Tuesday, 30 March 2010


I am very grateful for the strenuous efforts that have gone into relaunching the Large Hadron Collider. Once it's up and working properly, I will have the perfect excuse for authors who are clamouring for unwritten marketing plans or unsent review copies; I will simply say that these tasks were carried out, but that they were negated by disruptions to the space-time continuum caused by the particle accelerator, resulting in the reversal of time and the erasue of certain events. This will become the modern equivalent of 'the dog ate it'.

While following the news about the atom-smasher, I've been thinking about the relationship between science and literature, and if and how modern writers weave the technology of our age into their fiction. It's interesting to read the protests of those who write out and out science fiction, that their work is not taken seriously by the literary establishment; one response from the latter having been that not much of this genre is terribly good in terms of literary quality.

My favourite novelist, the late and hugely missed Kurt Vonnegut, was labelled, if not ghettoized, as a science fiction writer during the early part of his career, and observed the battle between the genres with something of the nature of a double agent:
I have been a sore-headed occupant of a file-drawer labeled ''science- fiction'' ever since, and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a tall white fixture in a comfort station.The way a person gets into this drawer, apparently, is to notice technology. The feeling persists that no one can simultaneously be a respectable writer and understand how a refrigerator works, just as no gentleman wears a brown suit in the city.
While, on the other hand:
the editors and anthologists and publishers who keep the science-fiction field separate and alive: they are uniformly brilliant and sensitive and well-informed. They are among the precious few Americans in whose minds C.P. Snow's two cultures sweetly intertwine. They publish so much bad stuff because good stuff is hard to find, and because they feel it is their duty to encourage any writer, no matter how frightful, who has guts enough to include technology in the human equation. Good for them. They want buxom images of the new reality.
Vonnegut's later novels are peppered with self-knowing references to the embattled positions of science and science fiction in popular culture, and one of his most rumbustious efforts, The Sirens of Titan, is a full-blown, ironic homage to science fiction ideas and mechanisms. In this novel, he invents the wonderful cosmic phenomenon of the chronosynclastic infundibulum, which, against their will, sweeps a man and his dog (Kazak, hound of space) across the universe, and manifests them at particular places and times.

In this context there are also, of course, the wonderful novels of John Wyndham to consider, in which he weaves technological and social, cultural and psychological themes together with great deftness, and the more obviously 'literary' SF novelists such as J.G. Ballard and Iain (M) Banks (as opposed to the M-less iain Banks who writes 'mainstream' novels).

So it goes.


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