Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Looking Down Our Notes at Science Fiction

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In the Times, Bryan Appleyard considers why it is so many people think science fiction can’t be literature.

“The truth is,” Aldiss has written, “that we are at last living in an SF scenario.” A collapsing environment, a hyperconnected world, suicide bombers, perpetual surveillance, the discovery of other solar systems, novel pathogens, tourists in space, children drugged with behaviour controllers – it’s all coming true at last. Aldiss thinks this makes SF redundant. I disagree. In such a climate, it is the conventionally literary that is threatened, and SF comes into its own as the most hardcore realism.

The British will resist. This is, of course, ridiculously parochial.

No other country is quite so contemptuous of the literary genre, though, in the movies, we happily accept SF as high art: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris is rightly regarded as a great film, as is Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Blade Runner. (If you want to see just how great Scott’s film is, the seventh and “final” cut has just been released in cinemas and on DVD. It’s visually enhanced and, says Scott, “tweaked”. It looks, and is, superb.) The further oddity is that fantasy – Terry Pratchett, Tolkien, Philip Pullman – is not embarrassing to us at all; indeed, it’s downright respectable. Perhaps this is because these are seen as children’s books that grown-ups can read, whereas SF is seen as irredeemably adolescent. This is to ignore the fact that it tends to be much more demanding and much bleaker.

“In a fantasy story,” Aldiss says, “there’s a big evil abroad, but, in the end, everything goes back to normal and everybody goes home to drink ale in the shires. In a science-fiction story, there may be a terrible evil abroad, and it may get sorted out, but the world is f***ed up for ever. This is realism. It’s certainly not beach reading, unless you can find a really nasty, shingly beach.”

Written by gerrycanavan

December 6, 2007 at 7:19 pm

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