Science Fiction Repair Shop: Come Sit In My Studebaker Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-08-22 14:00:00 No comments

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In Daniel M. Pinkwater's Alan Mendelson, The Boy From Mars (it's a great book, go read it already), there is a wonderful moment when one of the characters explains why the use of psychic powers for boorish mischief does such terrible harm. I don't have the book here in front of me, so I'll have to paraphrase.

Imagine (he says) you lived in a world where there was no such thing as an automobile, and then one day you stumbled across a fully-restored Studebaker Lark, all gassed up and ready to go. You'd invite all your friends to come and marvel at this strange wonder, but you wouldn't know that it was a machine with the power to take you from place to place. Instead, you thought the function of the Studebaker Lark was to sit in the front seat and play the radio. You'd pretty much have missed the point, right?

I've come to call this attitude Studebaker Sitting, and I've ended up devising a label for it if only because I see it so often. Mostly, I see it in creative terms, and specifically, I see it in SF&F shirking its birthright.

SF&F is special to me, in the sense of it refreshing the parts other words do not reach. More than ever, we live in a world that is underpinned by science and technology (they deserve to be discussed independently; the two share a lot of territory but are not the same house, so to speak), that is defined by it and shaped by it, and the more freedom of thought we give ourselves to speculate about it, the better. And by freedom of thought I do not mean just wondering about what happens if this or that invention comes into existence; that's the easy stuff. I'm talking also about what happens when an entirely new kind of human being comes into existence, one that is a product of this new age and is as unlike what we are now as we are unlike the Romans or the Tasaday of yore.

The more we treat SF as nothing but a circus, penny arcade, or dumping ground, the less likely we are to get anything back from it. But we think the point of SF is to get distracted by shiny things, and so we sit in the front seat of the Studebaker and play the radio.

Note that I'm not suggesting there was a time once long ago when SF was daring and thrilling and nothing but, and we should go back to those times, etc. I suspect my use of the word "birthright" was a mistake, but it was the word that popped into mind — and now that I think about it some more, it might be the best one. SF&F can do things that no other fictional mode can, and we should endeavor to make good on that promise as thoroughly as possible.

Don't just sit there. Drive.

Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop creativity science fiction writing