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The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of 154

Posted by timothy
from the not-*those*-dreams-you-fool! dept.
Duncan Lawie, stalwart science fiction reviewer, this time steps up to the plate with what you might call a meta-science fiction book, Thomas Disch's The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World. Considering that SF has been around as such for far shorter than many other types of literature, a book like this sounds like it may be useful in explaining its disproportionate hold on the public imagination. (Personally, I'd like to read the stuff on Heinlein.)

The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of
author Thomas M. Disch
pages 255
publisher Touchstone
rating 8.5
reviewer Duncan Lawie
ISBN 0684859785
summary Pyrotechnics and solid research build a thoroughly readable and opinionated book.

*

Thomas M. Disch was raised in Minnesota and started publishing science fiction in the early 1960s. His close involvement with the New Wave meant much of his early work was more closely associated with the UK than with the country of his birth. From the mid-1970s, he has been as well known for his poetry. Though he has not ceased to write, his increasingly large sphere of interest has reduced his science fictional output considerably, though he clearly remains in close contact with the authors and trends of the genre. His literate, intelligent approach is apparent in all he does.

The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of sets out to present a critical history of science fiction but is perhaps more interesting instead as a critical view of the American psyche. Disch's thesis is built on twin foundations -- that science fiction is an American form and that Americans believe they have a "right to lie." The first pillar is not thoroughly investigated -- at least, the argument is unlikely to convince non-Americans. The second idea is approached from almost every angle; its corollary -- and the reason for Disch's subtitle -- is that people want to believe. Disch's exploration of science fiction can decide that Edgar Allen Poe is "our embarrassing ancestor" because he has already reached the decision that SF is itself an American form. He dismisses Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as a progenitor because her science is "fast talking and stage props" which serves to set the stage for classic melodrama, rather than as the real core of the book. Against this, Poe is set up as a prototypical American hoaxer and that his 'science fiction' is defined by a genuine desire to convince readers that what he writes is not mere fiction. It is thanks to this root stock that Disch feels able to discuss science fiction beyond its existence as a literary and visual form.

The book is primarily structured as a series of thematic essays, without much emphasis on timeline. Disch assumes a reasonably well-read audience, while making considerable room for those unfamiliar with his more obscure subjects. This is, of course, a necessary approach as it is often through early authors (with works unavailable to the general public) that Disch builds his background. Nevertheless, he does not rely on them to provide him with sacrificial victims; he would far rather tear pieces off the big names we are already familiar with. There is no shortage of diatribe in these pages. The invective is principally concentrated on those who have come to use the form for their own propaganda and those who present their fictions as fact. In the first camp, his principle targets are famous names who have spent the latter parts of their career attempting to reshape their work or the history of the field itself. Heinlein is an obvious target; Disch provides a good serving on this author's long march from Radical Socialist to Radical Libertarian. He has even less good to say for the "military strategist" members of Heinlein's circle and very little to the benefit of Ursula Le Guin. His concerns with Le Guin are based on her apparent attempt to mould not just science fictional histories and futures to her own ends but the history and future of science fiction. According to Disch, Le Guin has gained vertiginous regard in academic circles and is using this position to influence the manner in which SF is taught academically. A particularly tasty element of his case against Le Guin involves his Aunt Cecilia's recipe for lemon pudding -- you too can cook a footnote.

Disch prefers to see the blemishes of the field he loves than to remake it in his own image but he retains his greatest scorn for those who attempt to remake the world in the image of their own fictions. This is where SF is indeed in danger of conquering the world. The principal natures of this particular megalomania are the UFOlogists and the home-made religions. Readers familiar with Disch will know of his long-standing disgust at Whitley Strieber and can enjoy the thorough dismantling of Strieber's alien encounters. Disch returns again and again to the UFOlogists and their increasing hold on the American mind: he compares the nature of these tales with the stories of science fiction itself, he discusses the increasing complexity of the scam which constitutes the average abduction tale, he considers the place of such beliefs alongside other modern manias for recovered memory. The ability of the human mind to "entertain" belief is a vital element for the success of these alien tales. The desire to actually believe is essential to the success of the 'science fiction religions' and, Disch suggests, the most successful of these in the late twentieth century is Scientology. Like Strieber, he recalls, L. Ron Hubbard started out as a science fiction writer. Like Strieber, Hubbard wanted more. Unlike Strieber, though, Hubbard was supported -- at first -- by the SF community from which he came. His first public presentation of Dianetics was in Astounding Science Fiction, after Hubbard had apparently already suggested that "if a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be start his own religion." Disch's final position is that, amongst the many deluded minds, there are those who have realized that the best way to make money from fiction is to present it as fact, and the fiction that people most want to believe in our era are fictions of a better future -- science fiction.

The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of offers hugely entertaining detail and such incisive insight that it earns forgiveness for its inevitable moments of contrariness.


You can purchase this book at ThinkGeek, and you may want to check out Thomas M. Disch's website as well. Me:

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The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of

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  • Come now... Americans don't own the corner of the market on lying. Denial and self-rationalization thrives in Europe as well, I'm certain.

  • by volsung (378) <stan@mtrr.org> on Friday February 02, 2001 @07:01AM (#461746)
    You can also grab used copies of the hardback edition of this book at Half.com [half.com] for around the same price ($8-$12.50). Three copies currently available.

    Disclaimer: No, I am not one of the people selling this book there. I just happen to really like half.com.

  • Let's not mince any words here. Disch is off his rocker. Sad thing is that he is a Sci-Fi writer at that. Americans, in no way, have a monopoly on lies when it comes to the literary genre. Point in case; Loki, Shiva, Ra, Jupiter, Tiki, ad nauseum. Lies and mystical tales designed to bedazzle and awe an audience are the original form of story telling. We used to call it religon/mythology/fantasy. Give these same stories a futuristic setting and you now have Sci-Fi.Nothing new here; not just American, we are talking age old tradition.
    Second point; Sci-Fi is a writing style, not a genre. Sci-Fi does not stand on it's own. It is a wrapper for a mystery tale, a drama, a tragedy, a historical piece, a love story, a horror tale, etc. Should we all read only true stories or historical pieces; which always contain more than their fair share of lies? All works of fiction are based on lies.Dickens never stretched the truth in any of his books now did he? It is asinine to try and use Sci-Fi as proof of an arguement that all Americans lie, and that lieing is solely an American trait.
    As I always say to American bashers; Billy Joel wrote a song called "We Didn't Start the Fire". Go listen to it. Use Napster if you must.
  • Though I have to admit I'm surprised to see that the reviewer didn't mention Harlan Ellison in the laundry list of authors that Disch seems to have a grudge against.
    He probably figured he didn't have to; isn't it assumed that everyone has a grudge against Ellison? ;>

    -natey doesn't have a grudge against Ellison
  • I appreciate your follow-up. That was a much better response than the people nitpicking over a misspelled word, or the use of cars vs. trains for transportation. That's another item - due to the vastness of the USA, mass transit is not economically feasible for most of our country - the population density is not high enough.
  • Gee, so I mispelled one word out of over 200.
    Well,
    no-one expects ...

