Log in

No account? Create an account
Sean Williams
mundane by name... 
11.00 am 14.08.07
I've never engaged with the idea of Mundane SF until today. How did I miss it? Seems to me that it's an exercise in self-limitation. Like we need more of those.

The receptors in our eyes can only see certain frequencies, so what's the point looking beyond them? I'm not likely ever to live in New York, so why would I visit there? The Bible has explained everything, so there's no need to think any more.

Looking outside the box might negatively impinge on my status quo. Better just to stay inside and tinker with the known.

I've written Mundane SF. There's nothing with it per se. But the idea that it needs a name is making me cranky. Like it's something special or unique. Looking at the manifesto on Wikipedia, I see the movement drawing arbitrary and unnecessary lines around particular subsections of SF, such as space opera, and that really raises my hackles.

Space opera doesn't have to have aliens or ftl travel; my new series has neither, but that doesn't make it Mundane SF. I don't want it to be Mundane SF. The manifesto speaks to me of an utter failure of imagination. Anything that encourages writers to shy away from ideas, or actively disses any literature that does not, is, I think, utter garbage.

Gah. I think I need another hot chocolate.

LATER: Ian McDonald's reaction makes me feel slightly more cheerful...
01.47 am 14.08.07 (UTC)
Hi, I am author X.

I have written a book. It is really, really mundane.

You'd love to buy it now, wouldn't you?

01.53 am 14.08.07 (UTC)
Exactly! Whoever came up with that particular moniker really needed to give it a second thought. :-)

(Apologies to Geoff Ryman, if it was him. I have no personal gripe, honest.)
02.54 am 14.08.07 (UTC)
I think I need another hot chocolate.

Ah, eternal truth!

02.58 am 14.08.07 (UTC)
Yes indeed. There is only one. :-)
02.59 am 14.08.07 (UTC)
What a crap title for a marketing tool! Which this basically is.

IT seems to be an extremely limiting idea. Okay, so maybe instellar travel isn't possible now, but who's to know what will happen in the next twenty years, the next hundred or a thousand? Who knows what breakthoughs may happen in science? Sounds like the guy who came up with this can't be bothered exercising his imnagination muscles.

And some of us like big spaceships and aliens (especially Cherryh's lion people).
03.58 am 14.08.07 (UTC)
I've just realised that one of my favourite books could be counted as MSF.
The Sea and Summer by George Turner.
05.27 am 14.08.07 (UTC)

Or you could call it a near future ecothriller (like Ian Irvine might). Which, really, sounds much cooler.
04.08 am 14.08.07 (UTC)
If you regard the Mundane SF manifesto as staking out the territory for a sub-genre, rather than claiming that sub-genre is all that SF should be, I have quite a bit of sympathy for it. Essentially, its saying that if your idea of what the aesthetics of SF should be includes making it work as futurism, then you should discard some hoary SF tropes in service of that, realise that space opera isn't futurism but something else. I really like SF that tries to work as futurism - 80s cyberpunk, Doctorow, McDonalds River of Gods, etc - but I like the other sorts as well.

Manifestos are best seen as staking out a bit of territory within the bigger space of SF, drawing attention to its virtues and the way its aesthetics work.

(and FWIW, I don't think of the Astropolis series as being in that area at all either -- the particular ideas they talk about are just examples, its really all about attitude)
05.05 am 14.08.07 (UTC)
They can turn their back on any SF trope they like. I have no issue with that. My problem comes from the attitude towards science that I'm picking up from posts like this one:
Anything calling itself SF should (IMO) have an interest in and engagement with science. To deride an entire branch of cutting-edge astrophysics--
"These are dangerous ideas. Of the kind that believing you can fly off a cliff with a pair of cardboard wings is a dangerous idea."
--or indeed much of astrophysics in general--
"I pretty much agree with the particle physicist Martinus Veltman that astrophysicists are full of crap"
--is, I reckon, madness. Or at least something other than SF.
If they took the "SF" out of their name and just called "Mundane" fiction, I wouldn't even blink. But I would repeat what I said in another comment about them desperately needing some PR advice...
06.19 am 14.08.07 (UTC)
At the risk of starting to sound like something of a crank on the subject, I read this as yet another attempt to earn kudos and sales from the LitWank crowd - like "Speculative Fiction' and 'New Weird' before it.

