12 Riffs on 12 Happy Accidents in Science Fiction
  Lists    May 10, 2015     Eric Larkin

Madeleine Monson-Rosen over at iO9 wrote an amazing post last May called “12 Happy Accidents that Helped Save Science Fiction.” It needs no help from me[full stop].

And like anything I read that’s really awesome, it made me wanna do stuff. What stuff did I do? I explored each item on her list.  So these are my completely unauthorized footnotes to Monson-Rosen’s excellent list.  This will make zero sense, if you do not read her list first.  So, play this Forbidden Planet ambient sound, and read the original before you read the derivative shizz below . . .

(I know this is a lot of reading, that’s why I’m posting it on a Sunday. Besides, if you’re still with us after the interminable 3 part Wondercon series this week, you have what is known as an attention span, so you’re fine.)

Back?  Awesome list, right?! And you’re immersed in the ambient sound?

FLIR eyes, four hearts – can’t lose.    Let’s go …

 

  1.  William Gibson’s Gernsback Continuum does something cool with the aesthetic of that early pulp science fiction, of which Amazing Stories is the OG example.   You can find it in Gibson’s short story collection Burning Chrome and also in the recent Ann & Jeff VanderMeer anthology Time Traveler’s Almanac, which I cannot recommend highly enough. I wish I could make a time loop and read it for the first time many times.

Classic LIFE photo of Hugo Gernsback watching TV, while Nikola Tesla’s head patiently awaits its turn.

 

You can still find Amazing Stories originals, and there are a few reprints out there.

And as to Percival Lowell, the very legit astronomer who inspired Gernsback, he was one of the proponents of the Mars canals theory, which was totally amazing and totally incorrect.  Bummer. But he predicted the discovery of Pluto (as did Wilmarth in “Whisperer in the Darkness”, though probably for different reasons- that’s a Lovecraft jam, by the way). There were other theories.

 

  1.   John W Campbell wrote Who Goes There? which became The Thing in its various filmed incarnations. (And other incarnations.)  Also, his editorials were, uh… interesting.   Though he promoted the “hard science” approach in Analog, his own opinions often veered wide of that mark.  From highly questionable views on social issues to pseudo science, he covered a full range in his commentaries.  And they are available here, in a free ebook of his collected essays, published in 1966.  He was a funky dude, but did SO much for sci-fi.

    The original version was actually a short, wherein the Thing stowed away on a chopper to Tierra del Fuego, and walked all the way to Rio for a chance to start a new life. Science fiction is so full of hope. (photo by Merelize)

     

 

  1.  There’s not much that hasn’t been said about Clarke and Kubrick and 2001 A Space Odyssey.   If you are going to listen to an interview of one of these guys, you need to make sure it sounds like it’s coming from a space capsule and has Russian subtitles. Also, Kubrick does a pretty good American accent here.  –wait–what? What?!  you’re shitting me – he was American?  Are you serious?  I thought he was British.  No..?  (Seriously, I didn’t realize until now. I feel dumb.)

 Arthur C Clarke’s vid about the Mandelbrot Set (it’s a math thingy)  could make for good party atmospheric, with all the fractals and such, except for the intervening old, white dudes talking to the camera.  arrgg – holy shnikey – yeah, a little science fiction type music would help.

200px-Dhalgren_vintage

  1.  First off –  All Hail Ray Bradbury.  Ok, now – do you even know what Dhalgren is?  It’s a Samuel R Delany book.  I have to admit that while I have read one of his books (Babel 17), I am not that Delany savvy.  Apparently, however, Dhalgren is important.  Since I can’t speak knowingly about it, there is this excellent post from The Millions, where it is triangulated somewhere between Gravity’s Rainbow, Finnegan’s Wake, and Purple Rain.

“The best analogue I can offer for the singular experience of reading this novel is a video game where any teleology, any notion of progress or levels to be mastered, has been stripped away.”

Tempting, right?  WTF-style.  Delaney is a dude to have a beer with.

4 ½ .  Doctor Who: not just for TV anymore.  Awesome argument for a literary standing for the good Doc.  More evidence here, from our top-notch comrades Kaleido Books (in Perth, Australia).

Ursula K with her homegurl Vonda “V Mac” McIntyre droppin’ pro-style wizdom nugz at Clarion West, the sci-fi writing workshop in Seattle yo. photo OnceAndFutureLaura

 

 

  1.  Ursula K Le Guin (had a Harry Potter name before Harry Potter existed) has an excellent essay in Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook (also available on her very own website ) that seems to relate broadly to Margaret Atwood’s comments.  Le Guin talks about letting a story be a story, and not wasting the experience by assuming there is some sort of message.  The pitfall with literature is to over-rationalize, because language is its medium; better to approach it like music or fine arts, and appreciate it as its own thing, not as a mere vehicle for a Point.  Tolkien says something similar at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring.  A story should be appreciated as a story.  This is liberating for both reader and writer, yes?

atwood

NOTE: Monson-Rosen is quoting Atwood from her In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (Looks delicious.  It’s mostly essays, and features flying rabbits and mad scientists.)  Some of Atwood’s analysis is based on Le Guin’s comments in the intros or PFs of her novels.  See kids?  Those prefaces, forwards and introductions are treasure hoards. It’s true that the Story is the Thing, but you can find amazing little gems in many pre, post, uber, aft, under -ambles.  Don’t skip steps!

