Two Cultures And In Between Dept.

Are SF and literary work at odds because creators of the latter are trained not to think out of the box?


Sometimes I get the impression that the reason SF&F and the literary worlds tend to be at such odds — with exceptions, and I'll go into one such example separately — is because most of the folks involved with the latter surround themselves with an environment that discourages real experimentation.

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Tags: creativity science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop


Science Fiction Repair Shop: Certified Copy Dept.

How to learn from the authors you admire, without cloning their work.


Stanislaw Lem and His Push For Deeper Thinking | Kirkus

... in an article in Science Fiction Studies, [Lem] explains his issues with genre fiction as a whole: "If anyone is dissatisfied with SF in its role as an examiner of the future and of civilization, there is no way to make an analogous move from literary oversimplifications to full-fledged art, because there is no court of appeal from this genre. There would be no harm in this, save that American SF, exploiting its exceptional status, lays claim to occupy the pinnacles of art and thought." This makes sense, given that the rise of Lem's fiction didn't arise through the shared influences of the American genre, or even the underpinning cultural influences that informed it. In many ways, Lem was an alien in and of himself to the regular language of science fiction, and his viewpoint is a good way to recognize the limitations of the fiction emerging from the United States at this point in time. It’s also a good reminder that science fiction existed outside of North America and the United Kingdom.

I neglected to mention Lem before in my discussion of how SF&F is enriched by bringing in outsiders, when now that I think about it his name should have been one of the first on that list. His was among the first SF I ever read, and I kept waiting for the other stuff I came across in the field to live up to or surpass his example. Rarely did it ever do so, and soon I realized I'd started with the exception, not the rule.

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Tags: science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop Stanisław Lem


Science Fiction Repair Shop: On Staring Away From The Abyss Dept.

Let's gaze into something other than the abyss - but not our navels either.


Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 73, John Gardner

I think that the difference right now between good art and bad art is that the good artists are the people who are, in one way or another, creating, out of deep and honest concern, a vision of life in the twentieth century that is worth pursuing. And the bad artists, of whom there are many, are whining or moaning or staring, because it's fashionable, into the dark abyss. If you believe that life is fundamentally a volcano full of baby skulls, you've got two main choices as an artist: You can either stare into the volcano and count the skulls for the thousandth time and tell everybody, “There are the skulls; that's your baby, Mrs. Miller.” Or you can try to build walls so that fewer baby skulls go in. It seems to me that the artist ought to hunt for positive ways of surviving, of living. You shouldn't lie.

This echoes back to my previous post — that baggy pair of trousers that Spike Lee and Snowpiercer each shared a leg of. I read Gardner's book in which he espoused this and other ideas (incidentally, it contains a great argument for E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime is not a good piece of work), and while at times I worried he was sliding over into finger-waggling moralism, I see his point.

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Tags: morality philosophy science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop


Science Fiction Repair Shop: Those Who Do Not Curate The Present Are Condemned To Repeat The Past Dept.

How gaming and SF share an inclusivity problem.


Matt Lees has a fine little video in which he talks about (among other things) the way the gaming industry has become cyclically insular. Teenage boys who play games aimed mainly at them grow up and become part of an industry where they create video games aimed at ... teenage boys.

Sound like another cultural sphere we talk about here a lot? It sure did to me.

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Tags: science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop sociology tolerance


Science Fiction Repair Shop: The Rightest Thing Dept.

On a lot of things: Spike Lee, SF, hard-to-swallow endings, and stacking the deck.


In the comments section of a really good essay on Spike Lee's best and most widely debated movie is this gem. I have excerpted it here in full, because it deserves it, and because I'm about to go off on some major tangents with it.

HULK’S FAVORITE MOVIES: DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) | Badass Digest

I think the point on why audiences expect films to moralize is kind of simple: we use film, in America at least, to live vicariously through others so we don't have to engage in the actions ourselves. Most films acknowledge this, as there's a distinct narrative difference between false actualization and legitimate call-to-action. Most American cinema falls into the former, while something like DO THE RIGHT THING pursues the latter, which is also why that film troubled many American cultural critics (and audiences) in the time of its release.

