Editorial – Mar 2021: Read The Word.
With all this apparent time to think in even deeper isolation, I’ve been contemplating about the state of our Science Fiction genre again. For many years now, we have been coasting along, with more emphasis on film and TV than the written word. If you favour one or the other, try the one you don’t normally look at. I wonder how many of you will pick up or buy a book for a change? I suspect for a lot of you, reading doesn’t always seem a good option in the digital world but written SF is a genre that hit its stride from the 1950s on, so there must be something in using your imagination with the written word than solely seeing the imagery of other people. There’s room for both but using your own imagination and bringing text to life is a skill that shouldn’t be under-estimated.
Unlike many genres, even with advances in science and social change, has a more timeless feel to it and we tend to quickly adapt to the reality we are reading. Book series were more nascent with the early novels but they quickly grew over the years. Even so, there was also a fair bit of social comment. Hardly surprising that George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’ ended up in the school curriculum but not as SF but for the social comment. Would school authorities let SF loose on their pupils? Oddly I never read them at school as that happened a couple years after my time and read ‘1984’ only a decade back. Both of them dealing with state cultural control and even with a change of order, it would end up adapting the same pattern. Insightful but also true when you examine the various societies we have around the world right now.
Even so, you do have to wonder when social comment will come back to Science Fiction and not just see it as an entertainment, often using the same ways to change a corrupt society, like ‘Star Wars’ did going to war, than out-thinking them. SF has the capability of being many things at different levels and we haven’t really seen any new big thing for a long time. Whether this is the problem with publishers, writers or even agents is hard to say. Can anyone say Science Fiction is running out of ideas or no one is thinking as to what we can do with it next with adding more depth to the stories? The likes of cyberpunk and then steampunk are, if we assume William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ from 1984 and a few years later giving it a kick-start then we have a 30 year history with little other advances. All right, there’s military SF but that’s more a theme with an SF slant and we have many of these. When a trope becomes the norm, then we need to seek out more and see where it takes us. I’ve mentioned this before but hadn’t really given much thought to social comment, an area Science Fiction used to excel at.
A lot of actors who are fresh to Science Fiction when they get pitched into a SF TV series often comment that they find the fans highly intelligent. SF, as genre, is often seen as an intellectual game, so it does seem a shame that too many fictional stories rely on already existing tropes rather than look at fresh solutions to a problem. Fantasy uses the journey like a safety blanket for its readers. SF spans across all genres, time and space and can be set anywhere and give it a futuristic slant or something that is non-conventional compares to standard fiction which often depends on a happy ending. It achieves something if you can come away thinking about what happened than you wanting to leaf through another book. It’s hardly surprising that SF is seen as an intellectual game. It doesn’t meant that all SF authors need to be super-intelligent, just ingenious with their imaginations and spending time looking at all their solution options before picking out one or more than hasn’t been employed before.
Of course, it depends on the type of author needed and that depends a lot on how reactionary and observant they are of society to give it in SF terms looking at the likes of social injustice. An unusual combination in someone unless they want to be purely experimental and see if they can do it. With the type of world we are now living in, we are seeing mankind at its best and worst, often propelled by circumstance or decision or plain human foibles. All ripe material to be applied to a Science Fiction scenario. I think people will expect SF to evolve over the pandemic. Certainly, we’re being given enough thinking time not to rely on the cliché solution.
It does present a problem if successful, would other authors turn their attention the same way and dilute the sheer emotion. Then we have to look to the past and it certainly didn’t affect those two books by George Orwell. Regardless of circumstance, it still depends on the quality of the material. It only needs one breakthrough book and people deciding it isn’t just social commentary but quality of ideas that need rejuvenating.
However, there is still a matter of a diminishing reading audience. Even without the book burning, Ray Bradbury’s 1953 book ‘Fahrenheit 451’ has shown that we are moving towards a world where reading books is seen as taboo and looks like it could be the death of ideas. I mean, for those who rely on social media, how much of the discussions you might have had stay and become implemented? How much thought has come from fiction itself? The implication of action than character motivation? Do you just want to be a sponge that takes things in but not really think or implement them?
At least with the written word it has a sort of permanency that is lacking digitally where we see so much and remember so little. Does anyone think HG Wells in ‘The Time Machine’ might have been moving in that direction with his two species, the Molochs and Eloi, relying on each other for a terrible price with neither knowing what it is until the time traveller arrived and realised the Eloi needed some sort of education.
In many respects, the lacks of JR Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ books returned children to reading books although, as with other popular sub-genres series like ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Wars’, their fans don’t appear to move beyond these realms. Even with some often neglected good SF films and TV series, written fiction has the edge because it means a writer can get inside your head and let you share his or her imagination than visual images.
Of course, you could become a deep thinker. I can’t be the only person like me in the world although, if I am, the world is really falling apart. Hmmm…that could depend entirely on the number of covid variants appearing and me counting the ways the infection gets passed on. Have I forgotten Science Fiction is also the place for satire, something else that appears to be a dying craft since the likes of Douglas Adams. There’s room for all manner of SF showing how flexible our genre is but only a few authors at a time. Time is fleeting or goes by too quickly. For our genre to survive, it must show itself capable in all mediums and not just be seen as entertainement.
I did have a second thought on reading practices. When you look at a page on the Internet, it is often loaded with a lot of information and your brain quickly learns to ignore some stuff, don’t tell the advertisers, and can glance read headlines, discerning which items you want to read the content of and depending on how important it is, gets put in your long term memory although just as likely forgotten tomorrow unless it gets re-enforced from other sources.
Reading of the paper kind takes a different sort of conditioned reflex where you have fewer distractions and can let your imagination work for you and can get engrossed whether it be fiction or non-fiction. A few chapters of a book a day can soon mount up as a habit and you might even be able to remember the plot and details. If you’re wondering what to do with a spare half or complete hour a day, it might be a skill to reacquaint yourself with.
Thank you, take care, good night and try a written book for a change.
A Zen thought: Zen can focus on clearing your mind of thoughts and concentrate on breathing. As you can breath anywhere, see it as a focusing agent to deal with the problems that need your immediate attention.
What Qualities Does A Geek Have: The ability to take on or at least examine fresh ideas than let the prejudices of others rule our preferences.
The Reveal: Adding to my regular computer button press is the Windows and G buttons which quickly reveals how busy your computer is and vanishes when you do something else on your computer.
Things I Don’t Like About The Edge: Discovering that CTL ‘P’ gives the printer page. Then it decides using the same way shuts all Edge pages down and then M/S claims its better than and Internet Explorer. Surely it would make more sense to take the best of IE than ignore it completely and not even give it a menu bar just because M/S want to make it compatible to tablets. What they really should be doing is have add-ons to make the best advantage of each medium than go for lowest denominator.
Fictional Characters Who Can’t Be Inoculated: The top of the list is Superman. He’s an invulnerable alien and nothing can penetrate his skin and doesn’t appear susceptible to human infections. So would Clark Kent miss out on his jab?
Computer Revelation: For those of you who use MSN for your home page, did you know that your home town can be used for the weather settings. Once done and a reboot and it’s there. At least, most of the time.
Observation: I’m always puzzled by how ‘you know what’ has entered many people’s dialogue. I mean, ‘if you know what’, then why would you be asking the question?
Observation: Is it just me or do you finding old TV adverts with people being close together a bit uncomfortable and unreal?
Feeling Stressed: When lockdown is no longer an issue, the likes of people like me with agoraphobia will still have to have an isolation way of life to survive.