction into the so-called mainstream of literary fiction after the collapse of the Gernsbackian hegemony, or attempts by postmodernists to erase the hierarchy of high/low culture, the distinction between genre and mainstream is ineradicable. Science fiction, like crime, horror, or romance fiction, is distinguished by an internalised dialogue based on development and variation of unique tropes. This genre gestalt implies a border: an inside and an outside. Writers working inside a genre border must always be aware of their relationship with their chosen genre and with the mainstream outside the border. But mainstream writers are untroubled by this Janus-like duality unless they find it necessary to make use of genre tropes. Even then, if they are secure in their reputation, mainstream writers don’t need to excuse this borrowing. They might even admit an admiration for the genre to which they’re indebted. But because reputation is an important part of their self-worth, and because they’re hyperaware of status, most mainstream writers, like Jeanette Winterson (for instance), feel that they must deny that they writing science fiction when they are writing science fiction. They feel that they must neutralise the ant-pong of genre with disinfecting hyperbole. They must declare that they ‘hate science fiction.’ It’s ridiculous, of course. Hypocritical. But it usually works because journalists are usually too lazy to question it. When Jeanette Winterson declared to Liz Else and Eleanor Harris of the New Scientist that ‘I hate science fiction’, the two intrepid interviewers accepted it without demur. Would they have remained silent if Winterson had said ‘I hate scientists’, or ‘I hate Ian McEwan’?

Fortress America

Via Dan Froomkin's essential White House Watch:

Bush visited Al-Asad Air Base -- an enormous, heavily fortified American outpost for 10,000 troops that while technically in Anbar Province in fact has a 13-mile perimeter keeping Iraq -- and Iraqis -- at bay. Bush never left the confines of the base, known as " Camp Cupcake," for its relatively luxurious facilities, but nevertheless announced: "When you stand on the ground here in Anbar and hear from the people who live here, you can see what the future of Iraq can look like."

Monday, September 03, 2007

More Stuff

I’ve added a third section of Cowboy Angels (the last of the prologue) to the website. More will be put up at random intervals until publication day, September 20th. Meanwhile, as the hinge of the year swings close on summer, I’m starting in on the final revision of the ongoing.

Currently reading: Spook Country, William Gibson.
Currently listening to: Stanley Brothers, Earliest Recordings. Altogether now: 'I'm just a roaming rambler, I'm always on the roam...'

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Placating the Border Cops

I’m not certain that Jeanette Winterson’s flat disclaimer, ‘I hate science fiction,’ (see Without Prejudice) was generated by real hatred and loathing of the genre. More likely, it was a reflexive blurt driven by anxiety. Winterson is an author with impeccable literary establishment qualifications. And part of belonging to the ‘literary’ establishment is the need to maintain a strong and impermeable barrier between ‘literary’ and genre fiction, between so-called high and low art, between ‘proper’ fiction and despised, degenerate pulp. So although Winterson has felt it necessary, for the purposes of her novel, to borrow from science-fiction’s toolbox of tropes, tricks, and imagery, she has to make it clear that she is in no way tainted by or sympathetic to science fiction. Saying ‘I hate science fiction’ is not only like displaying a properly stamped passport to a border cop, proof to the cultural critics that she belongs on what she perceives to be the right side of the barrier; it’s also a powerful disinfectant spray that cleanses the taint of genre from borrowings smuggled out of the forbidden zone.

It occurs to me that the champions of so-called mundane science fiction may be displaying the same anxiety about genre taint as Winterson and other literary novelists who have borrowed from science fiction. The mundane movement, rejecting ‘myths’ such as aliens, faster-than-light travel, parallel worlds, time travel, and so on, declares strict adherence to mimesis and realistic speculation about known scientific truths. They aren’t the first science-fiction writers to attempt to differentiate themselves from the rest of the genre - Heinlein, for instance, attempted to erect a wall between real science fiction and mere fantasy by declaring that fantasy is ‘any story based on violation of a scientific fact’ - and I doubt that they’ll be the last. But like all the rest they are doomed to failure not only because their internal borders are artificial and impossible to police, but also because they are attempting to argue a case for legitimacy before a court that cares not a jot for the differences they are attempting to define.
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