    Next time you're going to be such a dick, you should make sure you're 100% correct...

  • Missed Blake's 7 BTW Red Drawf rocks
  • If you're going to take Disch's opinions seriously, then you should also read "Trillion Year Spree" by Brian Aldiss. His theory is that science fiction started with "Frankenstien" and stems from that seminal work. He also spends a lot more time on British and European writers than Disch appears to.
  • <P>Frankenstein is generally considered the first
    "what-if" book based on a scientific principle.
    <A HREF="http://www.desert-fairy.com/franken.shtml"&g t; Here </A> is a reference.
    This novel was written in the <A HREF="http://www.ieee.org/organizations/history_ce nter/early_history_electricity.html"> early days </A>
    of electricty between Franklin's kite experiment in 1747 and the electic motor in 1820.
    </P>
  • and Roddenbery did before that in the 60s :)
  • I will be curious to read this and see what he has to say about HG Wells. As far as "science fiction" is concerned, I have always thought it to be a reasonable projection, based on current technology, of where we will be at a certain time.

    Look at some of the things that are basically unpatentable now due to them being pre-written about:

    microwaves
    waterbeds
    heated floors
    UV sterilizers for rooms when people arent in them.
    (thanks RAH!)

    Seems to me from the review, that he is more interested in attacking the politics of the authors than he is in wondering about "science fiction" itself.

    I wonder what his take on Ellison is, the man who announced (after recieving several awards) that he was "no longer a sci-fi writer, but was a fantasy writer now, as there was no money left in sci-fi". (or so niven said, in "playgrounds of the mind") If ever there was a political mover and shaker, or one who tried to mold the genre to fit his personal views, it is Ellison. (and Bradbury to a lesser extent).

    That has a lot less to do with "fiction" than it does with what the Author felt at the time.

    Heinlein, himself, in the blurbs in his anthologies, explained a lot of his viewpoint changes and why they happened. Niven and Pournelle also have a tendency to do this. I do not need a reviewer telling me what they did, when I can read in the authors own words why their opinions and feelings changed.

    Heinlein, as an example, was in the military. After watching a war, his attitudes changed. he also began writing on a lark, not for any great cause.. as a supplement for his money.. and you have to remember.. this man wrote for over half a century.. there is a *lot* of sociological change that goes on in that period, leading him to go from anti-nuke (mistakes happen) anti war (starship troopers) to group love (number of the beast) and multiple wives (lazarus long). His opinions changed a *lot* around the first heart surgery he had, possibly him coming to grips with his own mortality, and suddenly realizing there are other things in life to worry about. (though I could have done with a lot less of horny old maureen in the later books, and more with some of the other characters).

    I will have to read this book, and see what is up!

    Maeryk
  • by Alien54 (180860)
    I don't get it, I'll have to read the book

    The Dreams of Science Fiction are based on lies, and therefore *what*?

    Technically, any fiction, anything invented, is, in a certain sense, a lie of sorts.

    so do we now get all moral about this an decry this sort of lying?

    maybe I read it too fast, or something.

    But this type of creative thinking, these so called "lies" are the things from which we build our future. It gives us something to work towards.

    Let's see - - - we look around and see an imperfect world. And so we create a story of a better world. We should say well that is all a lie and therefore we shouldn't even bother?

    maybe I'm getting it wrong here, but it smells like a certain kind of FUD going on here, in the guise of being *so* intellectual.

    I'm starting to wonder if being certain kinds of "intellectual" is just an excuse to FUD around.

  • I have to disagree with Disch about Mary Shelley not being "real" science fiction. While Frankenstein wasn't hard sf by any streatch of the imagination, it set up certain patterns that would emerge in European (esp. the UK) science fiction. Frankenstein is primarily concerned with the relationship of the individual to the community and ethical questions that concern society at large. These themes were continued in Wells, Huxley, etc. Nathaniel Hawthorne's scifi stories like "Rappaccini's Garden" also fall in this category. However, most American scifi was based on the tradition of low budget serials, e.g. "Steam Man From the Plains," which focuses on the inprobable adventures of a frontier boy and his steam-powered robot. The attitude of self-reliance and coming of age that defined the American West leaked into the American scifi genre and into the short stories published in Hugo Gernsback's "Amazing Stories" and other magazines, which influenced almost all American scifi authors of the first half of the twentieth century.

    In short, British/European science fiction is rooted in late Romanticism and is often concerned with the community. American science fiction is formed by a self-reliant streak that was part of the 19th century national character. Neither one is "better" in an objective sense, just different.

  • Which would seem to imply that elements of science fiction have existed since the first glimmerings of scientific thought.

    If intellectual flavor is your criterion, then Conneticut Yankee is most certainly science fiction. It was written to critique the Romantic historicism being favored by elitists on both sides of the Atlantic. In the book, not only are the ancient nobles ignorant brutes, but technological knowledge allows the New England commoner to conquer them easily.

    The idea that technology is a source of empowerment over social stratification is about as science fiction as you can get.

    --
    Bush's assertion: there ought to be limits to freedom
  • Thomas Disch is also known as the man who perpetrated _The Brave Little Toaster_ (and its sequel, _The Brave Little Toaster Goes To Mars_).

    Make of this what you will.
  • Anyone noticed how Michael Crichton's novels all follow the same pattern? Here's how it goes:

    1. Something interesting/dangerous needs investigating.
    2. A team of scientists are assembled to investigate it.
    3. Something goes wrong, most commonly hubris on the part of one of the scientists or the sponsors/political leaders.
    4. After a few deaths, the scientists get their heads together and calmly work their way out of the situation, resolving their personal problems at the same time.

    I've found that most of Crichton's work follows this pattern, including:

    • The Andromeda Strain
    • Jurassic Park
    • Sphere

    The noteable exceptions that I know of are Westworld and Rising Sun, anyone know of any others?

    Anyway, I'm calling it "Crichton's Law" ;)


  • No kidding. I had a good chuckle when I saw this:

    "His close involvement with the New Wave meant much of his early work was more closely associated with the UK than with the country of his birth. "

    As if he would only be dealing with American writers if he was around in 1890!

    So far as I am concerned, the history of Science Fiction begins with H.G. Wells.

