Stranger than a strange land
August 20, 2010 12:08 PM   Subscribe

I've been demanding that people give me some strange for years at science fiction conventions.

This wasn't really what I was talking about, though.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:14 PM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I dunno. Seems to me this is rather vague and broad: not so much a subgenre on its own as it is the set of decent-SF-being-written-these-days, the middlebrow middleground of SF-in-general against which more sharply delineated subgenera can be foregrounded.
These stories combine the literary standards and cultural understandings of the New Wave movement with the basic strangeness and sensawunda from the golden age of science fiction--all seen through the lens of today's multicultural world, where diversity and difference are the norm even as basic human values and needs still bind us together.
I mean, that's just given these days, right? If you want to get anywhere near the Good Stuff?
posted by kipmanley at 12:43 PM on August 20, 2010

Isn't this stratum of "speculative fiction" what Conjunctions 39 (from 8 years ago) was about? YMMV, but I was sincerely bored by the tedious literary pretensions of the stories in that volume. It's middle-brow fiction wedded to something that doesn't strive to be in the realist vein. Basically, The Life of Pi of the SF genre.
posted by Nomyte at 1:13 PM on August 20, 2010

I haven't read any of this "SciFi Strange", but I'm intrigued. However, the blog post didn't give me good understanding of what this sub-genre is. If it's "middle-brow fiction wedded to something that doesn't strive to be in the realist vein", like Nomyte said, I agree that it doesn't sound very appealing. Has anyone else read any of these stories and would like to share their thoughts?
posted by Triplanetary at 1:58 PM on August 20, 2010

Isn't this kind of what they are trying to do with Slipstream?

there is a really good anthology put out by Tachyon (I really like that publisher).
posted by edgeways at 2:27 PM on August 20, 2010

I remember really enjoying the Yoon Ha Lee story, but I read it so long ago I can't say much else about it.
posted by overglow at 2:36 PM on August 20, 2010

No, no, slipstream's the stuff that isn't, or tries to pretend it isn't, or can't get mistaken for it in a brightly lit line-up. This stuff manifestly is, but--and I'm not going to pretend I've read anywhere near what's on the list but even to my uneducated eye it's all over the map, so let's go back to the description--

"the literary standards and cultural understandings of the New Wave movement"

Well, yes: at this point it's a massive landmark there in the history of SF and if you're writing it at all you're writing stuff that's informed by the New Wave or that's informed by stuff that's been informed by; those standards and understandings are taken for granted I think at this point. Unless, y'know, you're trying for deliberately retro, whether cheekily or reactionarily, in which case: subgenre.

"the basic strangeness and sensawunda from the golden age of science fiction"

Well, and see, I wouldn't class strangeness and sensawunda as being the defining characteristic of golden age SF; really, basically, it's the bedrock thing about the phantastick as a whole: the ostranie, the unheimlich, the shiver, the shock, the gloriosky, the dreams our stuff is made of, etc. etc. Even the mundane SF folks were about strangeness and sensawunda, for fuck's sake. It's why we're here at all.

"the lens of today's multicultural world, where diversity and difference are the norm even as basic human values and needs still bind us together"

Which, okay, and this basically boils down to Wheaton's Law, or what Morgan Freeman said at the end of Bonfire of the Vanities, or let's be fair and describe it as fiction that is aware of and tries to avoid FAILs of this sort or that, which is admittedly much more prickly, fine fine, and that's nice and all, but you start to get the feeling that he's basically talking about any SF that isn't written by John C. Wright or his ilk. (Which is a mean thing to say but still.)

