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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

But, then, how can you go around freaking the Mundanes?

There is a movement afoot, complete with manifesto, called Mundane SF. You may or may not have heard of it, but it does seem to be gaining a little traction to the point that Interzone is doing a Mundane SF issue. If you're unfamiliar with the movement, there's a post on the Mundane SF blog that encapsulates Geoff Ryman's idea pretty well. In a nutshell, to quote from Mr. Ryan's post:

Being a Mundane boils down to avoiding old tropes and sticking more closely to what science calls facts. We believe that for most of us, the future is here on Earth.

Or, from the Interzone Mundane Guidelines:

Today there is no --
  • Faster than light travel
  • Psi power
  • Nanobot technology
  • Extraterrestrial life
  • Computer consciousness
  • Materially profitable space travel
  • Human immortality
  • Brain downloading
  • Teleportation
  • Time travel
-- And maybe there never will be!

In a nutshell, it is Dogme 95 for speculative fiction. It also seems to be doing a good job of what manifestos like this should do, which is to provoke reaction. So what's my take?

(Note: this is a reaction to Mundane SF as a literary movement described by Geoff Ryman. I am explicitly not commenting on any of Geoff Ryman's fiction, which I have not read.)

First, I'll say, it can be a worthwhile artistic exercise to place limits on yourself. Especially if said limits keep you from using a device or techniques that you're comfortable with or prone to overusing. In that respect, I think a lot of SF writers might benefit from producing a Mundane SF story or two, myself included. (Though my attempt might not sync with Mr. Ryan's goal, as I'd try to do a complete gonzo post-singularity story in his Mundane sandbox. It'd be a challenge.)

However, I think the purpose behind the Manifesto, as described by Mr. Ryan, is not an artistic one. It seems to me that the "Mundanes" are of the opinion that SF-- at least SF of literary merit-- should serve a particularly narrow purpose, the illumination of possible, or even more restrictively, probable futures. In this view, entertainment is not something to aspire to, and escape is a childish impulse. To this view "good fiction," like medicine, needs to be "good for you."

I hate that shit!

It is a self-serving philosophy that allows wannabe literati to pat themselves on the back and say they're doing something worthwhile even if they write something no one wants to read. They can say that it is "literature" and the public just doesn't "get" it.


Shakespeare, Dickens, Chaucer, Hemingway, they were all populists. Any writer who looks down on entertaining their audience, who places some higher purpose above telling a good story, is doomed. IMO, if someone practices Mundane SF for any other reason than the thought that doing so, playing with these rules, will produce a better told tale will, instead, produce turgid, boring crap.


RobRoy said...

I haven't heard of this before (being more of a paranormal/fantasy freak myself), and I haven't followed all the links provided, and except for the "no . . . materially profitable space travel" which seems a bit silly), I liked the concept. Still, as you say, self-serving stories that aren't entertaining are a failure from the first word.