And, like those, as a marketing category I don't have any proplem with it - it's probably not a very well named marketing category, as others have said - but like the others it seems to have generated a depressing tendency towards people thinking they're doing something New and Important.

I blame universities. There seems to have been a veritable explosion of university courses taking the genre seriously, which I think is in serious danger of taking all the fun out of it - the genre seems to be rapidly filling up with brooding uni students trying to work out a way to use writing sf to get laid, as opposed to a bunch of former journos and other assorted hack writers trying to work out a way of making it pay.
06.20 am 14.08.07 (UTC)
And yes, I'm now aware of the utter stupidity (let's redefine it as irony, shall we) of using that particular user pic to go with that particular comment.
10.10 am 14.08.07 (UTC) - Re: Mundane SF
Well argued, Sean, but I think the whole point of Mundane SF is that it's . . . [thunk!] . . . sorry, that was my head hitting the desk. Where was I? Oh yes: Mundane SF. Y'see, it's really . . . [thunk!] Sorry, can't keep myself awake; every time I think about unnecessary and self-limiting manifestos, I . . . [thunk!]

Bollocks to this, I'm off. I need something vital to keep myself awake. I know! Maybe some huge galaxy-spanning SF - yeah, something with spaceships and black holes and post-humanity. Maybe a bit of quantum entanglement or many worlds theory thrown in, as well. Something . . . you know . . . interesting.

04.33 pm 14.08.07 (UTC)
As someone who has been labeled (accused?) a mundane SF writer... I think the idea is largely useful as a tool to get quote-unquote serious literary readers to engage with SF. You know, all those people who claim that the problem with SF is that it's not "realistic," whatever that is. If you can tell someone that everything in this book is scientifically valid, suddenly you can take it seriously.

I'm not saying I agree with this mentality -- kind of seems like the Democrats' recent attempts here in the U.S. to dress themselves up as Republicans in order to "fool" people into thinking that they're not liberal pansies. But that's the strategy anyway.
10.20 pm 14.08.07 (UTC)
Laudable aims, but I wonder if using the word "mundane" and keeping the "SF" tag will have had anything but a detrimental effect on the particular type of SF they're trying to promote to the audience they want to attract. It'd be interesting to know if it had led to an increased the prominence of books like yours (which I loved, of course, whatever it's labeled as).
01.23 am 21.08.07 (UTC)
I'm of the "big tent" persuasion: there's room in SF for mundane, space opera, noir, farce, military, hard, New Wave, thrillers, etc.

That said, I'm sympathetic to the Mundane SF idea because I think it might make authors pay more attention to their creations.

Let me give an example that was a turning point in how I read SF: James P. Hogan's Code of the Lifemaker. When I finished it, I thought "If he's going to write about colonialism, why did he need robots? We seem to have a surfeit of examples here on Earth." That led me to the realization that most spaceships traveling between worlds/stars are equivalent to 17th century sailing ships: their origins and destinations are far enough apart temporally and spatially to prevent close interaction between cultures, but close enough that interaction is still possible. Seen in this light, there's nothing about e.g. The Sparrow that has to be SF. It and many other SF novels could be translated to this planet and time without missing a beat. If you must use SF tropes, show me why you need them. "I'll write X, but in space!" is no longer automatically interesting because it contains the phrase "in space."

So my hope is that the idea of Mundane SF might make some authors consider whether they need the gizmos, the galaxy-spanning distances, and the alien as other. (Humans seem to be other enough for most.) And if an author finds she does need the toys, maybe it will encourage her to use them carefully. Because I want to read SF that makes me think, and that I can tell has made the author think too.
11.21 pm 23.08.07 (UTC)
ie, only SF that is Mundane can make you think. Right.

Peter Watts's and James Morrow's novels do not qualify as Mundane, but there is certainly a hell of a lot of thought put in to them. Amongst many other authors who don't bother with Mundane constraints. Thus, your argument here fails.
This page was loaded Sep 21st 2019, 11:49 pm GMT.