 

  1.  This is a ways off (March 2015), but it makes a point.  We Trekkies are like, “Hey man, they aren’t gonna make another season of TNG? Pfft. No prob.”

How many TV shows can boast fan-made productions?  Here are a few of the many, some with pretty impressive casts, including actors from the official shows.  Some are quite good; some exist. All represent a tremendous amount of dedicated soul-brain-tenderbits fanaticism.

Starship Exeter Spittin’ image (love this stuff) of the original show, but different ship & crew.

Hidden Frontier  The website for this series was like a Star Trek TNG arcade, with a variety of audio and video indulgences, including a tip o’ the hat to Homer’s Odyssey and a few crossover episodes with Intrepid (below). But now I can’t find their actual site. Wormhole? Borg? The fan film version of daft TV execs?

Star Trek: Intrepid  Apropos of nothing, this series features both Trill and Romulans with thick Scottish accents. Hey, why not? It’s Star Trek.

Star Trek Continues Wow – pretty damn good. Award-winning continuation of TOS (finishing the 5 year mission), same Enterprise crew (different actors, obvi). The acting is legit; that seems to be the rarest commodity in fan-made productions.

Star Trek: Of Gods and Men This one offers a bewildering array of actors and characters from the official shows, and is kind of a mix of TOS and TNG worlds. Pretty cool.

Star Trek Renegades And this is more of the same, by the same folks who did Of Gods and Men. Top notch.

How about skipping pre and post production and just making it up?

Trek in the Park in Portland, Klingon Christmas Carol Minneapolis, St. Paul, Chicago and Washington DC – !  It makes my green-blooded heart ache with joy.

KLINGON CRATCHITS WITH TINY UGLY TIM photo Scott Pakudaitis, check out Commedia Beauregard

 

There are around 600 Star Trek novels. That’s a lot of between-episodes gap-filling. That’s a big galaxy to explore. That’s a lot of intelligent life to entertain, so you know what I think we should do? LET’S PUT ON A SHOW !!!  You knew this thing existed, but have you done anything about it? Why the hell not, you lazy petaQ?! There is also Much Ado About Nothing. Two caveats: don’t strain your larynx with all those violent glottal stops, and remember that Paramount “owns” Star Trek, so you can’t make any money off your show. Too conventional for your tastes? Try one of these. Oh, Esther Inglis-Arkell – thou hast cleft my nerd heart in twain with this post – so… Dun and pup.  Grah!!

 

All I want are the coffee mugs. All of them. I can close my eyes and pretend I’m taking a break in Ten Forward, without the need for primary-colored jammies. (The rank pips come off when you sleep: go to bed a lieutenant commander, wake up an ensign. Not after I worked so hard to earn them, thanks very much.)

Frederik-Pohl_1976_Gateway

  1.  We already talked about Dahlgren.  Who the hell is Frederik Pohl?  Oh, son. Come on, now.   He was born in 1919, and he blogged.  He served his country in World War II, and had a youthful dalliance with Communism.  He was a publisher and agent before he was 20.  He was a significant support to and/or collaborated with Asimov, Niven, Delany, Clarke, Williamson, Clement, Lieber, Russ, Blish, Wyndham, Budrys, Kornbluth and – urrf – ETC.. My hands got tired typing all the names.  He was married almost as many times as he won awards for his own fiction.  He won a lot of awards.  And his first published work was a sci-fi poem sold to… you guessed it: Amazing Stories. The Space Merchants with Kornbluth put him on the map, but it seemed more innovative in its time. Gateway, which is the start of the HeeChee series, is much more promising.

Mr. Pohl died in 2013.  Did I mention his blog?

 

  1.  Afrofuturism should be more of a thing.  I had never even heard the term before reading Monson-Rosen’s Happy Accidents list.  What’s the deal?

In my completely non-scientific study placing a (completely arbitrary) selection of science fiction sub-genres into the Google Ngram, you can see that “Afrofuturism” is not exactly a giant, culture-cracking warhammer.  Or even merely “hot”.
  But then – meh – maybe Afrofuturism isn’t exactly a genre.  The Google Ngram Viewer is more of a linguistic tool than a “How Popular or Widespread is this Concept?” tool.   The term “Afrofuturism” wasn’t even coined until the early 90s (by Mark Dery), even though its roots go back much further, so perhaps we can’t draw any conclusions about why it’s not a bigger thing, based soley on Ngram processing.  What we really need is to consult Ol’ Faithful, Ol’ Reliable, that sine qua non of serious research:  Google Fight (French version – just cuz).   Though Octavia Butler does very well, Afrofuturism gets slaughtered by everything, including “toothpick sculpture”. [Update: As of 2/16/17 “afrofuturism” has pulled ahead of “toothpick sculpture”.]

Hm. It’s just possible that my research method has some holes in it.

