Horselover Fat / Science Fiction

Started by WorldForgot, February 20, 2021, 11:02:15 AM

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PKD (in a letter) May 14, 1981

I will define science fiction, first, by saying what sf is not. It cannot be defined as "a story (or novel or play) set in the future," since there exists such a thing as space adventure, which is set in the future but is not sf: it is just that: adventures, fights and wars in the future in space involving super-advanced technology. Why, then, is it not science fiction? It would seem to be, and Doris Lessing supposes that it is. However, space adventure lacks the distinct new idea that is the essential ingredient. Also, there can be science fiction set in the present: the alternate world story or novel. So if we separate sf from the future and also from ultra-advanced technology, what then do we have that can be called sf?

We have a fictitious world; that is the first step: it is a society that does not in fact exist, but is predicated on our known society; that is, our known society acts as a jumping-off point for it; the society advances out of our own in some way, perhaps orthogonally, as with the alternate world story or novel. It is our world dislocated by some kind of mental effort on the part of the author, our world transformed into that which it is not or not yet. This world must differ from the given in at least one way, and this one way must be sufficient to give rise to events that could not occur in our society -- or in any known society present or past.  There must be a coherent idea involved in this dislocation; that is the dislocation must be a conceptual one, not merely a trivial or bizarre one -- this is the essence of science fiction, the conceptual dislocation within the society so that as a result a new society is generated in the author's mind, transferred to paper, and from paper it occurs as a convulsive shock in the reader's mind, the shock of dysrecognition. He knows that is is not his actual world that he is reading about.

Now, to serparate science fiction from fantasy. This is impossible to do, and a moment's thought will show why. Take psionics; take mutants such as we find in Ted Sturgeon's wonderful MORE THAN HUMAN. If the reader believes that such mutants could exist, then he will view Sturgeon's novel as science fiction. If, however, he believes that such mutants are, like wizards and dragons, not possible, nor will ever be possible, then he is reading a fantasy novel. Fantasy involves that which general opinion regards as impossible; science fiction involves that which general opinion regards as possible under the right circumstances. This is in essence a judgement-call, since what is possible and what is not possible is not objectively known but is, rather; a subjective belief on the part of the author and of the reader.

Now to define good science fiction. The conceptual dislocation -- the new idea, in other words -- must be truly new (or a new variation on an old one) and it must be intellectually stimulating to the reader; it must invade his mind and wake it up to the possibility of something he has not up to then thought of. Thus "good science fiction" is a value term, not an objective thing, and yet, I think, there really is such a thing, objectively as good science fiction.

I think Dr. Willis McNelly at the California State University at Fullerton put it best when he said that the true protagonist of an sf story or novel is an idea and not a person. If it is good sf the idea is new, it is stimulating, and probably, most important of all, it sets off a chain-reaction of ramification-ideas in the mind of the reader; it so-to-speak unlocks the reader's mind so that that mind, like the author's, begins to create. Thus sf is creative and it inspires creativity, which mainstream fiction by-and-large does not do. We who read sf (I am speaking as a reader now, not a writer) read it because we love to experience this chain-reaction of ideas being set off in our minds by something we read, something with a new idea in it; hence the very best science fiction ultimately winds up being a collaboration between author and reader, in which both create -- and enjoy doing it :joy is the essential and final ingredient of science fiction, the joy of discovery of newness.


yeah that's beautiful. i would propose that each book of any variety represents its own perspective of society and thus is its own creation, as in everything is singular in its own way, and some things introduce ideas and some things shuffle them, such that what he said but applied to every form of writing


QuoteA Rant About "Technology" (c.2004)
In an interesting and favorable notice of Changing Planes (which you can find elsewhere on the site, in Spanish and English), the Argentinean reviewer asserts that since Le Guin isn't a hard science fiction writer, "technology is carefully avoided." I stuck a footnote onto this in my translation of the article, and here is the footnote expanded — because this business is really getting my goat.

'Hard' sf is all about technology, and 'soft' sf doesn't have any technology, right? And my books don't have technology in them, because I am only interested in psychology and emotions and squashy stuff like that, right?

Not right. How can genuine science fiction of any kind lack technological content? Even if its principal interest isn't in engineering or how machines work — if like most of mine, it's more interested in how minds, societies, and cultures work — still, how can anybody make a story about a future or an alien culture without describing, implicitly or explicitly, its technology?

Nobody can. I can't imagine why they'd want to.

Its technology is how a society copes with physical reality: how people get and keep and cook food, how they clothe themselves, what their power sources are (animal? human? water? wind? electricity? other?) what they build with and what they build, their medicine - and so on and on. Perhaps very ethereal people aren't interested in these mundane, bodily matters, but I'm fascinated by them, and I think most of my readers are too.