    I don't really consider Poe to be a science fiction writer. His short story "Into the Maelstrom" was a very convincing tale of an adventure that he obviously never had, but sci-fi had little to do with it.

    Props to old Edgar for writing the first great story that gives a detail account of encryption hacking ("The Gold Bug")... but I would say that he is a lot closer, in both style and substance, to Herman Melville than to Isaac Asimov.

  • I thought it was "Quantum particles: the dreams that stuff is made of" and I thought it was Paul Davies that said it...
  • Of course, the author also screws up by failing to note the most important thing to know about science fiction -- that as literature, most of it is abysmal.

    This is true to a certain extent, but I think that bad SF is mostly perpetrated in other forms (e.g. TV and film) - mainly because production executives mistake it for "family entertainment", or the writers think that special effects are an effective substitute for bad dialogue and poor plots. It's funny, the production companies spend so much time and money developing SFX for SF tv and movies, when a bit of extra script development time would render it unecessary, and improve the quality at the same time!


  • These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air; and like the baseless fabric of this vision, the cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve; and, like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. -- Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act IV

  • They got addicted to Everquest.

    --
  • According to Disch, Le Guin has gained vertiginous regard in academic circles and is using this position to influence the manner in which SF is taught academically.

    Who gives a flying hooey how 'SF is taught academically'? Brilliant science fiction is only rarely produced by 'students' or 'academics'. All those college sci-fi (yep, that's what I still call it ;) lit classes can do is pretentiously pick over the bones of what has come before, fluffing each others egos in an ultimately pointless academic love-fest. Nothing useful whatsoever comes from their ponderings.

    Someone, somewhere, will always be writing something brilliant.

  • **What was, I think, pioneered in the US was science fiction as a genre. That formed around Doc Smith, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Amazing Stories and the like. Someone correct me if I'm wrong...**

    You are right. You mised Gardner, L Sprague De Camp, (dead on on the Lensman).

    I also credit (believe it or not) Dixon with "the hardy boys" and the fellow who wrote the Tom Swift stuff. People who read this as children went on to read more mind-opening question asking fiction as they got older.. Conan, Pellucidar, ERB's Lost World, etc. This led in time to the other "antique" authors who were churning stuff out heavily in the range of the 1950's, when the boom *really* started to kickoff.

    I still dont consider Bradbury to be Science Fiction.. he pretty much takes history and rewrites it into the future, AFAIC, which isnt much of a stretch. One I keep *not* seeing mentioned, is Anthony Burgess.. who tended to play with a bizarre and not-so distant future, based on trends obvious in the present.

    Just my .02

    Maeryk

  • by SpiceWare (3438)
    I'd seen a PBS series, The Story of English [pbs.org] that had some things I found to be rather interesting:

    1) all communication between airplane and control tower, anywhere in the world, is conducted in English

    2) a lot of European companies conduct their business in English, even if none of the parties involved are from an english speaking country.

    3) English is an approved language for official documents in China

  • "Quantum Physics - the dreams that stuff is made of" -- Michael Sinz

    In case you're wondering where that joke came from.
  • Max Headroom
    20 minutes into the future.
    Gimme the star
  • Frankenstein is 19th century. Kepler is 17th. And it IS based on scientific principles. In it, he describes man's view of the Earth from the Moon in surprisingly accurate detail, with the idea that the Earth would "rise" and "set", and have phases the way the moon does from Earth's view. This was all based on the mathematics he used to determine planetary orbits, and determining the mathematics behind the moon's phases based on the Sun's position.
  • by Yoshi Have Big Tail (312184) on Friday February 02, 2001 @06:36AM (#461772)
    It's really nice to see something as literate and well-written as that posted to Slashdot.

    Perhaps it will start a trend :-).

    On the American right to lie, I think it's a good point - Americans do think they have a right to lie.

    But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's through the American arrogance that such a great nation has been built.

    You don't make the greatest country on Earth by being nice to everyone.

    Also, even though lieing is a positive thing from a success point of view, I think in many respects Americans have a right to lie - as human beings (the most successful animal), we have dominion over the animals, and as the most successful nation, I think America should be allowed a little leeway.
  • Of course it's viewed negatively by the rest of the world. If the US reduces its involvement by even a little, the some other country will have to pick up the slack or do without.
  • The Oddessey is just Fantasy, not Sci-Fi. Yes, there's a decided difference between "Space Fantasy" and "Science Fiction" (and, of course, Ellisons claim that Science Fiction doesn't exist), but under the more common definitions of Sci-Fi, Somnium counts, and Homer doesn't.
  • I got it when it first came out, and just re-read it. Caused quite a stir in the SF field when it came out. I don't agree with his argument that SF is an American form of literature, but his arguments are well presented and entertaining.
    In other news, Jerry Pournelle [jerrypournelle.com] is reporting that Gordon R. Dickson has died.
  • "Simply put: 'dominion' is actually somewhat the correct word for it. Humans are now capable of doing whatever we want to any living species on the planet. The same cannot be said about any other living species. In some respects, that makes us the most successful animal."

    Your entire post betrayed such an incredible ignorance of biological and ecological reality that I'm almost speechless. Typical engineer-think applied to biology... i.e., utter blithering pollyannish nonsense.

    Just one salient point among the dozens I could make in response to your off-the-wall commentary: without bacteria, the human race would be finished, very quickly. If you believe that human life lives in a vacuum, you are an idiot.

    OK, one more point :-) The results are far from being in regarding how successful homo sapiens might or might not be.

  • English is not the primary language everywhere within 7 hours of Houston. Spanish is a hugely popular indigenous tongue throughout America. To avoid learning Spanish is to deny the very existence of a large sector of the Texan population.
  • In my analysis, I'd say he's trying to make money off his jealousy towards SciFi authors.

    I think the money is irrelevant; but in SF lit crit, even more so than in criticism of general literature, the opinions advanced often seem to be personal attacks on the beliefs and values of the author's opponents/targets, and decency and propriety are the first things out the window when this process starts. (Look at Aldiss' Billion/Trillion Year Spree for an example.) The object of the author is to disseminate their view of history at the expense of variant accounts (and make a bit of money on the side, I'm sure :).

    The great shame of this is that it is often the better authors who indulge in this sort of behaviour; Disch is an original and interesting writer, although he didn't really write all that much within the genre itself.

    (Also, Poe wasn't an SF author, although his work does presage the style of 20th Century fantasy literature. The first 'modern' SF writer of any note was H.G. Wells...)
  • I just seem to full of stuff about my school today.

    Anways, they have a great class at my school.
    20 weeks of talking about sci-fi. The homework:he might assign you to watch dune or something to that effect.

    No work, fun discusions. 1/2 credit in english or science. I only wish I could take it twice.

