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From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes" 
Subject: Re: (urth) Generic Considerations
Date: Tue, 22 Apr 2003 21:06:08 -0700

>Cool, blattid.

Thank you.

>         My working definition has been: Science fiction is fantasy 
>literature that uses the beliefs of then-present establishment science and 
>technology to accomplish its fantasy elements.
>         Explication: It's fantasy literature because it is not OUR world, 
>whether in the future or in a parallel world or an alternate history.

Yes ...

... but ...

... _all_ fiction is set in a parallel world or alternate history.

This is perhaps an intensified way of stating the case, but I
believe it is fundamentally accurate, with the semi-exception of
hyper-autobiographical fiction like Proust's. Take -- say --
GONE WITH THE WIND. Even if (and I don't know) Margaret Mitchell
did extensive research and got every detail of antebellum,
war, and reconstruction Georgian and South Carolingian culture
correct, it's set in an alternate world where there's a place
called "Tara" inhabited by a woman named "Scarlett O'Hara." An
insignificant difference from our world? Perhaps; but I wouldn't
be surprised if, in _that_ world, Jimmy Carter was never elected
governor of Georgia, let alone President of these hyah Newnited
States ... the butterfly effect, donchaknow.

For that matter, historical novels using real characters take
place in alternate realities even closer to ours.

The point is, of course, that all fiction partakes of the
fantastic. (Mimetic fiction, pretty much alone among the genres,
is ashamed of its fantastic nature and tries to hide it.)

>It uses the (changeable and changing) beliefs/models/paradigms of current 
>establishment science, such as "you can't go faster than the speed of 

H'mmm. I posit that a lot of SF uses science for more than world-
building; hard SF in particular uses it as an episteme ... which
is why most hard SF has such wretched excuses for
character(ization)s; SF may emphasize the object rather than the
subject, but in hard SF, subjectivity is nearly nonexistent,
and writers like Clement, Niven, and Forward strive for an
absolutely objective approach to fiction in a way radically
different from Ballard's objectification of the subject; where
Ballard treats the subject as an object, these writers simply
ignore it in the hope it will go away.

(Once upon a time I thought that Niven had actually created
an engaging, interesting character in Ringworld's Louis Wu.
Then I read the sequel and realized it was an accident.)

(And don't even get me started about Pournelle.)

>(Of course, there are exceptions; one might right a story in a 
>non-Einsteinian universe building on alternate non-establishment science, 
>or in a creationist universe;

... or a universe based on the sephiroth of Kabbala, mayhap?

Just an idea. 8*)

>and there was that excellent novel a few years back, *Celestial Matters* by 
>Richard Garfinkle -- a Lupine treat -- that was set in a Ptolemaic/Platonic 

I need to look that up. (Quickly adds it to the "find-me" list in
his PDA.) Thanks for reminding me.

>In traditional fantasy, the other-worldly aspects are justified in terms of 
>some kind of magic -- though in SF magical elements are sometimes 
>introduced in terms of "psionic" powers, an aspect of SF devoid of 
>establishment-science hypotheses.

Oh, there's no shortage of establishment-science hypotheses about
"psionics." They tend to be hypotheses about the honesty and/or sanity
of people who believe in psi, or purport to.

Hey, I'm just sayin', is all ...

>         From there I think your other points follow. Traditional "magical" 
>fantasy will tend to generate a certain kind of writing, and so does SF.
>         The more interesting question, in some ways, is why writers like 
>Michael Crichton, and some of Walker Percy's novels, are considered 
>mainstream and not SF. I think it has to do mainly with who publishes them 
>and how they are marketed.

Well, that has to do with my point about the multiordinal and
multivalent nature of the term "SF" depending on its context. In
publishing and marketing contexts, "SF" -- any genre -- is a
pigeonhole, a way of categorizing books to target certain
readerships. Crichton is published in a way that targets those
who buy "best-selling (suspense/adventure) novels," the same
market targeted by Tom Clancy. (H'mmm: "Red October," come to
think of it, also has a certain STFnal quality to some of its
thematics and even some of its rhetoric.)

For that matter you could ask the same question about Vonnegut.

A better question, to my mind, is how it happened that SF began
regularly appearing on the bestseller lists.

>         FWIW. But how does this strike you?

I think you have a lot of interesting points here. Obviously, I
didn't agree with all of them, but they're all interesting.


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