The world around them

“…The challenge of finding a suitable means to examine the “postmodern condition” has produced a vigorous and highly energized response from a new breed of SF authors who combine scientific know-how with aesthetic innovation. But because much of this writing is so radical and formally experimental, and because writing which bears the imprint of “SF” has been so commonly relegated to pop-culture ghettos, it has remained until recently largely ignored, except within its own self-contained world. Examples of important, aesthetically radical SF exhibiting many of the features associated with postmodernism are evident as early as the mid-1950s and early 1960s, when literary mavericks like Alfred Bester, William S. Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, and Thomas Pynchon began publishing books that self-consciously operated on the fringes of SF and the literary avant-garde.

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“During the 1970s and 1980s, a few other authors working at the boundaries of SF and postmodern experimentalism continued to borrow the use of motifs, language, images—as well as the “subject matter”—of SF. Important examples would include Don DeLillo’s Ratner’s Star (1976) and White Noise, Ted Mooney’s Easy Travel to Other Planets (1981), Joseph McElroy’s Plus (1976) and Women and Men (1986), Denis Johnson’s Fiskadoro (1985), Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), William T. Vollmann’s You Bright and Risen Angels (1987), Kathy Acker’s Empire of the Senseless (1988), and Mark Leyner’s My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist (1990). While writing outside the commercial SF publishing scene, these writers produced works that perfectly fulfill the generic task of SF, described by Vivian Sobchack as “the cognitive mapping and poetic figuration of social relations as these are constituted by new technological modes of ‘being-in-the-world”‘. As is true of the cyberpunk novels that began appearing in the early 1980s, these mainstream works (recently dubbed “slipstream” novels by cyberpunk theoretician Bruce Sterling) typically portrayed individuals awash in a sea of technological change, information overload, and random—but extraordinarily vivid—sensory stimulation. Personal confusion, sadness, dread, and philosophical skepticism often appeared mixed with equal measures of euphoria and nostalgia for a past when centers could still hold. The characters and events in these works typically exist within narrative frameworks that unfold as a barrage of words, data, and visual images drawn from a dissolving welter of reference to science and pop culture, the fabulous and the mundane, a tendency that reaches its most extreme expression in William Burroughs’s hallucinatory mid-1960s novels.

“A few of these “mainstream” postmodern writers have drawn very self-consciously from genre SF for specific tropes and narrative devices. This is very obvious in, for example, Burroughs’s use of the motifs of the 1930s space opera works he read as a youth, in DeLillo’s borrowing of dystopian elements in White Noise, in Vollman’s improvisational treatment of a much wider range of SF modes in You Bright and Risen Angels, or Kathy Acker’s borrowing of specific passages from Neuromancer in Empire of the Senseless. But typically one gets less a sense of these authors consciously borrowing from genre SF norms than of thier introducing elements simply because the world around them demands that they be present.”

Larry McCaffrey, ed. Storming The Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Post Modern Science Fiction. Durham & London: Duke University Press. 1991. pp9-11

Image: Andrew Hurle, Model, 2001.Darren Knight Gallery

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Keep the funk alive

battlemech
“del i’m feeling like a ghost in a shell
i wrote this in jail playing host to a cell
for the pure verbal, they said my sentance was equivalent to
murder
just another hurdle, i bounced through a portal
i knew they had the mindstate of mere mortals
my ears morphed to receptors to catch ya
every word about gravity control
and the families they hold for handsome ransoms
on the run with a handgun blast bioforms, I am more
than a planetwide manhunt with cannons
will make me abondon my foolish plan of uprising
fuck dying I hijack a mech
controlling with my magical chance so battle advance
through centuries a hip hop legacy, megaspeed
hyperwarp to automator’s crib and light the torch

they can’t fight the force,
victory is ours once we strike the source
enterprising wise men look to the horizon
thinking more capitalism is the wisdom
and imprison all citizens in power
with rythm
we keep the funk alive by talking with idioms…”

Deltron 3030, 3030.

New Vision of a Visionless World

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“Over the last seventy-five years it has been science fiction, more than any other genre, that has appropraited [the Hegelian] vision and continued to develop it. In 1926 Hugo Gernsback published the world’s first magazine dedicated to science fiction, and even in the introduction to that first issue, science fiction was already designated as “a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.” Here, the ideas of “science”, “vision” and “future” (suggested by “prophecy”) are already clearly indicated. From these three ideas emerged the golden age of the forties, followed successively by other grand “prophetic visions” such as Robert Heinlein’s Future Histories series and Issac Asimov’s Galatic Empire series (1950-52).

“Ironically, it was precisely at this time that grand narratives like these were becoming obsolete in the real world. The thirties marked the dawn of science fiction and at the same time saw the Nazi’s narrative give birth to Auschwitz and witnessed the Marxist-Lenninist narrative turn into Stalinism. By this time, science fiction’s American consumers were probably aware that it was the uncontrollable spread of these “sciences” and “prophetic visions” that was causing the world to fall apart. Of course, people cannot live without some sort of dream or vision…

“This essence of the genre hasn’t changed much. On its surface, of course, science fiction has gone through a huge transformation since the forties. […]. If someone were to ask what characteristic lies at the core of science fiction, I believe that many fans would still say it is the “grand narrative” or “grand vision.” For science fiction to be science fiction, some kind of vision must be proposed, even if it is a vision of science’s failure or of a dark, foreboding future.In the eighties, cyberpunk filled this role. It was not that the worlds of cyberpunk lacked vision, these authors captured readers’ attention precisely because of their elegant new vision of a visionless world.

“At the core of the science fiction genre lies the paradoxical doctrine that it must continue to depict visions, even when grand visions are impossible. In other words, it is in science fiction that the ideal of the nineteenth century philosophy – the desire for the whole of twentieth century philosophy had to reject – still lives and breathes.”

SF as Hamlet: Science Fiction and Philosophy, Azumi Hiroki [trans. Miri Nakamura], in Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime. Christopher Bolton, Istvan Csicsery-Romay Jr & Takayuki Tatsumi [eds]. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2007. pp 77-78.