I am reading Shock: Social Science Fiction v 1.1.1 by Joshua A C Newman. Not a novel but a ‘fiction game’ (Or Role-Playing Game if you are old style) handbook leant to me by the eminently cool Will Ellwood.
Shock is pretty effing fascinating. The first page explains that the handbook uses the ‘DIN fonts originally designed for street signs in Germany just before the Nazi Party took over.’ and goes on to explain this is because the font represents the ‘ideal of the Modern with a twinge of the horror it can contain.’ Yes, that’s right Toto, you aren’t in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons any more. This is a (very) intelligent RPG, that asks the player to do things that make the kind of pseudo-intellectuals who staff university critical theory departments look like scalp scratching primates.
Shock is a framework that has its players improvise science fiction scenarios based on the interactions and conflicts of certain Issues (slavery, imperialism etc etc) and Shocks (replicants, mind transfer) and Minutia. Or in other words, the gamut of tropes drawn from more than a century of science fiction. I’m not going to expend time I should be sleeping to explain the rules any further when you can explore them on the games website, but let me assure you they are very, very interesting.
(Shock uses the excellent neuter term *Tagonist to denote the meta of Protagonist / Antagonist. I love it.)
As i read the handbook Shock is making me think some things. It is making me think that science fiction is powered by a small number of essential processes, and Shock does a good job of pinpointing what they are. It also makes me think that if we can accurately describe the meta framework of science fiction this way, then the task for science fiction writers is not to keep filling that framework with more stuff, but to start reengineering the framework itself. Don’t keep churning the same old products out of the factory. Don’t even build a new factory. Conceptualise a whole new manufacturing process and see what it produces.
It also makes me think that I want to play this game! Let me know if you want to play also, and we will find a way.