Technology is the active human interface with the material world.

But the word is consistently misused to mean only the enormously complex and specialised technologies of the past few decades, supported by massive exploitation both of natural and human resources.

This is not an acceptable use of the word. "Technology" and "hi tech" are not synonymous, and a technology that isn't "hi," isn't necessarily "low" in any meaningful sense.

We have been so desensitized by a hundred and fifty years of ceaselessly expanding technical prowess that we think nothing less complex and showy than a computer or a jet bomber deserves to be called "technology " at all. As if linen were the same thing as flax — as if paper, ink, wheels, knives, clocks, chairs, aspirin pills, were natural objects, born with us like our teeth and fingers -- as if steel saucepans with copper bottoms and fleece vests spun from recycled glass grew on trees, and we just picked them when they were ripe...

One way to illustrate that most technologies are, in fact, pretty "hi," is to ask yourself of any manmade object, Do I know how to make one?

Anybody who ever lighted a fire without matches has probably gained some proper respect for "low" or "primitive" or "simple" technologies; anybody who ever lighted a fire with matches should have the wits to respect that notable hi-tech invention.

I don't know how to build and power a refrigerator, or program a computer, but I don't know how to make a fishhook or a pair of shoes, either. I could learn. We all can learn. That's the neat thing about technologies. They're what we can learn to do.

And all science fiction is, in one way or another, technological. Even when it's written by people who don't know what the word means.

All the same, I agree with my reviewer that I don't write hard science fiction. Maybe I write easy science fiction. Or maybe the hard stuff's inside, hidden — like bones, as opposed to an exoskeleton....


Crows are the color of anarchy
and close up they're a little scary.
An eye as bright as anything.
Having a pet crow would be
like having Voltaire on a string.

Learning the Name

for Bette

The wood thrush, it is! Now I know
who sings that clear arpeggio,
three far notes weaving
into the evening
among leaves
    and shadow;

or at dawn in the woods, I've heard
the sweet ascending triple word
echoing over
the silent river —
but never
   seen the bird.


Why is it I want to cry?
Crow, crow, tell me.

There is a shadow passing by.
The willows call me.

Why would an old woman weep?
Willow, tell me, willow.

Crows went flying through my sleep.
I cry and follow.

Every Land
(From a saying of Black Elk)

Watch where the branches of the willows bend
See where the waters of the rivers tend
Graves in the rock, cradles in the sand
Every land is the holy land

Here was the battle to the bitter end
Here's where the enemy killed the friend
Blood on the rock, tears on the sand
Every land is the holy land

Willow by the water bending in the wind
Bent till it's broken and it will not stand
Listen to the word the messengers send
Life like the broken rock, death like the sand
Every land is the holy land

— Ursula K. Le Guin
November 2006


I have been enjoying these lately:

I also kind of loved Valerian by Besson lol


Saga iz dope!! Really love some of the full-page splashes.
I've got to read Snow Crash someday, its premise appeals to me but good golly iz there so much media to intake in a lifetime. For now, I'm reading Ursula K Le Guin's THE DISPOSSESSED as a follow-up to Infinite Jest.


Getting a Master's Degree in Lovecraft - Silvia Moreno-Garcia

QuoteI got a Master's degree so I could study eugenics and spend more time with a dead man and the dead man is Lovecraft.

I didn't grow up thinking this would happen. I've never fancied myself a scholar or envied the professor's life. I also had a full-time job when I began tinkering with the idea of getting a Master's degree in Science and Technology Studies. I wanted the degree because of my longtime interest in both science and history. I also thought it might be useful as general background for the kind of work I do. And it just seemed fun. I like taking classes. However, Master's degrees are not really geared towards adult learners and I wasn't going to quit my job, so I cautiously asked if they'd take me as a part-time student. They said yes. I enrolled.

I had to take fewer classes than my cohort and it would be longer for me to graduate. Also, everyone was much, much younger than me. I felt embarrassed the first day I walked into class carrying a notebook and everyone had a Mac. The younger students seemed much better prepared than me, throwing out names like "Latour" and "Haraway" while I kept going "what who where."

A university education is not only about an academic formation, it's a lesson in social class. The first time around, when I got my bachelor's degree in Communications, I did it with two scholarships and on-campus work, the only way I, a kid from Mexico who was nowhere near super wealthy, could ever afford to accomplish such a thing. Life on a college in New England was a bit of a shock, but it was doable and I graduated Magna Cum Laude.