Here’s what the deal is: Afrofuturism is science fiction that is 100% grounded in reality.   “African Americans, in a very real sense, are the descendants of alien abductees; they inhabit a sci-fi nightmare in which unseen but no less impassable force fields of intolerance frustrate their movements; official histories undo what has been done; and technology is too often brought to bear on black bodies (branding, forced sterilization, the Tuskegee experiement, and tasers come readily to mind).”  From Dery’s essay “Black to the Future” (in Flame Wars). Afrofuturism speculates out from that actual and ongoing experience.

Janelle Monae, tuning up the future. This is science fiction with an historic analog.  (photo Seher Sikandar rehes creative , CC BY-SA 3.0)

Afrofuturism has a helluva wingspan:  music, academics, fashion, literature, etc..  On the other hand, it appears to have a point, which never hurts.   You’ve got a lot of exploring to do.  From Sun Ra to Janelle Monae, from Ytash L. Womack to Bill Campbell —  People of the Earth!  If you want to ask the What If? and you want to explore uncharted vastness and you want to build something entirely new –  This is it!

 

  1.  Steering away from films and because I don’t like zombies, let’s take a look at Greg Bear.  Darwin’s Radio and its sequel Darwin’s Children present a Marvel Universe mutant-type scenario (without the superheroes) in which an evolutionary genetic switch kills homo sapiens in the womb in favor of birthing a kind of homo superior.  It’s like a shoe factory is suddenly converted into a jetpack factory, and all the unfinished shoes are just chucked in a bin.  It’s scary hard sci fi, and likely not the stuff you wanna read while expecting a child.  It’s still better than zombies.darwinsradio

Along with Gregory Benford and David Brin, each writing one book, Bear was hand-picked to write the Second Foundation trilogy by the Asimov estate.  That’s kind of a big thing.  Sometimes these dudes are called The Killer Bs, but I don’t know what that’s about. Oh. Maybe it’s the Bs in their names. [face palm]

 

 

  1.  I haven’t read any of William Gibson’s very recent novels, but it’s funny how what I remember (at least of the Cyberpunk stuff) does not feel like science fiction anymore, it just feels like techno-thrillers set in the present.  Maybe it sucks to be pinned to a word you made up 30+ years ago, when you’ve written a ton of great stuff since then.  He’s a pretty damn interesting interview.  As he talks about here,  (not sure why that vid starts 8 minutes into the convo – sorry about that) you too can experience the real-life disappointment of having futuristic technology but never doing anything dangerous with it.  You can hear the subsonic sirens of the Genus Corp Securo-Commandos thru your implants.  You estimate less than 128 seconds to move $15.80 from your bank-o-file to that of your friend, cuz that’s your part of the bill from Jorge’s.  It’s just gotten awkward to keep track of who owes what from these weekly beer/taco fests, so… this is just easier.  Stay one step ahead of the frakkin’ Grid-Cop Motobots, by finding the fastest analog ground route from Section C of the parking structure to Papa Beards. Yep. Thrills a minute. It’s the dangerous future. [sigh]

You can at least pretend you’re doing something edgy with this. In fact, when you know there’s a good chance your boss is gonna walk by your cubicle, use HackerTyper to freak them out.

This is actually amazing – I have no idea how well it works.

This hour+ interview (the sound gets better when they late-adopt the technology of “microphones” about 15 minutes in) covers a lot of territory, from Gibson’s writery habits to the singularity (which he terms “the geek rapture”).

This is who he’s talking about, influence-wise:

FRITZ LEIBER, Renaissance Man, here stealing a lesser Necronomicon from some teenagers, to add to his vast library of arcane knowledge. (Or maybe this is a still from Equinox.)  photo from Will Hart’s sweet collection , CC2.0

 

Rajan Khanna provides a sharp intro to Alfred Bester, who has a bent towards psychology and wrote for those dangerous comic book magazines (Have you heard of this Superman character?  Terrible for kids!), back in the day. The Stars My Destination sounds rad.

And back to Tor.com for Mordecai Knode’s (real name?! jealous) blurb on renaissance man Fritz Leiber’s very un-cyberpunky things.

And as for New Wave sci fi, thank the star-spangled heavens that this very readable Encyclopedia of Science Fiction article clearly states that “New Wave writing is difficult to define”.  I feel a bit let off the hook. Thank you SFE.  The basic idea is that New Wave tended to be more literary (whatever that means) and more experimental.  It rose to prominence in the early 60s but was passé by the 70s.  We’re talking about some excellent folks, though:  Russ, Zelazney, Ballard, Moorcock, etc..

nothingofdoghb

  1.  Connie Willis has won 11 Hugos and 8 Nebulas.  I just read her Fire Watch in The Time Traveler’s Almanac.  Ngggg! Sogood!   To Say Nothing of the Dog is future Victorian time travel comedy.  Epic.

How about David Brin’s list of scifi/fantasy for young people?  There’s nothing that’s not on here.  Except, like… Dhalgren.

 

Thank you for your excellent list, Madeleine Monson-Rosen; I hope you’re not bummed that I riffed on it.  Standing on the shoulders of robot giants, over here.

 

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