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"We fall into genre wars, of literature versus science fiction, and I don't think it's a real war." - Lauren Beukes
January 8, 2012 3:46 PM   Subscribe

The Guardian interviewed four science fiction authors on the theme of the current state of SF. These authors are, in order, Lauren Beukes, Michael Moorcock, Alistair Reynolds and Jeff Noon, the latter two being interviewed together. Opinion ranges from bullish to crotchety, with plenty of shades and nuances.
posted by Kattullus (41 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
The only one I've heard of is Moorcock. If somebody can find a transcript of his part, please give me a pointer.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 3:55 PM on January 8, 2012


Lauren Beukes - won the Arthur C Clarke award for best novel in 2011 for Zoo City.

Alistair Reynolds, also a multiple award winner, including being nominated for the Arthur C Clarke award 3 times - (IMO) best known for his Revelation Space works. He's been around a long time, and is reasonably high profile within the genre.

Jeff Noon - best known, IMO, for his debut novel Vurt, which won the Arthur C Clarke award in 1994, although he has written many others since. A fabulous and deeply original book.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:11 PM on January 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


These are all very good writers. If you've not heard of them before, now is a fine time to learn more about them.
posted by jscalzi at 4:15 PM on January 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hmm, need to add more books to the reading list. Thanks!
posted by ZeusHumms at 4:16 PM on January 8, 2012


Jeff Noon's books are fantastic. Pity they don't seem to be available as ebooks or I'd have bought them all again.
posted by Ritchie at 4:19 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read everything I can find by Jeff Noon, and I can never find enough. 'Falling Out of Cars' was something else.

What The Hell Ever Happened To... Jeff Noon?

posted by ovvl at 4:29 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Noon talks briefly about his upcoming book, ovvl, during the interview.
posted by Kattullus at 4:43 PM on January 8, 2012


His thoughts were red thoughts: "Jeff Noon - best known, IMO, for his debut novel Vurt, which won the Arthur C Clarke award in 1994, although he has written many others since. A fabulous and deeply original book."

Yes. One of the comments on ovvl's link sums it up nicely
Once you get used to the dog-man sex (and the incest), it is smooth sailing.
posted by meehawl at 4:52 PM on January 8, 2012


Gosh, Mike Moorcock gives Moore a run for his money in the gloomy beardy guy stakes...
posted by Artw at 4:56 PM on January 8, 2012


Previously - Noon is pretty active on Twitter, and has a new novel on the way.
posted by Artw at 5:01 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Zoo City sounds pretty interesting, and goes on the To Read list, anyone know anything about the South Africa horror authors she discusses?
posted by Artw at 5:02 PM on January 8, 2012


I could have written Moorcock's script for him before even listening to his bit. Is anyone at all surprised by his opinion? You ask Moorcock (or Moore) or the like for their ideas on the current state of anything and you basically know what you're going to get.

Not even being able to come up with Iain Banks' name while slagging him off as not that interesting was unimpressive. Maybe Banks could improve his work by whipping it out in two or three days per novel like Moorcock.
posted by Justinian at 6:19 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm prepared to offer both of them a Grumpy Genius pass. And he doesn't so much say he dislikes Banks as that he's not so into the kind of stuff he does, which is fair enough I guess.

(I actually prefer some of his hacked-out-in-3-days stuff to his more modern literary stuff)
posted by Artw at 6:26 PM on January 8, 2012


I thought it was pretty clearly a damning with faint praise kind of situation, akin to the Simpsons bit where the geeky kid is asked if he likes Bradbury and he answers something like "I am aware of his work with a brushing-off hand gesture.

I thought it was a pretty deep misunderstanding of the genre, though, since his criticism of Banks centered on Banks being too concerned with technology. Huh?
posted by Justinian at 6:31 PM on January 8, 2012


If anyone is finding the first 15 minutes a little dull the last 15 were a lot more engrossing, at least to me.
posted by Justinian at 6:33 PM on January 8, 2012


Alastair's books are mind-blowing in reach, specifically timespan, I'd listen to him anytime.
posted by uni verse at 6:49 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Justinian: I thought it was a pretty deep misunderstanding of the genre, though, since his criticism of Banks centered on Banks being too concerned with technology. Huh?

