Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Biased Opinion - Been a While

Well, it's been a while since I updated this. I blame fantasy baseball - I got talked into rejoining the Internet Simulated Baseball League (which I had left several years ago) and, since I don't do much of anything halfway, I spent a lot of time researching for the league auction and setting my roster and so on. That is now back to a moderate time waster for me now though, I just have to make sure to get my games in on time for the rest of the season.


I have found it amusing recently to read about the various "serious" authors who have, to their horror, discovered that they have written science fiction, and then seen their frantic attempts to explain that their books are not actually science fiction. Actually, let me rephrase that: their ludicrous, unconvincing, and incredibly juvenile attempts to explain that their books are not science fiction.

The most famous would be Margaret Atwood. She's written not one, but two works of science fiction: The Handmaid's Tale (for which she won a, gasp, science fiction award), and Oryx and Crake. However, despite the fact that Oryx and Crake is about a dystopian future with a plot that heavily features the results of widespread genetic engineering, according to Ms. Atwood, it isn't science fiction. In her words it "is a speculative fiction, not a science fiction proper." Apparently this is because, "it contains no intergalactic space travel, no teleportation, no Martians." That's about as convincing as saying that the thing I'm wearing on my upper body isn't a shirt, because it is red, and shirts are blue. It is the sort of semantic dodge that only a child would consider sensible, and it is really unworthy of someone who is capable of writing publishable fiction.

I suppose I could be more charitable and assume that Ms. Atwood simply hasn't actually read much science fiction, and thus doesn't know that her definition of the term makes no sense. That makes her seem a little less childish, but it instead results in the conclusion that Ms. Atwood is simply poorly educated on the subject. In other words, she is a writer who simply doesn't know anything about the genre she has written in. This is just one of the more obvious examples of writers and critics doing everything in their power to explain how a work written by one of the "literati" that is clearly science-fiction (or fantasy) really isn't.

For example, P.D. James' Children of Men, about a future in which women have lost the ability to have children, according to the New York Times, apparently isn't science fiction. it is, "a trenchant analysis of politics and power that speaks urgently to this social moment". Which apparently means it, by definition, cannot be a work of science fiction. I suppose one could also say that the movie Chariots of Fire isn't about people who are competitive runners, but that it is about people who "move their legs really fast while trying to go around a track faster than anyone else." It would make about as much sense.

The list goes on. Apparently Douglas Adams didn't write science fiction, he wrote books that happened to be about space and time. Steven Fry, who used time travel in one of his novels, never wrote a science fiction novel either. The common theme is that these authors simply define science fiction as "something other than what I wrote" using some of the most transparently poorly thought out semantic dodges I have ever seen.

I think that the fact that I was looking at a bunch of these semantic dodges at the same time I was looking at some material debunking a host of creationist claims about the origins of life brought home to me that the "literati" really are a lot like creationists. Because they can't teach creationism in public schools (because it is religion, and not science), its advocates have tried to use the semantic dodge of calling their theories "intelligent design". Of course, they fool no one (in point of fact, when tested in court, "intelligent design" has been correctly determined to simply be creationism renamed). Similarly, authors like Ms. Atwood don't fool anyone with their silly semantic arguments. A shovel is still a shovel, even if you call it an "human powered earth moving tool". Trying to argue that the shovel is, in fact, not a shovel based upon this sort of renaming would just make someone look ridiculous.

And, in the end, all the people who posture, protest, and deny that what they have produced is actually science fiction but "an examination of the impact of technology on humans in the future" or some such semantic nonsense - all they really do is make themselves look ridiculous. We aren't fooled. No one is. In the end, they only expose their own prejudices and lack of education.

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