    "I have not slept a wink"

  • Everquest, Ultima Online, Asheron's Call, and others. They're chat rooms with monsters and quests. And each and every person has an avatar.
  • Sorry but no.

    Asimov is Russian, moved to the US in 1923. The other three are British, though it's hard to call Adams a "seminal author." Yes, he writes amusing books, but just because book has spaceships doesn't mean it's sci-fi. Adams is a humorist, writing a farce.

    And what's this about America not having any good sci-fi writers? To the names Heinlien, Asimov (he moved to the US before he was 3), Niven, Pournelle, Varley, Brin, Robinson, Sheffield or Bova mean anything to you? While I don't agree that sci-fi is a purely American artform, we sure have made a decent sized contribution.

    Now what's really curious is why Jules Verne wasn't mentioned at all...
  • Robert Heinlein: American
    Cliff Simak: American
    Phillip K. Dick: American
    Carl Sagan: American
    Gene Roddenberry: American
    J. Michael Stracynski: American

    Now, I'm British, but I have to admit that Americans have made a major contribution to SF. Not only have they produced some brilliant writers and film-makers, but American culture has helped raise the genre's profile and level of acceptance beyond mere "cult" status. This is something we should be grateful for.


  • Congo is like that. Good book, baaaaaaad movie! I liked The Terminal Man. I always thought it was a great movie of contrasts :-)

    ----

  • Okay, admittedly OT here, but..

    For the longest time, back when I had Television, I thought that the Disney channel had become the Brave Little Toaster Channel. Every freaking time I surfed past, THERE IT WAS!

    It was almost as bad as the Milo and Otis Networks of my Youth. (Shudder.)

    Just one of the many reasons I mostly avoid TV now.

  • This is the source of the "the stuff that dreams are made of" quote, not "the dreams that stuff is made from". Note the 'witty' switching of noun and object - oh so clever.
  • Nah, that's the classic greek tragedy line. Read Oedipus Rex to better get the idea. 1. The King's been slain and a plague fall's upon the land. 2. No one knows why, let's all ask the oracle! 3 & 4. Oedipus finds out it was him, eye gouging and wandering in the wilderness commence.
  • The major UKian contribution to science fiction seems to be "Red Dwarf" - My god what a stupid annoying whiny fucking show that is.
  • 4 of those I'll possibly grant you, the other two....
    Still, you've got a point
  • This is a very well written and informative book review-- thanks! -m
  • Sorry for the offtopicness, but does anyone remember Thomas M. Disch's Amnesia? That was probably one of the best written (and definitely the longest) text games I've played.

    That was a great game... I never got past the brownstone building once owned by John Lennon (I think that's what it was) though. Must dig that up from somewhere and play it again sometime. Last time I played that game was on my Commodore 64. I feel old.
  • At the risk of drawing some flamage, I'd like to point out that Neal Stephenson did NOT invent the concept of VR Avatars.

    As crude as they may have been, and slow at 1200baud or less, the first Avatar based chat room was back in my Commodore 64 day during the mid 80's

    For the life of me I cant remember the name of the darn thing..but I know it existed. Little cartoons with big heads and word balloons.

    Anyone else out there remember that thing?

    Now all we need is Avatars as detailed and functional as those described in SNow Crash. Then some of us would NEVER have to leave our computers!
  • The title of the story is "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall". It can be found at http://www.pambytes.com/poe/stories/hans-phaall.ht ml
  • Of course, the author also screws up by failing to note the most important thing to know about science fiction -- that as literature, most of it is abysmal.

    Not that I disagree, but how does this distinguish it from any other genre?
    ___

  • I take exception at the poster stating that SciFi is relatively new. I also notice our British friends taking exception to the idea that SciFi is an American literary form.

    Well, I remember doing an essay in college on the roots of SciFi. Much to my amazement, SciFi goes back much farther than many of us think. The earliest work I found was by none other than the Frenchman Cyrano DeBergerac (yes, he of prodigious proboscis) who wrote the novel "A Voyage to the Moon" in 1657. So, if you want to call a genre with a 350 year history and whose origins can be traced to a Frenchman 'new' or 'American' or 'British' well I guess you're all entitled to your opinions. :-)

    Another interesting tidbit about Cyrano: Understandably, in the 17th century anyone writing about voyaging to luna (lunatics) was considered quite insane and the two words were irrevocably associated. So it is this novel that is at the root of our modern understanding of the word 'lunatic'.

    FWIW.

  • Yet by any even halfheartedly rigorous definition, very few of these works are truly SF.

    People who try to make a rigorous definition of SF generally end up ruling out a significant portion of it. I've generally ended up operating under the "I know it when I see it" approach. Not a good standard for a law, but it works for personal use...
    ___

  • You're right, eh. All us canuks speak some strange foreign language that you just must drive 30 hours to hear, eh. And those people in San Fran...eh, can't make heads or tails of what they're saying, eh. New york is even worse, eh! Imagine how confusing it is, eh. Those people from brooklyn, eh, they speak differently from those in harlem, eh.

    --locust

  • Sorry, you don't quite get the "no-prize".

    "The Andromeda Strain" fails to fit your profile. The story begins with your step 3: Something goes wrong, and continues from there.

    Actually, most of his books are not like that at all.

    The Great Train Robbery - Story of a train heist
    Eaters of the Dead - An arab encounters a Viking culture
    Disclosure - A computer geek gets framed for sexual harrassment to cover a scandal
    Congo - A corporate firms races against the competition to stake a diamond claim deep in the African jungle
    The Terminal Man - After a car crash, a man slowly changes into a killer cyborg
    ER - "Saint Elswhere" with more car-crash victims.

  • Science Fiction as a concept is older than most people think. Its only its popularity that's "new".

    Kepler wrote a book, Somnium (trans: "The Dream"), about man flying to the moon and seeing the earth from the moon, in the early 1600s.

  • Speaking of Snow Crash and fact becoming fiction. Both that work, and Vinge's True names, and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier are regular required reading in CS Phd programs. Snow Crash in particular I know for a fact is required by one professor at Georgia tech.
  • Depends on what you think sci-fi is. If you think that descriptions of cool gadgets are more important than the story, then sure, a lot of sci-fi isn't.

    But if you reckon that the sci-fi/fantasy aspect is there to present a different world in which things happen differently, and the actions and reactions of the characters in this environment, then Frankenstein fits perfectly. Taking Asimov's robots as an example, the actions of each robot's personality in following the Laws is the important element, not the fact of the robot's construction.

    So it all hinges on your definition of sci-fi. Which really comes down to "sci-fi is what sci-fi writers write" - and good luck getting a better definition! :-)

    Grab.
  • I have to agree. When Kurt Vonnegut wrote Player Piano, he never intended it to be a work of high art. Many of his books have SF elements in them (Slaughterhouse 5, Prometheus 5, etc). His books are wildly popular though with the lit crit community tho, and rightly so.