I think you misunderstood Moorcock here. He mentions Banks as a kind of space opera that isn't his cup of tea (along with steampunk, which Moorcock sort of invented) and then continues his previous discussion of science ficion that focuses on changes in society rather than technological development. Also, I think I'm on fairly safe ground when I assume that Moorcock has a solid understanding of SF.
posted by Kattullus at 7:03 PM on January 8, 2012


Yeah, you'd pretty much have no use for steampunk whatsoever if your were Michael Moorcock.

I once, in an audio interview, totally forgot the name of someone I ACTUALLY WORKED WITH, and ended up getting them to edit that bit out to save me from dying of embarassment, and I am not over 70 and have all my own toes.
posted by Artw at 7:14 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Didn't Atwood just write a longish essay on this very subject, and then tour the hell out of it as guest writer/blogger/bon vivante over the last year?
posted by clvrmnky at 7:47 PM on January 8, 2012


Well, kinda. She has her own thing going on, and her own weird agenda.
posted by Artw at 8:00 PM on January 8, 2012


Didn't Atwood just write a longish essay on this very subject, and then tour the hell out of it as guest writer/blogger/bon vivante over the last year?

No, she just wrote "Blah, blah, blah [x2,000]...I'm better than you scum of the earth 'sci-fi' writers, with your 'sciencey stuff', because I'm literary".
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:22 PM on January 8, 2012


That would be my read too.
posted by Artw at 8:24 PM on January 8, 2012


Zoo City and Moxyland are excellent. And I served Lauren a lot of wine at Worldcon in Montreal.

You may touch me.
posted by RakDaddy at 9:25 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Both of those are $2.99 on Kindle right now. Sold!
posted by Artw at 9:29 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Zoo City is a good example of an interesting world paired with an uninteresting/problematic/intermittent story. I really wanted to like it, and I hope it all comes together better in Lauren Beukes's next effort.
posted by grounded at 10:00 PM on January 8, 2012


Listening and liking. Really neat. Parents... listen to this for a good motivation to introduce your children to science fiction early, and in a low pressure way. Very great. (*If you were going to dump a body in Johannesburg, where would the best place be? Twitter: Troivaal [sp?] Ms. Beukes point is really good, about the "genre wars" being more a few loud voices on various sides, and international, progressive ideas being examined in science fiction.
I feel like everyone should read Monica Hughes growing up... amazing perspectives are provided in her books.

She has women and young women as characters, realistic, interesting and dynamic. She also writes male characters in very dynamic roles as well. She was writing on the perils of climate change well back (Crystal Drop, which is in a New Dust-Bowl Prairie Canada [many forget how recently such a mass scale destruction of rampant desertification all in a tiny span of time... a deadly reminded that no, it isn't "day after tomorrow" style... but still.. fast, rapid, massive and devastating effects, when climate change comes. I can't recommend her highly enough (don't be misled by the slim profiles that her books take, they are nice for younger minds... engaging, endearing, question raising and ahead of their time books that hold up for adult readers as well (and those parents looking to share the multi-faceted story potentials of science fictions with their children).

Her book Crisis on Conshelf Ten is top-tops (she writes, as this podcast praises, less about the shininess of the Utopian/Dystopian clean lined futures of Star Trek, or Dystopian shininess of the other Brave New Worlds, or that amazing HG Wells early pic. and more about humanity, human stories, with intelligent settings (be sure to let me know what you think of her if you check out her writing). A wonderful example of the unique Canadian perspective creating interesting art and works of creativity.
posted by infinite intimation at 10:01 PM on January 8, 2012


Zoo City was pretty much my favorite book of 2011. Highly recommended. (I also have Moxyland, but I'm saving it for special.)
posted by smartyboots at 11:32 PM on January 8, 2012


Both of those are $2.99 on Kindle right now. Sold!

Good catch. Double sold!
posted by Ritchie at 1:29 AM on January 9, 2012


Zoo City is a good example of an interesting world paired with an uninteresting/problematic/intermittent story.

I'd say the hard-boiled mystery was something of a plot device to develop ideas about violence, oppression, guilt, and stigmata in contemporary Africa.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:03 AM on January 9, 2012


So I guess it's a new given on MeFi that no discussion of sf authors is complete without someone grinding their fan-axe about Atwood. Man, is that getting tired.

