Science Fiction Repair Shop: Punk Is Dead (But You Really Should Check Out My Band Sometime) Dept.

In a discussion on another forum about how an artist in a given field can hold forth about art form X being dead, I came to the conclusion that they really mean to say something else: This art form is dead (or dying, or irrelevant), except for all of my instances of said art form. (Because if said form really is dead, why bother creating anything in it?)

What we have here is nothing more than a pretentious way of saying everyone else in your field sucks, except of course for you.

I know I've edged close to saying things like this, which is why I have to face up to it. It helps no one to say that your favorite art form is "dead". Imperiled, maybe, or just lacking for recent examples of it at its best — but really, when has there not been an age when all of those things seemed to apply? Every golden age is only golden when you're looking back over your shoulder at it.

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Tags: criticism fantasy science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop writers writing

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Golden Era Hindsight Is 20/20 Dept.

Ferretbrain - I Fold

if you're inclined to believe that fantasy fiction (for example) has been ruined since the late 1970s/early 1980s by the influx of Tolkien imitators, people who take Dungeons & Dragons as the baseline assumption of the fantasy genre, and (eventually) the rise of shallow grimdarkery as the dominant mode, then you're likely to see the golden age of fantasy as being at some point between the 1930s and 1960s, despite the fact that genre fiction didn't get much critical cred at the time. As said in my first comment, there's nothing which ties the golden age of criticism to the golden age of the subject of that criticism (assuming the term "golden age" is even remotely useful, which this conversation makes me doubt).

Emphasis mine, and in fact I would argue the two ages cannot be congruent for one simple reason: it's only really possible to understand such things in retrospect, not as they're unfolding around you. ("The owl of Minerva flies at dusk," as someone else once said: you can only fully understand something after it's over.)

It's easier to see now that Tolkien's work was not intended to give rise to a whole section of the fantasy shelf on its own, but rather that it at best flanked a whole slew of other authors doing remarkably dissimilare things. Nobody confuses Peake with C.S. Lewis, for instance, and neither of those are conflated with Tolkien.

Plus, the amount of criticial cred that SF&F generally got didn't really start reaching anything like mainstream acceptability until the mid-Seventies at earliest. I suspect, ironically enough, the one thing that allowed it to start getting exactly that was when the cultural products that took on those labels started making tons and tons of money, and could no longer be argued with as a cultural force. At that point, you don't have any choice but to start some kind of scholarly dialogue about such a thing.

Tags: fantasy J.R.R. Tolkien science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Mansculinity Dept.

A really good essay on the way several of the most popular TV shows in recent history are all about threatened masculinity:

Asking the Wrong Questions: Late to the Party: Thoughts on Mad Men and Breaking Bad

... I think that we deserve shows of this caliber that focus on a less narrow aspect of humanity, and for that matter, shows that recognize that the lust for power and control, and the fear of death, are not qualities unique to a certain gender or race.

This came by way of a Ferretbrain article on the House of Cards remake, which argued something similar: the show isn't about political power or revenge, but threatened masculinity, and because it doesn't recognize this properly winds up becoming something a lot less than it ought to be. The article also argues that you don't need eleven episodes to tell a story that was told more succinctly before in four, something you don't have to reach too far back into my archives to know I agree with completely. But the real meat of the piece was about masculinity.

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Tags: masculinity science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop television

Science Fiction Repair Shop: I Opening Dept.

The Awesome Irrelevance And Vast Amorality Of You - Ta-Nehisi Coates - The Atlantic

Our sciences (in which I am including history) don't ennoble us. They don't reflect well on humans, instead they confirm a kind of powerlessness, a deep moral weakness, and sense of futility.
At least that's the start. I'd argue that when we can get past our own vanity, as scientists, there comes something else — Wonder.

The sword of knowledge has two edges. One of them cuts you down, because it lays bare the staggering insignificance and irrelevance of human endeavor and ego. The other edge, though, also cleaves through everything else around you — if it dissects you so ruthlessly, that is only because it is so good at dissecting the rest of the universe. You are, after all, as much of it as it is of you.

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Tags: Flight of the Vajra Philip K. Dick Robert A. Heinlein science science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Ballard's Ballad Dept.

J. G. Ballard’s Memoir, ‘Miracles of Life’ -

"No one in a novel by Virginia Woolf ever filled up the petrol tank of her car. ... No one in Hemingway’s postwar novels ever worried about the effects of prolonged exposure to the threat of nuclear war."

Said Ballard, who wrote "science fiction" the way Kurt Vonnegut did: only because other people insisted that was what he was doing. Ballard was most widely recognized outside of that category, in part because he'd done enough things to avoided being pigeonholed as "just" an SF author. Not that such things still don't happen, only that back then escaping the SF ghetto was all but impossible once people saw you had that as your mailing address, so to speak.

