Tag Archives: science fiction and fantasy

My nominations for Speculative Fiction 2014

Criticism and non-fiction writing seem to play an ever bigger part in science fiction and fantasy. Consider the issue of diversity in these genres, which has reached some kind of apogee in 2014. And a great deal of the energy driving that change has been generated online by non-fiction writing. Most of this writing is made by fans (those fans may also be pro authors, editors and agents, but writing first and foremost as fans) and it’s in online non-fiction writing like reviews, essays, blog posts and forum debates that the fans shape the genre. I honestly can’t think of a healthier and more open democratic way to shape our culture.

Following on from the success of Speculative Fiction 2013 it’s organisers have now made an open call for submissions to the 2014 volume of the anthology. Speculative Fiction 2014 will bring together some of the best online non-fiction writing on SF/F in to a handy, highly readable format. I highly recommend you nominate those pieces which stand out for you this year. I have just done so, and thought I would share my nominations to encourage more people to participate. Please chip in and tell me your favourite non-fiction of the year in the comments. I’m sure there are many I’ve missed.

Silk Road Fantasy and Breaking the Great Wall of Europe by Paul Weimer – Silk Road fantasy is such an evocative term for non-western oriented fantasy. Weimer may not quite have coined it but I think in this well researched post he brings it to new popularity. As the comments explore it doesn’t fit all non-western fantasy, but for the parts of the world the Silk Roads ran too, I think it’s rather lovely. I also have a feeling we’re going to see some great Silk Road fantasies in the next few years.

A Great Castle Made of Sea: Why Hasn’t Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Been More Influential? by Jo Walton – Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was a major bestseller, but the fantasy genre has largely ignored it in favour of the grimdark vision. Walton explores the many reasons for this, in her usual subtle and amusing manner.

12 Fundamentals of Writing “The Other” (And the Self) by Daniel Jose Older – “The baseline is you suck”, strongly worded and supremely insightful, this post cracked open one of the toughest issues in fiction writing. How do we write characters who have been cast as The Other by our culture? There are no easy answers, but Older makes some strong suggestions.

How Censors Killed The Weird, Experimental, Progressive Golden Age Of Comics by Saladin Ahmed – I had no concept of how many diverse superheroes there were until I read Ahmed’s superbly researched insight in to early 20th century comics. And the shock of course is how these characters were eliminated by top down censorship. A must read.

Post-Binary Gender in SF: Introduction by Alex Dally Macfarlane – this essay set off one of the most valuable debates in the genre this year. SF/F should be the natural home of characters who do not conform to enforced gender norms. So why isn’t it? The answer to this question is still being argued, and likely will be for some time.

Now, go an make your own nominations for Speculative Fiction 2014 here.

Science Fiction is the most valuable art ever. Discuss.

Coming Soon!
Image by psd via Flickr


So. Today at the Out of this World event at the British Library (which was really rather wonderful), Neil Gaiman shared a fascinating factoid with the audience. While appearing as a Guest of Honour at China’s largest state approved Science Fiction convention, Neil decided to enquire why SF, once frowned upon by the Chinese government, was now not just approved of but encouraged. China is now the worlds biggest market for SF, with the highest circulation magazines and the largest conventions. A point Neil reiterated by mentioning that the opening ceremony of the convention he attended was shown on national television.

I don’t think that’s ever been the case at a WorldCon.

The answer Neil was given is very, very interesting. China is the worlds manufacturing powerhouse. But it doesn’t invent or design the things it manufactures (I’m sure there are numerous exceptions to this, as I am also sure the general trend holds true.) China wants to capture the creativity and imagination of the culture that has produced companies like Google and Apple. So researchers talked to people involved with those and other companies to see what factors they had in common. Guess what the answer was?

They all read Science Fiction.

Now I’m sure I don’t need to rehash issues of cause and effect that impact on this kind of social analysis. Science Fiction might just be a popular hobby amongst the demographic that are drawn to working in science, technology and other creative fields. Or…it might be that Science Fiction is an essential influence in the development of top level creative thinkers, especially those dealing with technology.

Let’s go with that second idea for a while. We live in an age of unparalleled technological development, which is creating change across society of an unprecedented magnitude. Is it really so inconceivable that SF in all its forms is a valuable tool for helping train people to creatively work with that change? SF doesn’t just show us possible futures, it trains us to anticipate new technology, model how it will impact our lives and exploit that insight. Isn’t that basically what Apple, Google and billions of workers in technology and the knowledge economy are now engaged in doing, day in and day out?

Take this argument a step further, and it’s possible to make an interesting case that Science Fiction’s contribution to the global economy is far greater than the apparent value of the SF publishing industry. Economists could spin all kinds of mumbo jumbo about the actual value of SF in this scenario. At the very least it might suggest that SF writers should get paid a bit more!

When I interviewed Charlie Stross in 2008, he made the argument that literature can no longer afford to view our social and cultural lives as separate from our technological and scientific advancement. Events such as the Out of this World exhibition at the British Library suggest that many people outside the world of SF agree with Charlie. I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction that I hope I’m around to crow about when it comes true. Fifty years from now Science Fiction won’t exist as it does today. It won’t be dead. Instead it will have evolved as an integral part of literature and culture. Because the story of the next fifty years, if it isn’t abbreviated by war or environmental collapse, will be one of technological change and human adaptation. The art and literature of the future will reflect on that story, and they will drive it, just as Science Fiction does today.

Can fantasy tell the truth?

There is nothing wrong with escaping reality now and again. Like a well brewed ale, or a good malt whisky, a finely crafted escapist fantasy can be a thing of joy and beauty. But while the occasional tipple can be a good thing, most of us recognise that a bottle of Jameson’s a night is unhealthy for body, mind and soul.

An unfiltered diet of escapist fantasy blockbusters can be similarly unhealthy. As master anti-fantasist M John Harrison expresses it in his essay The Profession of Science Fiction while discussing the appeal of fantasy to young children terrified by adult life, “Many fantasy and SF readers are living out a prolonged childhood in which they retain that terror and erect – in collusion with professional writers who themselves often began as teenage daydreamers – powerful defences against it.”

Read more in The Guardian