When I started at the University of British Columbia in my MA I felt like a complete idiot. Everyone knew how to write a grad school paper, how to research, what books to read and what philosophers and historians to quote. I'd attended a small college and this seemed a far distance from a large Canadian university. I cried the first week of class and told my husband I was obviously a fool. Even though I actually work for UBC, I don't do anything in an academic capacity so I didn't know what the inside of a classroom was like. Boy, did I know now.

I was also worried about my topic of studies. As Wikipedia states, STS is the "is the study of how social, political, and cultural values affect scientific research and technological innovation, and how these, in turn, affect society, politics and culture." My interest was in history of science. But my other interest was science fiction, which is still the kind of thing many people think is not worthy of their time. I couldn't figure how I would tie these interests together, although that was my impulse.

Lovecraft did the trick. I've also had a long-time interest in H.P. Lovecraft, but not in a scholarly way. I've edited and written things that are called "Lovecraftian" and know a bunch of folks in the "community." Lovecraft was an amateur scientists and several of his stories reflect scientific concerns of the time.

I decided I would focus on eugenics, the "science of better breeding" and its ties to Lovecraft's work. Eugenics these days is mostly associated with Nazis, but it was a widespread scientific pursuit in the early 20th century. The United States boasted an Eugenics Record Office and passed eugenics laws which mandated compulsory sterilization for the "unfit" (a whole variety of traits could characterize a person as being unfit, from medical conditions such as hemophilia to simply being poor), but other countries also developed eugenic programs.

Eugenics was a widespread and multi-faceted effort. It also went on longer than most people imagine, into the 1960s. And it seeped into popular culture in ways we don't think about. There were baby contents to select the fittest children. There were exhibits and lectures, and the YMCA and YWCA sponsored talks on "Home Making and Eugenics." In 41 textbooks published in the United States from 1914 to 1948, almost 90% tackled eugenics and 70% considered it a legitimate science.

As mentioned before, eugenics helped push sterilization laws. It also created immigration reforms: the Immigration Act of 1924 barred certain groups (such as Arabs and Asians) from entering the United States. And flawed studies were developed to help demonstrate the inferiority of certain groups and the natural superiority of others.

Eugenics was about race, it was about class, it was about disability, and eventually I discovered, it was about gender. I did not intend to focus on women but that's where my reading led me. Although I thought I had some understanding of this time period, I was surprised by the biological notions of the 1920s and 30s and the way the intersected with portrayals of women. The natural criminal condition of a woman, a text told me, is "harlotry." I read columns from Ladies' Home Journal where eugenicist Paul Popenoe offered marriage advice. Popenoe believed it was crucial that the "right kind of people" marry and have children. And so on and so forth.

There were things I expected to find in Lovecraft, such as racial concerns tied to biological notions, but there too lay surprises. For example, when re-reading "The Dunwich Horror" I realized Lavinia gives birth to a "black brat" who turns out to be a monster.

When I thought about the modern culture I inhabit, I found traces of eugenic thought. It was a strange process, full of nasty finds and imagery. Sometimes, there were fun parts: at one point I stumbled upon a beefcake photo of a half-naked man blond man next to a chicken. The farming industry intersected with issues of eugenics at several points (like in the development of county fairs to show off the "fittest" families), so it makes sense that the best chicken would be compared to the best man, but it was still an odd find. I also figured out that the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver, which is known for its rides and the ability to eat any food in fried form (ice cream, chocolate bars and more), once housed eugenics contests.

I graduated this summer. My thesis "Magna Mater: Women and Eugenic Thought in the Work of H.P. Lovecraft" can be read online.

My advisor said that now that I have concluded my studies I have "broken up" with my creepy boyfriend, an allusion to Lovecraft, since at one point I told her due to the constant exposure to his letters and stories, I felt like I was almost in a long-distance relationship with a deceased man.

I don't know if I can "break up" so easily from my interest in history of science and the biological sciences. As I said goodbye to my advisor she mentioned she was teaching a class on science fiction this term and asked if I had any short stories I would recommend in her historical overview. I piped up and said that "Strange Orchids," a hard-to-find story by Dorothy Quick originally printed in 1937, has been reprinted in Sisters of Tomorrow: The First Women of Science Fiction this year. I also mentioned how I was in interested in science fiction which deals with women's bodies and reproduction.

"Maybe that'll be your PhD," my advisor told me.

Donna Haraway's latest book (Staying with the Trouble, published September 2016) states in its description that the noted STS scholar "eschews referring to our current epoch as the Anthropocene, preferring to conceptualize it as what she calls the Chthulucene, as it more aptly and fully describes our epoch as one in which the human and nonhuman are inextricably linked in tentacular practices."

Maybe I was a visionary with this whole STS and serious university scholar and science fiction stuff. Maybe my advisor wasn't so wrong about the PhD.

Oh, God. I hope I don't seriously start going there.