    ----

  • IIRC, many of the classic "Arabian Nights" stories involved a hero who had to solve mysteries. While Poe might have been the first to do so in the form of a novel, the "detective story" goes back a lot farther.
  • who needs a 'right' to lie. lie if it serves your purpose. don't if it doesn't. there is no such thing as 'rights' other than a legal defintion.
  • Of course, the author also screws up by failing to note the most important thing to know about science fiction -- that as literature, most of it is abysmal.

    I think that fact is way too obvious to be a serious omission. As Theodore Sturgeon pointed out, "Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That's because 90% of everything is crud."

    (Yes, in the original quote it was "crud", not "crap".)

  • If the US reduces its involvement by even a little, the some other country will have to pick up the slack or do without.

    Also a Good Thing, IMHO.

    I didn't vote for the guy, but I'm growing slightly more optimistic about his foreign policies as time goes by.

  • by Steve B (42864) on Friday February 02, 2001 @09:48AM (#461810)
    In it, he describes man's view of the Earth from the Moon in surprisingly accurate detail, with the idea that the Earth would "rise" and "set", and have phases the way the moon does from Earth's view.

    It would have phases, but not rise and set in the usual sense of the words -- the Earth stays in place as seen from the Moon, because the Moon keeps the same face to Earth at all times (a fact known to anybody with normal eyesight who pays attention for a few weeks).

    (Because the Moon's orbit is a bit elliptical, it does "wobble" back and forth a bit relative to Earth, so Earth would oscillate from just above the horizon to just below the horizon as seen from areas near the limb of the Moon.)
    /.

  • by vlax (1809) on Friday February 02, 2001 @10:32AM (#461812)
    Before he was writer, Heinlein ran for the California assembly on Upton Sinclair's EPIC ticket. EPIC was strongly socialist, with links to radicals, communists, unions, and anti-poverty groups. Heinlein was considered such a radical leftist at the time that the Republican candidate was able to cross-file as a Democrat and win their primaries, leaving him unchallenged on the ballot.

    Heinlein certainly takes a strong stance against any kind of interference in markets in his later books, but the positions of EPIC were diametrically opposed to those he espoused in Expanded Universe. They were interventionist, they demanded government action against the Depression and they had nothing but contempt for California's wealthy industrialists and land owners who did nothing in the face of such vast public misery.

    Certainly, Heinlein's politics changed a lot between 1938 and 1980. Frankly, I liked the younger Heinlein a lot more. The authoritarian, Chicago-school, Reaganite Heinlein of the 70's and 80's was half the writter of the witty, liberal, socially and culturally conscious Heinlein of the 40's and 50's.

    The late Heinlein was a far cry from any anarcho-syndicalist that I know of, although the young one had his moments. He takes a near Randian position on the virtues of the market in all his books after Time Enough for Love (for example, his utopian portrayal of Hell in Job), while taking a truly unlibertarian position on the importance of a powerful central state in Friday. The later Heinlein appears to place little value in democracy and collective action (which are perhaps the most central values of traditional anarcho-syndicalism) and advocates a sort of minimalist dictatorship as the ideal form of government, or at least he does in all of the Lazarus Long books.

    Perhaps those weren't his "true" politcal feelings. I have no way to know, authors are allowed to play with ideas. But at the very least, the opinions he lays out in Expanded Universe, a polemic by his own admission, are quite remote from anarcho-syndicalism and even more remote from his political roots.
  • There are a few counterarguments to bacteria, parasites, etc. that don't apply to humans. Granted, we're human, and so we have a biased point-of-view.

    For instance: bacteria/parasites/diseases. We can produce an environment almost completely without bacteria/parasites/disease: (space, for instance) the bacteria cannot do the same with us (much as they try). The same essentially goes for domesticated animals- we don't need them around, we suffer their presence.

    In essence, the point is just that while other animals may exploit humans, we choose to let them exploit us, whereas they have no choice as to whether or not we exploit them.

    Think of it this way: if we founded a colony on Mars, and that colony brought no bacteria/domesticated animals, well, they wouldn't be able to exploit us then, would they? (Granted, new diseases would evolve, but this is different: every living being has to fend off other predators- the fact that humans do as well is immaterial)

    Simply put: 'dominion' is actually somewhat the correct word for it. Humans are now capable of doing whatever we want to any living species on the planet. The same cannot be said about any other living species. In some respects, that makes us the most successful animal.

    Plus, if we ever do migrate off-planet, then we have the potential to become the longest-lived animal species, which definitely qualifies as the most successful by Nature's definition.
  • To a certain extent I have to agree with you. It is typically American to either never learn a second language or make only a half-hearted attempt at it. Even those of us who make the attempt have difficulty maintaining fluency. At one time I had learned enough French and German to ask direction on the street and order a meal. I haven't used either in years and couldn't manage now. I learned even more Spanish, but I haven't spoken that in over a decade and have lost most of it.

    Where monolingualism crosses the line into arrogance is when it includes the expectation that the world will come to us linguistically. Not bothering to learn other languages to speak to foreigners visiting your homeland is simply a choice. Going abroad and relying on short English words spoken loudly is arrogance.

    Sed mi flue parolas Esperanto, kiel naciulo.
  • If you want to go back even more, you could make a case for Homer's Oddesssey. At the time, sailing to unknown lands was their equivalent of a voyage into space.
  • He dismisses Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as a progenitor because her science is "fast talking and stage props" which serves to set the stage for classic melodrama, rather than as the real core of the book

    Which means that Mary Shelley got it right. The best Science Fiction has never been about the technology, but about people. The technology merely serves as a backdrop to get the people into an interesting situation, or presents new obstacles or opportunities for the characters.
  • by rudbek (28000) on Friday February 02, 2001 @11:05AM (#461824)
    Having been through several wars on rec.arts.sf.writtten over various definitions of SF -- I've learned that no definition of the genre is ultimately defensible. In fact, SF is generally accepted to stand for speculative fiction rather than science fiction nowadays because of these issues. (For fun, venture over to rasfw and argue that fantasy isn't SF).

    I like the Bujold quote because it captures a popular sentiment among many SF fans about Crichton and SF in general. Namely that stories about the evils of technology aren't what attracted us to the genre.

    In fact, I suspect Bujold isn't trying to define the genre so much as to distinguish the sorts of stories Crichton writes from the main current of the genre. She didn't say Crichton wasn't SF she said is wasn't REAL SF -- which I took as more of a normative judgement rather than a formal definition of the genre.