There's more about SciFi strange here, in his response to Jeff VanderMeer, who's contrasting SciFi strange with the New Weird movement in fantasy, which is much more a thing you can point to and differentiate from and say this is and that isn't and mean something and have a useful conversation about. --Again, the description and discussion of SciFi strange is merely describing what SF itself ought to be doing, is always doing, whenever it's written; not what this specific school or movement or subgenre or whatever is doing differently than all the other wave-functions of SF out there, waiting to be collapsed with a manifesto of their own.
posted by kipmanley at 2:47 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Poor John C. Wright. You write one trilogy where objectivism turns out to be the fundamental structure of the universe, another with a bunch of weird psychosexual stuff involving teenaged schoolgirls, and one more containing oddly placed racist weirdness and you just can't catch a break anymore! Come on, Kip! He mostly spells words right and the sentences are generally constructed in accordance with norms of the English language! Cut him a break!
posted by Justinian at 4:06 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

But seriously, I simply can't understand how the guy who wrote the first two books of the Golden Age trilogy turned out to be the guy who wrote every other book by Wright. Sad. Oh, sure, the warning signs about the objectivism stuff is present in there once you know what is coming later but even so it was depressing to watch. Like a slow-motion train wreck except without the slow motion.
posted by Justinian at 4:08 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've read a few of the stories which make up the "anthology", but I'm not convinced there's an actual movement here so much as a collection of some well-received short fiction of the past few years, and what the stories share is good writing, a sense of wonder, and a feeling of being written with an awareness of the modern world. It's not a bad collection of stories, but I don't see a strong relationship between them other than they are doing the things I like to see in SF.
posted by penguinliz at 4:10 PM on August 20, 2010

I'm starting a new sub-genre of science fiction. It is based on a complete ignorance of the modern world and low literary standards. It adheres ridgedly to realistic physics and any sense of wonder is downplayed. The story lines never address humans place in the universe. I think it's going to be a big hit.
posted by fuq at 4:38 PM on August 20, 2010

I don't really buy that "SciFi Strange" is a thing, but I'm not convinced "The New Weird" and whatever else is currently in fashion is really a thing, either. Again, see: "mundane SF," "slipstream," etc.

I certainly think some genre labels can be helpful to understanding authorial intent, but this propensity to try to draw lines around bits of the genre feels like it's half a matter of the uncool kids finally getting together to form a clique of their own, and half a sublimated awareness that they're not revolutionizing the genre, and the quick and easy way to make it seem like they are is by relabeling bits of the old one that nobody will miss.

This kind of thing smacks of self-congratulatory back-patting cum guerrilla marketing to me, and I don't trust it.

/kids, lawns, grar, grar
posted by Amanojaku at 5:11 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

What's Strange to me (rimshot) is that probably 80% of the books I've read over the last few years have been SF, but reading the linked articles, and even more so kipmanley's comment, was almost like reading about crochet, or american football, or pointillism, or some other pursuit with which I have never engaged in my life: the names and descriptors referenced meant nothing to me.

A spot of Wikipediaism had things making a bit more sense but the bottom line is that there's apparently a whole bunch of "schools", never mind authors, which I haven't read being thrown around here. SF is evidently a pretty big world, and it seems to me that unless all the things I have been reading count as "John C. Wright's ilk", which, judging by Justinian's comment I'm pretty sure they don't, then "he's basically talking about any SF that isn't written by John C. Wright or his ilk" can't really be true.
posted by Slyfen at 5:38 AM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Slyfen, I'm curious, what are some of the books and authors that you've read?

I wonder if part of the disconnect is because the focus of the articles seems to be short stories, most of them pubished online within the last few years and (I'm pretty sure) written by authors who don't (yet?) have any novels published.
posted by overglow at 6:48 AM on August 22, 2010

Another person who has never heard of John C Wright, so I went looking. His What's Wrong With the World (in 22 parts) is probably a great place to find some lulz, eh?

Instead of glorifying human liberty, the world called it ‘Capitalism’ and gathered a whole hemisphere against it. Free and civilized people rushed madly to embrace the guillotine, the gulag, and the legs of risibly incompetent or mentally unbalanced tyrants. Poetry died. Music, art, novels, plays, all shriveled into grotesquery.
And Igantius J Reilly? Is this you?
In my youth, I though the era was illogical because my contemporaries (for some reason unknown and unknowable) did not have the grit or good sense to study the classical logic of the schoolmen. I thought so much illogic was on display merely because no one knew the rules of logic.
posted by DU at 9:52 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

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