New Entries into Old Conversations

The science fiction and fantasy genres have the tendency to have the same conversations over and over again, often for decades on end. There is the classic genre versus literary fiction debate, which never goes out of style, the evergreen “Science fiction is dying… again”, the “women in SF” debate, which is not quite as old as the other two, but still has classic status, the upstart grimdark debate and the ever popular “Our new movement will tear down and/or reform SF as we know it”. At the moment, we seem to have shelved the grimdark and “SF is dying” debates until the next outbreak, but this year’s reiteration of the “women in SF” debate is still going on and genre versus literary fiction is rearing its head. Plus, a new movement has been declared. So here are the latest contributions to these longrunning debates:

Foz Meadows responds to the Kameron Hurley essay I linked to in my last post and more precisely to its critics who complain that even if women have always fought in wars and done everything else that men did, those women were outliers by pointing out that the whole bloody fantasy genre is comprised of stories about outliers. So why is a white farmboy who is secretly a prince more acceptable to many than a black female pirate, since both are equally unlikely?

At Lit Reactor, Keith Rawson offers his take on the ongoing literary versus genre fiction debate. Oddly enough, this post comes shortly after the genre wars have been declared won in Britain.

Meanwhile, it’s SF movement time again, for at David Barnett asks if there is a New New Wave of science fiction and if the genre needs one. As evidence he cites two new mags called Aventure Rocketship! and Arc as well as the Pornokitch site and the works of Tim Maughan. Now I quite like what Pornokitch is doing and am largely unfamiliar with the other four, but I’m not sure whether three zines and one writer together make up a movement.

Never mind that I’m highly skeptical of the SF genre’s need to constantly make up new movements anyway. And what’s up with naming every new movement something or other wave in homage to the original New Wave? Back in the early 2000s, I hung out with a bunch of guys who were going to storm the stair citadel of speculative fiction in the name of something they called – wait for it – the Next Wave. I don’t think they ever had a manifesto, but SF Site still has some columns about the Next Wave archived. As far as I recall – it’s been a while – it was a sort of Grimdark New Weird with literary ambitions, at least going by the list of writers coopted into the movement. As most of these movements, it never came to much, though they were on to something with noticing that Grimdark was a trend and the New Weird was big in the early 2000s.

Last year, there was a proposed new movement called the Human Wave. These guys were a bit better organized than my old Next Wave pals, cause they actually had a manifesto. The manifesto actually doesn’t sound all that bad and indeed I find quite a bit in there that I can agree with. The only problem is that the writers who associate themselves with the Human Wave dilute their decent points with rants about those evil feminist strawmen Communists in New York who hate science fiction and about how all that is published these days are books about the crime of being human (Paolo Bacigalupi is not the whole of SF) and about how white western men cannot be heroes anymore (they still are heroes in the overwhelming majority of SF). Plus, it seems that what the Human Wave people really want is for Robert E. Heinlein to rise from his grave and write more.

Besides, am I the only one who finds it amusing that even a decidedly rightwing SF movement still names itself in homage to the decidedly not rightwing New Wave? Say what you will about Mundane Science Fiction, but at least they managed to make do with the “wave” in their name.

And now we’ve got the New New Wave, whose name is even sillier than the Next Wave, which really takes some doing. As for what it actually is, David Barnett is remarkably vague on that point. From what I can tell from the post, it involves a broader definition of SF, including elements of other genres (i.e. nothing really that the New Wave didn’t already try to do in the 1960s), coming to terms with the fact that the world we live in already is rather science fictional (Slipstream realized that in the 1990s) and being British. Now I am totally in favour of SF becoming more inclusive (so we can maybe stop having the women in SF debate sometime in the future and simply accept that women are part of the genre, as are people of colour, GLBT people, disabled people, non-US people and the whole broad spectrum of humanity out there) and incorporating elements of other genres, though that is already happening, albeit often in corners of the genre that core fandom ignores. But do we really need a movement to do that?

The truth is that speculative fiction, even the corner of it that is labeled SF, is now a very broad genre with lots of trends and subgenres, many of which flourish unknown and unremarked by the both core SF fandom as well as this year’s young revolutionaries storming at the gates of the SF fortress. The rise of indie publishing has further made it possible even for niche works to find their audience, though to be fair, most of the really big indie publishing success so far have been rather conventional and often even backwards looking, e.g. all of those college romances with unpleasant jerk heroes not seen since the demise of the bodiceripper. But just because the potential hasn’t been realized so far and many indie writers are more oriented towards what sells than traditional publishing ever was, doesn’t mean that the potential isn’t there. The Human Wave people mentioned above are mostly self-published, so they can bypass the feminist socialist editors in New York they imagine are holding them down. Most of the writers and zines mentioned in connection with the New New Wave post are either small press or self-published.

So whether the New New Wave really turns into a tsunami which blasts away the SF establishment or whether it fizzles out like most of its predecessors, I’ll still be doing the same thing I’m always doing, that is writing the sort of thing I want to write, whether it fits into currently accepted genre norms or not. Indeed, my attempts at writing SF, though it was always my favourite genre, were stifled by a row of “Thou shalt nots” such as “Thou canst not have FTL travel”, “Thou shalt write about the singularity”, “Thou shalt include global warming in everything that you write” and so on. However – and this is one point where I agree with the Human Wave manifesto, even though I politically disagree with its proponents – I have lately decided that as long as its internally consistent, I can write whatever the hell I want, whether it matches current genre fashion or not. And that’s really the only manifesto I adhere to.

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4 Responses to New Entries into Old Conversations

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  2. Pam Adams says:

    I don’t know, I liked the New! Improved! Wave of the 1980’s. (Can’t remember who came up with that one)

    • Cora says:

      New! Improved! Wave is at least funny in its attempt to outdo the original New Wave, whereas New New Wave and Next Wave only come across as rather unimaginative.

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