    Rob
  • A friend of mine, who lives in Michigan, was surprised when some visitors from Europe thought it would be feasible to drive down to Disney World for the day. The Europeans, thinking it was a couple hour drive, where shocked to find out it would take over 20 hours to drive there.
  • To avoid learning Spanish is to deny the very existence of a large sector of the Texan population.
    I see, so, if I don't learn Chinese then I deny that China exists? That's a pretty strange thing to imply.
  • In Europe you could easily drive to another country and back for a weekend trip.

    From most of the USA, it takes a day or two to just to get to Canada or Mexico. This makes it more remote, and not feasible for a weekend getaway.

  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Friday February 02, 2001 @11:33AM (#461828)
    > The best Science Fiction has never been about the technology, but about people. The technology merely serves as a backdrop to get the people into an interesting situation, or presents new obstacles or opportunities for the characters.

    I agree. Actually, the "hard core" stuff did appeal to me when I was a schoolboy, but after a decade or so I started getting tired of reading about "widgets" and "telltales" and convoluted explanations of why some plot prop should work, and even more bored with 'stories' whose entire raison d'être was to show off some semi-plausible technology that the author had cooked up.

    Give me a story that works as a story.

    My longstanding favorite SF author is Jack Vance. That's partly because his whimsy appeals to me, but also very much because the people in his stories take their technology just as much for granted as we do, and don't go around explaining it to each other for page after page. If people need to go somewhere, they just hop into the aircar and get along with the plot, without a lot of "Gee, whiz! An aircar!" and "Yeah, superconductivity makes it all possible."

    When I want to read about technology for technology's sake, I read Scientific American. When I want to read a story, I expect the technology to merge into the background so that literary qualities can have center stage.

    --
  • Actually, I'm pretty sure the original quote was "shit." It was the opening of Sturgeon's GOH speech at a WorldCon.
  • Science Fiction is about ideas. The best source of new ideas is speculation about imaginary societies, the future, the unknown past, alternate histories, and so on.

    One of the most popular works of Science Fiction from the past was a book called Slan, which is not really considered a great book these days (not that I've heard anyway) but the idea behind it was that there was a group of humans (or aliens that looked human) that was vastly superior to the rest of humanity, hidden within society. This idea appealed to the early SF fans.

    Later, much of the jargon developed in SF fandom was transfered to hacker jargon. I think the idea of born superiority still appears to the core of hackerdom today.
  • by SpiceWare (3438) on Friday February 02, 2001 @07:35AM (#461834)
    One of the "US Arrogances" I've always heard is that we American's are arrogant because we don't learn other languages.

    The reality of life in America seems to escape non-Americans. Most people I went to school with learned another language(for example, ich kann deutsch). However, unlike people in other countries, it's quite far/expensive for us to travel someplace where English is not the primary language. Thus, we're unable to practice and maintain any form of fluency.

    I'd spoken with a German about this once in the late 80's(he used to use the internet to get to a modem in Houston to call my BBS). He had mentioned the "language arrogance" so I asked him how long it took to him to travel to another country where German was not the language - a mear 3 hour drive, and another 3 hours on top of that to get to where a 3rd language was required.

    Contrast that to America. I live in Houston. To drive to Mexico would take about 7 hours. To drive to Canada would take close to 30 hours. Going west to San Francisco would take 32 hours, and going East to New York would take 27 hours. English is the primary language everywhere within this driving range.

  • Heinlein is an obvious target; Disch provides a good serving on this author's long march from Radical Socialist to Radical Libertarian.
    Heinlein didn't neccesarily agree with the views he was showing in his books, he was just exploring different ideas.
    from here: http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/mail81.html
    Scroll down to the section on Talin and Starship Troopers

    I am tempted to give Larry Niven's answer to the chap who wrote to complain about the attitudes of one of the characters in Niven's "How the Heroes Die." Larry wrote: "We in the writing profession have a technical term for people who believe that the authors believe everything their characters believe. We call them 'idiots'. None of my best friends are idiots. Merry Christmas."

  • "What differentiates real SF from Crichton and his ilk is that at the end of non-SF the evil science is defeated and destroyed, and we are back in the world that we now live in. Whereas real SF involves a change in the world, and it is a good thing." Lois McMaster Bujold

    I would heartily disagree with this quote. The moral standing or permenance of scifi tech is not a defining charecteristic of the genre, any more than the moral standing or permanence of a magical event is for fantasy, or the moral standing or permanence of a haunting is to horror.

    Individual stories in many genres use the plot device of "something is changing in the world, but by the end of the story the change has been averted and only a few people know that it had ever been happening." Even the "and then he woke up" or "but it was all a flash of imagination in the instant he died" endings don't (IMHO) change the genre status of the intervening story.

    Kahuna Burger

  • Well, I see the every-Friday US-UK troll squabble has spilled up out of -1. ;-)

    I can't help wondering how the Frenchman Jules Verne didn't make your list. I would consider him the real originator of what we know as science fiction, lit-crit cleverness about Poe or Shelley aside.

    What was, I think, pioneered in the US was science fiction as a genre. That formed around Doc Smith, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Amazing Stories and the like. Someone correct me if I'm wrong...

  • by KahunaBurger (123991) on Friday February 02, 2001 @06:43AM (#461847)
    He dismisses Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as a progenitor because her science is "fast talking and stage props" which serves to set the stage for classic melodrama, rather than as the real core of the book.

    I don't buy it. "fast talking and stage props" describes half of the sci fi tech out there, and how else would you describe the motivating force of the entire story except as the core of the book.

    Frankenstein actually sort of reminds me of some of Criton's (sp?) work, like congo. Sort of a "twenty minutes in the future"* idea that reaches seemingly just a little farther than the advances of the day and discovers something totally other.

    Sounds a little like he formed an opinion then interpreted the evidence to support it.

    * gold star (but no Karma) for identifying the line.

    Kahuna Burger

  • Do you have a link to the notice? It can be hard to find stuff at Chaos Manor and it does not appear to be on the front page. I'm going to have to take the day off if this true. :( I do agree with you though on SF *not* being American, Verne and Wells both had it going on a very long time ago.
  • Yeah, that's true--I like the original poster's point about proximity, though, too. It would be interesting to see if the rate of native English speakers who become bi-lingual in these regions is increasing. It strikes me that it no longer seems unusual to run across people who speak decent Spanish from the Yakima Valley (I live in Washington) where there is a large Hispanic population.