As an example, America doesn't want revolution; it just wants the explicit promise of it, and often a constant stream of entertainment that feeds into that narrative. It's why THE HUNGER GAMES is so popular. We're pissed about what our country has become, but we're too lazy to do anything about it; so Americans can live through Katniss as she does the things most of us only fantasize about. This is why most post-apocalyptic fiction and revolution-leaning cinema are infantile in the way they handle the scenarios they propose, at least when compared to much of what Lee has done as a director. Lee's films often end in frustrating ways, such as with SCHOOL DAZE, where the central problem isn't resolved, and, in fact, transfers its righteous anger from its characters onto the audience and expects them to follow up on what the film was attempting to accomplish. You aren't allowed to feel like anything was finished or made better, because, realistically, nothing in life ever is — we spin in endless cycles of mindless violence, racial inequality and nationalistic soul-searching.

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Tags: science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop Spike Lee


Flight of the Vajra: Did I Call It Or What Dept.

Coming soon: a real-life version of a fictional technology I dreamed up for a book.


OK, I can't help myself here.

The first thing that leapt to mind when I saw the article "Make Your Own World With Programmable Matter": protomics.

For those who just walked in, protomics was the name of the fictional in-universe technology I created for Flight of the Vajra, where various forms of matter have been created that are programmable and malleable. (I started writing that story over three years ago.)

The researchers call the building blocks "catoms" (or "claytronic atoms"), but even the concept as they describe it is fundamentally the same as what I had in mind:

... the researchers hope to use a set of local rules, whereby each catom needs to know only the positions of its immediate neighbors. Properly programmed, the ensemble will then find the right configuration through an emergent process.

... The researchers’ ultimate aim is to create a system of modules the size of sand grains that can form arbitrary structures with a variety of material properties, all on demand.

And at the bottom is this cute scare headline: "Help, My Chair Has a Virus! / Hackers could turn your programmable matter against you." (Yep, that's in the book too.)

I kick myself now for not putting in that patent application ahead of time.

Well, I had a feeling something like this would come along in some form; it didn't have to be as I predicted it, or on anything like the same time scale. I gave it a century or so from "now" before it really took off; I still give it a good long time before it's on the scale I had in mind.

But I have to reiterate that the point of the book wasn't to predict any specific thing or even enumerate how workable a given concept would be. Protomics, the "entanglement drive", the whole far-future¹ setting I devised was just a backdrop for a story about some people who are faced with some very tough choices, whose lives (and the lives of innumerable others) are altered because of that, and who can only see it all through by turning to each other. In the end, the human side of the story had to win, and I hope it did.

Addendum: DARPA has something tangentially related: "Atoms to Product: Aiming to Make Nanoscale Benefits Life-Sized". 

¹ I almost typed "fart-future". I almost kept it.


Tags: Flight of the Vajra Genji Press science fiction


Talk Down To Me Dept.

Does success make it impossible to speak truth to power?


Yesterday's post brought some more thought to mind: Does becoming a "success" — however you might define that — make it all the more difficult, if not outright impossible, to speak truth to power? Or, for that matter, speak the truth at all?

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Tags: sociology


Genji Press: Projects: Hey, It's A Living (Or Not) Dept.

On writing for a living vs. living for writing.


Some great notes about writing for a living vs. living for writing:

Goods Versus Good » Zachary Bonelli

For me personally, I would rather extricate my personal need for income (and by proxy shelter, food, clothing, etc.) from my writing. Being able to do nothing but write doesn’t mean a damn thing if I don’t wholly believe in what it is I’m producing.

I've felt the same way for some time myself, and here's why.

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Tags: commerce writing


Jerk My Chain, Please! Dept.

Why we accept the existence of crass psychological manipulation as part of the unspoken cost of modern living.


One of the key tricks of propaganda — PR, advertising, or whatever — is to make the audience think whatever it is you're pushing was their idea all along. Don't just give the people what they want; give them what they think they want. The less they notice they are being manipulated, the better. And if they do notice it, just convince them you didn't so much give them any thoughts as you did awaken them.

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Tags: propaganda psychology


Flight of the Vajra: A Tonic For The Troops Dept.

A little love letter to my readers.


And now, a shout-out. A bunch of them, actually.

If you were one of the folks who stopped by my table at AnimeFest and bought a book: thank you.

If you were one of the folks who stopped by my table at AnimeFest, took a flyer, and bought one of my books online afterwards: thank you.

I received my Amazon Kindle royalty statement this week. It wasn't a lot of money, but it was a sign that a few people are interested and curious. I hope they — you — stick around and check out what else I have to offer.


Tags: Flight of the Vajra Genji Press


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