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July 30, 2012

Has science fiction left the middle class behind?

Some interesting ideas here regarding our relationship to science and to science fiction. Monday Original Content: Tim Maughan on British SF and the Class System -- The World SF Blog
And that is the biggest problem facing science fiction right now. The future isn’t just sitting there waiting for the middle classes to take it anymore (well, at least not the middle classes in Europe and North America – it’s very likely the future is up for grabs for the growing middle classes in China, India, Brazil and elsewhere – but that’s another, potentially far more exciting story). If the future is just a bunch of very scary questions, rather than something that belongs to the middle classes and makes them feel special than what’s the point of reading – or even writing – about it anymore? So it looks like everything solid is melting into air, but it’s not time to abandon ship quite yet. Science – oh rather speculative – fiction still has ways of making the middle classes feel special. In fact there’s so many options it’s hard to know where to start. What about zombies? There’s no need to worry about the future with the zombie apocalypse because there isn’t one. Instead there’s nobody telling you what to do and no boring job you have to go to, which is pretty great in itself, plus you finally get to put all that knowledge, cunning and expensive gardening/cooking/sporting equipment you’ve amassed over the years to good use killing people your neighbors. Zombies feel a bit pass�? Then what about urban fantasy? Don’t be put off by the word ‘urban’, and how it became this kind of catch-all media phrase for black music and hip-hop and scary poor children wearing hoodies – there’s nothing that vulgar here. Urban fantasy does away with all of that and replaces it with werewolves and vampires. In effect it’s pretty much the same thing – it’s about middle class fear of inner-cities and the guilt of privilege – but it’s a lot sexier reading about your stylised fears getting carved up by a hot white girl with midriff tattoos and a samurai sword. Of course if you’re really scared of the future, then the obvious place to turn to is the past. Again it’s tough to know where to start. There’s time travel, where middle class readers can go back to the blitz and see how plucky the working classes were – before they got shell suits, Blackberry phones that they surely can’t afford and a welfare state. Or if that’s a little too recent or unglamorous there’s always the Victorian era, when Britain truly was great and still had an empire; a real one – based on killing and talking posh, not just on cheap manufacturing costs and investing in currency like empires are now. The only thing they didn’t have was steam powered zeppelins and robots dressed like Colonel Sanders, which is why speculative fiction had to invent steampunk – the empowering benefits of which have been outlined far more eloquently elsewhere. And if none of that appeals to then there is always ‘The Weird’. The only problem with The Weird is that nobody actually knows what the fuck it is, apart from perhaps a handful of writers and critics who don’t want their more literary colleagues to think they like sci-fi.

A Lexicon of Steam Literature of the Third Reich By Lavie Tidhar

A lexicon of steampunk fiction from the Third Reich from Lavie Tidhar, inspired by his comment that Steampunk is "fascism for nice people." Fascism for Nice People -- Lavie Tidhar
THULE See also STEAM CITY. The greatest city of the ARYAN race and capital of the HYPERBOREAN lands in the works of, e.g., Ernst BLAU, Karl JUNKER, Bruno SCHAEFER and others. Thule first appears in Blau’s now-classic The Swastika Gates (1950) in which a time travelling young hero of the Reich, Hanns von Himmel, finds himself in Hyperborea during the Age of the FIRST REICH, which is threatened by an invasion of JEWS equipped with advanced steam-powered weaponry. Von Himmel, naturally, eventually saves the day. already in that novel many of the recurring elements of SPM can be seen – MAD JEW SCIENTISTS, steam machines, Hyperborea, adventure narratives, improbable science – but, and perhaps most notably, also that sense of a glorious past, a GOLDEN AGE of Aryan supremacy not seen again for thousands of years. We must remember that those early writers – Blau, Junker et. al. – had only recently come out of a devastating World War in which the forces of the Third Reich only triumphed at great cost. Many of these writers have been soldiers in the war (Junker would later become Hitler’s special envoy to the West African Land Reclamation Programme) and have suffered greatly in many instances. In 1950 Germany was only just recovering from the War, still busy subduing the new colonies (the United Kingdom, Russia) and carrying on a ground war in North America (which only ended decisively in 1954 with the formal surrender of guerrilla leader and last de facto president Richard Nixon). Dampfkraftmythen comes from that sense, that many long years were still to pass before the true dream of the Third Reich could be fulfilled. Until then, fiction would serve. The Swastika Gates was made into a film by Leni RIEFENSTAHL in 1957. Thule appeared again in Schaefer’s The Hyperborean Trilogy (1963), in Letta BRAUN’s City On The Edge of the World (1968) and widely elsewhere.