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August 12, 2012

Bruce Sterling has some advice on writing science fiction

This is the point at which your normal J. Random Author trots out the doctrine of the Wonderful Power of Storytelling. Yes, storytelling, the old myth around the campfire, blind Homer, universal Shakespeare, this is the art ladies and gentlemen that strikes to the eternal core of the human condition... This is high art and if you don't have it you are dust in the wind.... I can't tell you how many times I have heard this bullshit... This is known in my field as the "Me and My Pal Bill Shakespeare" argument. Since 1982 I have been at open war with people who promulgate this doctrine in science fiction and this is the primary reason why my colleagues in SF speak of me in fear and trembling as a big bad cyberpunk... This is the classic doctrine of Humanist SF. This is what it sounds like when it's translated into your jargon. Listen closely: "Movies and plays get much of their power from the resonances between the structural layers. The congruence between the theme, plot, setting and character layouts generates emotional power. Computer games will never have a significant theme level because the outcome is variable. The lack of theme alone will limit the storytelling power of computer games." Hard to refute. Impossible to refute. Ladies and gentlemen to hell with the marvellous power of storytelling. If the audience for science fiction wanted *storytelling*, they wouldn't read goddamned *science fiction,* they'd read Harpers and Redbook and Argosy. The pulp magazine (which is our genre's primary example of a dead platform) used to carry all kinds of storytelling. Western stories. Sailor stories. Prizefighting stories. G-8 and his battle aces. Spicy Garage Tales. Aryan Atrocity Adventures. These things are dead. Stories didn't save them. Stories won't save us. Stories won't save *you.* This is not the route to follow. We're not into science fiction because it's *good literature,* we're into it because it's *weird*. Follow your weird, ladies and gentlemen. Forget trying to pass for normal. Follow your geekdom. Embrace your nerditude. In the immortal words of Lafcadio Hearn, a geek of incredible obscurity whose work is still in print after a hundred years, "woo the muse of the odd." A good science fiction story is not a "good story" with a polite whiff of rocket fuel in it. A good science fiction story is something that knows it is science fiction and plunges through that and comes roaring out of the other side. Computer entertainment should not be more like movies, it shouldn't be more like books, it should be more like computer entertainment, SO MUCH MORE LIKE COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT THAT IT RIPS THROUGH THE LIMITS AND IS SIMPLY IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE!

When Abhay reviews a comic, it's always worth reading

I just adore the way his anxiety and glossolalia and genre awareness pool together to turn a simple comic review into something so much greater than always reads like a judgmental time capsule angry at the present and wary of the past. Ten Things: PROPHET | Savage Critics
Sometimes, I see PROPHET labeled as science fiction, and some ancient, dumbshit, kneejerk snobbiness in me twitches. Half-memories of ancient arguments that these things are DIFFERENT, of a different intellectual caliber, for a different audience, one cultured, the other beyond any ability to be civilized. Space opera was always hopelessly less than “true” science fiction (WHICH MUST NEVER BE REFERRED TO AS SCI FI because … I don’t even remember why…). I’m also old enough where “space opera” still buzzes in my ear with negative connotations, some ancient divide that started before my time because, I don’t know, Harlan Ellison and Andy Offut probably had words in some Society of Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Hilton ballroom soiree in Rhode Island way back when. (Offut was more a fantasy guy, but spare me a google search for a better name there). Space Opera was the world of Waldenbooks trilogies, bereft of Allegory or Extrapolation– science fiction’s critical secret sauces. This was all before the “New Space Opera”, though– Iain Banks and his Culture novels; whatever else has gotten published after I stopped paying attention to science fiction. (I discovered girls, in a rainforest, so you can all suck it using your erotic mouths, non-traditional literary genres!)(I don’t know why; the future just got old). These are probably old, dead “rules,” and I’ve just forever got my backpack only on one shoulder, here. The last time I checked, the hot noisiness in science fiction was “mundane sf“, a depressing-sounding strain built around a hopeless surrender to the currently understood limitations posed by various scientific laws e.g. “science fiction … with advice from a scientist, and with an endnote by that scientist explaining the plausibility of the story“. Weee! There seems to be a strain of scientific fanatacism, good story be damned, that science fiction sometimes seems to invite, even if to its peril, that I guess I’ve been / maybe-still-am jerk enough to be sympathetic to. Some shitty part of me’s always got the square/cube law in the back of my head, trying to ruin giant Kaiju monsters. (Kaiju monsters win anyways because of course they do, but). To be fair, though, as Bruce Sterling put it in one of my all-time favorite speeches: “A good science fiction story is not a ‘good story’ with a polite whiff of rocket fuel in it.”