    It's also interesting that you mention Asian languages... I can't think of many people I know here in Seattle who speak those, even my Asian friends. But then, that's a whole different family of languages. I wonder how much of the European's vaunted multi-linguality is really due more to the fact that most of their languages are really pretty similar and therefore easier to learn.
  • It's not quite how you meant it but the best 'hard SF' book I've ever read is "Mission Of Gravity" by Hal Clement. In this he ignores all the business of starships, interstellar travel etc and takes that as background for the story - which is a wonderful exploration of one idea.
    This idea is to explore the implications of a dense, deformed, planet - where the gravity varies from 3g at the equator to several hundred g at the poles and all the consequences. There's no clever gadgets, just some (alien) psychology and a lot of good physics extrapolated from the basic idea.
    ----
  • "fast talking and stage props" describes half of the sci fi tech out there

    Which is a point that Disch makes...

  • You missed one other thing that I've always felt notable about Crichton's work, and I think it's even more consistent than the pattern you point out:

    Crichton always puts in a character who needs to have everything explained to them.

    I can't remember enough about Westworld to say if it's true for that or not, but absolutely everything else I've seen of his has one: Carter in "ER", Hall in "The Andromeda Strain", Smith in "Rising Sun", the Arab dude in "Eaters of the Dead"... I could go on. Sometimes he splits it up among characters--in "Jurassic Park" for example, Malcom doesn't know anything about dinosaurs, so Grant explains them, but Grant doesn't know anything about chaos theory, so Malcom explains it. It's a reasonably clever device for taking interesting technical concepts and pitching them to the readers, but the pattern is so obvious after a couple of books that they come to seem formulaic.

    Anyway; I think that's a better candidate for the title "Crichton's Law". Let Slashdot be the judge.
  • You're able to use the Chunnel to bring your car. Likewise, there's places in the USA that utilize vehicles like ferry boats to transport people and their cars where car alone cannot go.

    It doesn't change the fact that most people in Europe can get to another country far quicker than most people in the USA.

  • by wiredog (43288) on Friday February 02, 2001 @06:49AM (#461857) Journal
    here [jerrypournelle.com] at the bottom of that days view.
  • No, was an entirely serious comment - you just missed a few comments in my post, and I forgot a few words to clarify things.

    First off, I didn't mean that we created space - that should've said (in space, for example) - while Mir and the Space Station are not amazingly bacteria-free places, they do beat out Earth-based places pretty well. And if NASA really really wanted to, you could do much, much better than there.

    Therefore, your next comment is slightly out of place - I wasn't talking about the current situation on Earth. That's pointless - every species has to fight disease, save possibly viruses (which are only questionably a life form), so the fact that humans have to fight them as well is immaterial. If we wanted to, a human being could totally avoid being exploited by these diseases, and people do! They live in bubbles, and they survive. The rest of us choose to live in a disease ridden environment for the simple benefit that it allows us to interact.

    As per the HIV virus, HIV can barely even kill us anymore (not that it could in the first place). But that's not even the point! The fact is that we can do anything we want to the HIV virus, and it can do very little to us. It can infect us if we're dumb. It can kill us if, unfortunately, we do not have the proper medication for it. But we can do anything we want to it - and we do. Oohh, we do - we modify its genome regularly, and mess around with it plenty. (Note that when I said 'anything we want' - I meant anything we want with a single organism, not an entire species. To eradicate HIV would be possible - just not ethical).

    As for the mosquito, unfortunately you're wrong that it's in our best interest to eradicate them - turns out male mosquitos are pollinators. Doesn't that suck - I would've been all for complete genocide otherwise. And again - we can do anything we want to a single mosquito. The fact that several billion of them constantly exist is just an annoyance, and if we WANTED to not deal with them anymore, we could. We could just leave the planet. That's extreme, but possible.

    Finally, the longevity comment: Blue green algae, sharks, cats, dogs, and dolphins (assuming they DON'T have interstellar technology...) have a finite lifespan. They will die in approximately 100 million years. Period. The Sun will grow too bright, and begin vaporizing water on Earth. Since no living creature can survive in an environment where water cannot (as far as we know) - they will all die. If humans move off-planet, your comment about 'a lot of catching up to do' is pointless, because we will have infinite amount of time to catch up.

    An Earthbound species has only the potential to have a lifespan of Now+100 million years. A non-Earthbound species does not have this limitation, and therefore can exceed that lifespan. Note that I said "potential" to become - not definitely.
    (And we'll probably drag along bacteria, algae, etc. so that properly you would have to give them credit, but I think everyone here would agree that if aliens came down and saved humans in a hundred million years, we'd give them credit, not us.
  • The speed limit in Texas is 70 mph, while the actual highway speed is more like 80 mph.

    What's more telling though is the areas involved. The country of Germany covers 356,910 sq km, compared to the state of Texas which covers almost twice that at 692,247 sq km.

  • I've tried to write a review of this book off and on over the last year, but every time I get bogged down in sorting out the tremendous number of inaccuries and snide cheapshots it's weighted down with.

    (Just to pick one: Disch asserts that the Delany novel "The Madman" is devoted to the thesis that HIV does not cause AIDS. This is a completely insane reaction to the novel: nowhere in it is anything like this thesis stated (many others are however), and nothing in the events of the story contradict the HIV hypothesis. When you can get something *this* far wrong, nothing else you say can be trusted.)

    Disch's main take on Science Fiction is that it's largely based on a worship of Big Ideas, grand theories about how the world works. From Disch's point of view, the idea that you can rationally understand how the world is put together is a ridiculous, sophomoric notion, hence the idea that Science Fiction is a branch of children's literature, and so on. (Here's some more stuff on that subject: DISCH [grin.net] )

    It's difficult to state the main thesis of this book, because Disch has a way of backtracking to cover himself, but roughly he points out that ideas from SF have a way of leaking out into the real world, in sometimes unsavory contexts. He keeps stabbing in the direction of saying that Science Fiction is immoral because it encourages people to believe in things that turn out to be destructive ("in dreams begin responsibilities", is the closing quote).

    He is, however, not quite willing to go as far as to blame Charlie Manson on Robert Heinlein... because if he did it would be obvious that his thesis is ridiculous (e.g. why not blame Manson on John Lennon?).

  • I'm sorry, but you completely missed the point of the argument - I never once stated that humans could live in a vacuum. It's a question of reciprocity - can they do everything we can do to them back to us, and, put another way, can we do everything they can do to us?

    I'm assuming you're talking about symbiotic bacteria that humans use: that doesn't say that they're superior to us, or that we don't 'hold dominion' over them. Can we eradicate the flora in our body? Yes. Would we ever want to? Well, no.
    Could they ever eradicate us? Well, good point... possibly. But I do trust medical science to put up a good fight regardless.

