bruce sterling meets anita brookner

Adam Roberts rounds up the year’s science fiction. Jonathan McCalmont continues his assault on “the hotbed of empty phrases” that is traditional sf criticism. While Tim Maughan explains himself to Sense of Wonder. I like Maughan’s first answer– “the western middle classes … feel like the future – which they were always told would belong to them – is slipping out of their grasp” –because I’m interested in writing the deflation & melancholy of the people he describes. More interested, in a way, than pursuing the “future” that has left them behind. Science fiction has always defined a future as a global trend successfully isolated & described: the futurologist’s future, the cultural analyst’s future. All that interests the sf writer is the wavefront, the shock of the new. Cold, man. Because the future is also the umwelt of those who are left behind & muddle on–accepting this, rejecting that, failing to acknowledge or even detect macroeconomic shifts. In fact that’s really the only actual future, the non-discourse future, the non-speculative, non-theoretical future, the future on the ground. It’s all around, now. One of the many ways science fiction might delimit itself is to write in that direction, rather than always going for the shiny stuff, the Googie of the day. Bruce Sterling meets Anita Brookner & they totally fail to understand one another at the Hotel du Lac.

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Filed under predicting the present, science fiction, writing

12 responses to “bruce sterling meets anita brookner

  1. Thanks for the mention :-) Somebody really needs to put Bruce Sterling and Anita Brookner on a stage at a literary festival. I imagine there would be a lot of stern glaring and awkward silences.

  2. Brendan

    This gets at what’s wrong with most contemporary historical fiction & TV, tangentially. We’re constantly presented with people whose lostness, whose lack of future currency we’re supposed to chuckle and sigh at. This is more insidious than the conservative hail-these-stalwart-and-true-heroes-of-a-doomed-way-of-life shit, since it convinces us that *we* are the future, that *we* have adapted and are thriving in the wavefront, as you put it, when in fact we’re just as lost and fucked as everyone else in history has ever been.

  3. tmaughan

    Also thanks for the mention :)

    I hope what I said about the middle classes and the future isn’t totally misconstrued – or more likely I’ve not made myself clear. I’m not interested in rejecting the experiences of those left behind by the future – in fact I’m trying to look at them myself in some current work – I’m just frustrated by the head-in-the-sand reaction of much spec fic, which seems to reject ANY future for the comfort of fictitious – or rather alternate – glorious pasts or escapist apocalypses. Some honesty and balance, I think, is what I crave.

  4. uzwi

    Hi Tim: not misconstrued, I hope. I agree with you, & I see those left-behinds as a way of writing about the “future”. But also feel that the most heavily-touted sf futures are either raptures, or metaphors for the latest financial bubble or round of socio-economic emancipation, or invitations to be on someone else’s Mayflower. In a sense, the people left behind by futures like that are more interesting than the people who sign up. & in the world, as opposed to discourse, uptake of futures is patchy & can only happen in a rolling present anyway…

  5. I’m not understanding this “actual, non-theoretical” and “future on the ground” science fiction should write toward. If one isn’t speculating about the future, what kind of science fiction results?

  6. whiteonesugar

    Good ol’ SF. Look at me ma, I’m a spaceman. Got so engrossed in the stories forgot to notice my health was fucked, my job is shit, and it was all just a bit crap.

    The shiny starship troopers future is different to having a company smartphone that pings emails at you at midnight and reports any attempt to read Mick Fadden’s blog.

    The future on the ground is flat on it’s face. Where’s Jerry C when we need him?

  7. Lady Miss Zebra

    Fixating on the “left behinds” is usually more interesting than fossil dreams and painting gold on empty air but its just another, more subtly glamorized, ghetto of the imagination.

  8. Lady Miss Zebra

    also, I giggled a bit over deployment of “umwelt”. As much as these arguments entertain, sommadatime they remind me of the lonesome tribe of old men who migrated to to the seedy Chinese buffet in my old neighborhood come Wednesdays and riddled the waitress with unanswerable monologues more or less about the soup.

  9. uzwi

    God forbid that one should become one of those old men. That would certainly reduce one’s human entitlements & presence in the real young world to zero. Actually, I couldn’t give a fuck about the soup or the neighbourhood or the human entitlements (especially if they’re doled out to me by the arrogant). I’m especially not interested in the significance of Wednesday.

  10. whiteonesugar

    Hi LMZ,

    SF has become the shiny toy not the people. MJH and friends only interest me when thay are the old guys going out for a meal and struggling to communicate.

  11. I’m still going with Gibson’s assessment—the uneven distribution of the future is its defining feature at this moment, at least from an ‘on-the-ground’ perspective. My view is perhaps a bit distorted by the fact that I associate with more than a few people who work in Palo Alto at big, mysterious corporations. That wavefront is a really interesting place when you hobnob with the people responsible for creating the shiny objects that so many have been trained to lust after. Emptiness as product. I do agree with Sterling’s assertion that shiny things (the future-object) should be treated with disrespect, scratched and dented, hacked, subjected to aggressive patinating environments…

    It feels very much Afternoon Cultures though. The lack of ba’an and knights possessed by Time itself disappoints. Not baroque enough to satisfy. Shiny-clean objects with shaky provenances (the politics of rare-earth elements) and fancy cars that drive themselves exist along with shattering poverty and brutally short lifetimes. It’s easy for people watching glowing rectangles to not notice. Frightfully easy.

    I know that this has been plumbed a bit by Gibson but I see opportunity for some more engaging exploration. We are about five years away from being able to walk down the street to a neighbor’s and have a watch (or a gun, for that matter) 3D printed for us. At least here in the USA, and of course the UK and Pax Europa that is. What happens when that techne manages to spill out into countries with a less-developed manufacturing base? The same thing that happens when you build out celltowers in rural Africa, I imagine. The fact that high-detail manufacturing capability has been forcefully separated from the major infrastructure it typically needs will be an interesting and entertaining trend to watch.

  12. I agree with you. Gibson is correct. The future is here, but it’s unevenly distributed. I also agree that 3D printing is going to cause major paradigm shifts in both wealthy and poor nations. One consequence for the poor nations will be a loss of manufacturing jobs. I cannot believe that will have a good effect on the uneven distribution of the future. As for the shiny things, I rather thought they had been largely left behind in the wake of cyberpunk? Gibson was specifically writing against the monolithic American/Western future and the utopian ideas of early sci-fi. Mike’s recent work has been a satire and deconstruction of that same idea. Perhaps I’m just not reading enough sci-fi or space opera, but the sci-fi I encounter isn’t largely preoccupied with the tropes Mike lists above.