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Tags: Anthony Burgess J.G. Ballard Kurt Vonnegut Philip K. Dick science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop Thomas Mann William S. Burroughs

Movie Reviews: TRON: Legacy

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When Dennis Miller got up on stage sometime circa the mid-Nineties and lampooned Al Gore by saying “The man’s favorite movie is TRON, for Christ’s sake,” and got massive laughs doing so, that more or less summed up the man-on-the-street view of both Al Gore and TRON. The former more or less redeemed his eggheadedness with An Inconvenient Truth, which single-handedly brought awareness of the impact of global warming into the public mind; the latter had a harder time rehabilitating itself. Fellow fans who had a positive opinion of the movie kept their mouths shut about it lest they be branded fans of Playskool Cyberpunk.

Eventually, the generation that had not only secretly grooved on the film but actually seen remarkable things in it (nifty premise, groundbreaking visual effects processes, first full-blown use of CGI in a movie, more adult and thoughtful than it seemed on first glance, etc.) was able to come out of the closet. By the time TRON showed up in Kingdom Hearts as a playable level, the stigma was fading fast; by the time a certain hush-hush short film played in Hall H at Comic-Con 2010 to massive audience reactions, the stigma was all but gone. A fan culture that had learned to live with the likes of Edward Cullen looked back over its shoulder and realized Kevin Flynn — The Dude, man! — and his binary buddies had been a lot cooler than they had wanted to believe.

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Tags: Jeff Bridges movies review Science Fiction Repair Shop Tron

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Thanks But No Thanks Dept.

I doubt I'm going to surprise too many people by saying this, but when news broke (however unofficially) that J.J. Abrams was in line to direct one of the new Star Wars films, my reaction was one of ... curious indifference. Curious, in the sense that I wanted to give more of a damn than I did, and failed miserably.

It's not that I think he's a bad choice. If anything, he's all too fitting a choice. It's that Star Wars, like Star Trek before it, has ceased to exist for me as a cultural entity of importance.

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Tags: science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop Star Trek Star Wars

Movie Reviews: Prometheus

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There are two films within Prometheus, one brilliant and the other inane. The brilliant film is preoccupied with questions about man’s place in the universe, and the ghastly indifference of the universe to such questions in the first place — much as Alien itself was before. The inane film is full of people running around like idiots and screaming at each other and getting killed horribly by space monsters. Sorry, folks, but that's the way it is.

It’s not impossible for two such wholly disparate films to coexist inside the same skin. In fact, the one movie that comes most readily to mind is not any of the previous Alien films, but the “Hellraiser-in-space” horror-SF hybrid Event Horizon. Buried within that mess of a film was either a great horror movie or a great SF movie, but the filmmakers tried to have it both ways and the studio a third, and the end result is one of those films that deserves a director’s cut that we’ll most likely never have. Prometheus, on the other hand, was the movie that Ridley Scott and his cohorts wanted to make, so none of them can fall back on the Terry Gilliam Tampering Clause to explain the results.

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Tags: movies review Ridley Scott science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Oh So Serious Dept.

When I was younger — I'll say high school, since that seems about the right mental timeframe for thoughts of this caliber — I had the belief that science fiction and fantasy could be all of the things literature always seemed to be trying to be but holding itself back from being.

It wasn't until a little later on that I found the reason for this holding-back was, for lack of a better label, a fear of social ostracism. No one, or at least no one who cared about their credentials as a Serious Writer, wanted to be caught dead writing such juvenile stuff. It was the unseriousness of it that offended them, or rather, the idea that the only way a story could embody serious intentions was by being what people could label outwardly as serious, because how the hell else were they going to know what was what?

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Tags: fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop writers writing

Science Fiction Repair Shop: If I Were A Bell (But I'm Not, So Ha Ha) Dept.

On Being Your Authentic Self - Ta-Nehisi Coates - The Atlantic

... worse than a lack of diversity is people whose intellectual impulses lay elsewhere attempting to write that way. ... I think people believe artists to have more power than they actually do. You can only write what you want. In fact you must only write what you want. That isn't the problem. The problem is that only certain people get to write what they want.The problem isn't the Lena Dunham show is about a narrow world. The problem is that there aren't more narrow worlds on the screen. Broader is not synonymous with better.

Time and again, I encounter — both in myself and in other creators — the problem of "what you know". If you are inclined only to know about certain things in a certain way (which, really, is an issue common to all of us), you have that much less facility to speak about other things. Nobody believes for a second that a writer of thud-and-blunder fantasy actually lives in a castle and swings a sword, but we'd like to think he did some homework about what was involved in doing both of those things, and has combined that factual stuff with some of his own insight into human behavior generally.

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Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop sociology Ta-Nehisi Coates writers writing

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