    Still, the comment is almost entirely moot - I wasn't claiming humans could live in a vacuum. What I was claiming there was that the previous argument (infectious diseases are more successful than humans) holds little water, as people can almost entirely insulate themselves from infectious diseases, whereas the reverse, well, isn't true. Here, the bacteria need the humans, the humans need the bacteria, so there's no question of superiority - on this simple level, they're equal. When you consider other species, however, our symbiotic bacteria cannot, for instance, kill any mammal on the planet. We can. Therefore, by some measure, we are more successful than they are.

    In essence, the question comes down to what you define as succesful. The most natural definition, of course, is the longest lived and most prolific species, which of course, we are not. We do, however, now have the possibility to become the longest lived (see one comment over, one comment down: if we become non-Earthbound, our species lifespan is no longer limited to that of the Sun. The same cannot be said about any other species). That doesn't mean we are the longest lived, but it does give us a 'bonus point', if you will, over other species.

    There's also a question of 'possibility' and of 'desire', though this is a bit hairier, as we don't know the desires of other species. We have the capability, for instance, to eradicate HIV from the human population. That's easy. We kill everyone with HIV. Poof. Note I didn't say it was ethical, desirable, or would ever happen! Just that it could. Humans, in general right now, have the capability to do far more than any other species on the planet, and *that* is the definition I was using for successful.

    I don't have an extremely high opinion of humans, please note - I have an extremely high opinion of science and technology. Every time we have desparately needed something, we have found it. Granted, this argument is anthropomorphic (meaning that if the opposite were true, we wouldn't be here to argue the point) but it does have some intrinsic merit, in my opinion.

    Please don't criticize people's views without giving actual points of criticism - that's the adult equivalent of saying "Nuh-uh!" I enjoy arguments - but what drives me crazy is someone offering a differing opinion but not willing to back it up.
  • Congo - A corporate firms races against the competition to stake a diamond claim deep in the African jungle

    I disagree. Congo fits his profile perfectly. The orriginal mission encounters an unexpected stressor (psychotic talking apes) at which point the personality flaws of group members come out to prevent them from dealing with it correctly, and everyone goes home barely alive and depressed.

    Awful book, I thought. What the hell does he have against math prodigies anyway? I actually disliked the book more than the movie, if that's possible.

    Kahuna Burger

  • Max Headroom

    Who ever thought a stutter would be so popular?

    -----
  • From your own link:

    Yet by any even halfheartedly rigorous definition, very few of these works are truly SF.

    Mark Twain anticipated a couple of narrative devices which were later used in science fiction. However, his writings lacked the intellectual flavor of science fiction, and can't be considered part of the genre. In any case, juxtaposing a modern person with an ancient setting and vice versa is far older device than Twain; it occurs at least once in Homer, and Swift made use of a similar device a hundred years earlier. I dare say that something similar happened in the bible, though it doesn't come to mind.

  • Fortunatly for us, the British Empire spread the practice of speaking English to most corners of the world. In India, Enlish is the only language spoken by nearly everybody. (It's not the first language for any of them, but it's the second language for almost all of them.)

    Between England and the US, this language has been the international language of commerce for two Centuries. It is possible that 21st Century America will decline the way 20th Century England did, and somebody else will be the next economic superpower... but if their language is not well suited to tty screens and keyboards (i.e., most of Asia), they will probably use English, too.

    There are, however, a few really out-of-touch third world nations that don't speak much English. France, for example. For their sake, we sometimes need to learn other languages, in the unlikely event that we need to ask directions to get to Euro-Disney. ;)

  • by streetlawyer (169828) on Friday February 02, 2001 @06:52AM (#461877) Homepage
    The better argument for EAP as the originator of science fiction is the one made by Jorge Luis Borges in an essay on the detective novel, where he points out that Poe was responsible for the idea of the novel as an intellectual creation rather than an emotional one. This makes him (proximately) the father of the detective novel and (somewhat more remotely) the grandfather of science fiction.

    I don't believe this argument, however; it presumes that science fiction is fundamentally intellectual, which it isn't, or at least, not in the same way that detective stories are. Science fiction is not, in the main, an intellectual exercise for the author, except in those dreadful Asimov and Clarke outings where he tries to deduce sixty semi-amusing implications of one piece of speculative science.

    A lot of science fiction is slap bang in the Mary Shelley tradition, and to pretend otherwise by saying that her "science" wasn't central enough is to completely ignore one of the main features of the genre -- its relationship to fantasy and thence to the gothic tradition. He certainly needs to come up with some explanation of the proximity of the fantasy and science fiction sections of most bookshops in order to defend this idea.

    And anyone who can pretend that science fiction is essentially American ought to be introduced to HG Wells or his descendants. It has its roots in Whiggish extrapolation of modern technology, which started off as a British trait, and moved to America along with global technological hegemony, about the end of the First World War. American science fiction is essentially American; British science fiction isn't, or doesn't have to be.

    Of course, the author also screws up by failing to note the most important thing to know about science fiction -- that as literature, most of it is abysmal.

  • by eghost (311291) on Friday February 02, 2001 @06:53AM (#461878)
    What it sounds like our reviewer is saying falls along this line, "Disch is up on his soapbaox and pissed because he can't cut the mustard as a SciFi writer."
    Now I realize that isn't what he actually says but its what I got from this...

    Minor points based on the review
    • Disch would seem to have his shorts in a bind over socio-political issues in the writers' lives.
    • Referencing "classic" lit., says to me that he hasn't been paying much attention to the SciFi community as of late(not that I have anything against Poe, just making a point)
    • Touting personal issues against an author, what more do I need to say...

    In my analysis, I'd say he's trying to make money off his jealousy towards SciFi authors. Though I have to admit I'm surprised to see that the reviewer didn't mention Harlan Ellison in the laundry list of authors that Disch seems to have a grudge against.
  • What about Jules Verne? Verne's writing is the earliest stuff I've read that has the "science fiction" feel to it. His first books were published in the 1860s and he died in 1905, wealthy from the sales of those books. His writings were tremendously influential - the first nuclear submarine was named Nautilus after Captain Nemo's vessel in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He wrote From the Earth to the Moon in 1866, the year H.G. Wells was born, and 35 years before Wells wrote The First Men in the Moon.
  • Are avatar-oriented chat rooms still around? I remember hearing about them as an example of why VRML would be "the next big thing". VRML died, so what happened to the avatars?
  • by Don Negro (1069) on Friday February 02, 2001 @06:56AM (#461895)
    Really, it's Febuary 2 already.

    Let's get on the ball here, people.

    Don Negro

  • I disagree. I think that GWB (for all his faults) is quite right when he stresses that it is time for America to excercise a lot more humility when dealing with other nations. If he follows through with policy to back up that rhetoric, it will stand in sharp contrast to the gunboat diplomacy of the Clinton Administration, and I would consider that to be a Good Thing.

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