That said, thanks for the link. (I wished I could have read through a transcript rather than listen to the recording, but that's a pretty common web-frustration these days.) Reynolds has really established himself as a dependably interesting read, and Beukes is one of the most interesting newcomers of the last couple years. The StarshipSofa podcast has kind of kept Moorcock in my mind in recent years since he's a favorite there, and I read and loved all of Jeff Noon's stuff back in the day, very original stuff for the time, though I think more writers do the surreal-gritty-slipstream thing now so his work might not stand out as it did then.
posted by aught at 7:16 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've just finished Zoo City and really enjoyed it. And I really like Beukes in this podcast (I'm only in the middle of it at the mo).
posted by Fence at 10:23 AM on January 9, 2012


You're in trouble, clvrmnky.
posted by Artw at 10:24 AM on January 9, 2012


Yes, I am in trouble. Clearly.
posted by clvrmnky at 1:25 PM on January 9, 2012


Well, at least my fan axe is sharp now.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:50 PM on January 9, 2012


Why Science Fiction is the literature of change
posted by Artw at 2:02 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would need cybernetic implants to make my eyes roll any more than they currently are :-)
posted by Kattullus at 2:03 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reading Zoo City right now and really, really enjoying it - it does indeed have a very Vurt like vibe.
posted by Artw at 8:21 PM on January 9, 2012


Zoo City sounds pretty interesting, and goes on the To Read list, anyone know anything about the South Africa horror authors she discusses?

Zoo city is awesome. I've not heard the podcast but presumably Buekes mentions The Mall by SL Grey?
posted by ninebelow at 6:46 AM on January 10, 2012


Yup. That's probably next to check out.
posted by Artw at 3:27 PM on January 10, 2012


More on Atwood, genre wars, SF vs Fantasy, etc...

I like this bit:

Secondly, this falls in to the tired old rut of defining science fiction and fantasy as different things. Which in turn is just pandering to the beardy science fiction fans and their group delusion that they aren’t just indulging the same fantastical tendencies as everyone else because they happen to base their fantasies on New Scientist magazine instead of germanic mythology. Science fiction is one among many brands of fantasy, and that’s the end of the matter.

THERE WILL NEVER EVER BE ANY POINT IN THE FUTURE HISTORY OF MANKIND WHERE WE CAN UPLOAD OUR CONSCIOUSNESS TO COMPUTERS. IT’S A FANTASY METAPHOR EMPLOYING TECHNOLOGY IN A PURELY SYMBOLIC WAY.

Taking that metaphor literally makes it absurd and meaningless, which is the generalised effect of forgetting that science fiction, while possessing a number of distinguishing characteristics, is nonetheless still a form of fantasy.

That is all.

posted by Artw at 10:19 AM on January 12, 2012


Secondly, this falls in to the tired old rut of defining science fiction and fantasy as different things. Which in turn is just pandering to the beardy science fiction fans and their group delusion that they aren’t just indulging the same fantastical tendencies as everyone else because they happen to base their fantasies on New Scientist magazine instead of germanic mythology. Science fiction is one among many brands of fantasy, and that’s the end of the matter.

I think many (most?) sf fans would disagree with Mr. Walter. I actually suspect many fans would be more in line with the io9 synopsis of Atwood and LeGuin he's critiquing, for all the demonizing of Atwood that's been done by fans of the genre who don't think she has the cred to comment on "their" turf. (Though surely LeGuin has earned such respect.)

Walter might think that sf and fantasy are equally implausible on some absolute empirical level, but when talking about literature (which is, of course, all fiction, and all made up) it's probably more meaningful to consider the works by *how their readers think of them while in the act of reading* (that is, people read slipstream / speculative fiction as if it were something that might be happening in some other corner of the world, sf as if it were something that might someday happen in our world, and fantasy as something that cannot possibly happen in our world even if the reader would love if it could -- again, all regardless of whether the three types of writing are all pretty much implausible in the "real world" as we know it to some sober and clear-eyed outside observer in the full light of day).
posted by aught at 6:21 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


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