On a shelved "alternative present" project that never bloomed, because the idea alone wasn't enough.
In my earlier post about projects-to-be, I forgot to mention the little bit of closet-cleaning and reorganization I undertook on my idea-wiki, which turned up a whole passel of ideas that were thisclose to being useful ideas but for one reason or another didn't make it. One of them was a story project that went by the codename Alt-Pop.
The idea went something like this: it's 1994, but not our 1994. The "Video LP" (VLP) format reigns supreme in households across the nation. The LISP-PC runs on most every desktop. Claire Noto's The Tourist is in theaters and hitting the bigtime, and everyone's jazzed for the summer release of The Stars My Destination, directed by James Cameron. Alan Vega and Martin Rev have released their third gold album and are touring in support of Bruce Springsteen¹. And so on.
The problem I had with the story was simple: I couldn't for the life of me figure out the larger point of setting up a counterfactual modern history.
An intriguing SF concept is soon plundered for a mere neo-noir plotline, but save the pieces anyway.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a guy discovers, or has someone hand to him, a bag full of money. Bad guys come after him. The cops come after him. A pretty girl gets mixed up with him. Chaos ensues. It’s easily the most hoary of noir clichés, and every generation of filmmakers tries to come back to it with new graphics and hardware.
In Time takes the bag-o-bucks and swaps it for a science-fiction concept that, I admit, I adored for its audacity and potential for social commentary. At some unspecified point in our future, money no longer changes hands. Instead, time really has become money. The world is populated with folks who are the product of careful genetic engineering. At the age of twenty-five, they stop aging—and a fluorescent clock on their arm begins counting down from one year. They can work to accumulate time—or gamble, or steal—but as soon as that clock hits zero, they’re dead. It’s Logan’s Run by way of D.O.A., if you want to get your science-fiction chocolate in my noir peanut butter some more.
Those who say "art form X is dead" really mean to add "except for my works of it."
In a discussion on another forum about how an artist in a given field can hold forth about art form X being dead, I came to the conclusion that they really mean to say something else: This art form is dead (or dying, or irrelevant), except for all of my instances of said art form. (Because if said form really is dead, why bother creating anything in it?)
What we have here is nothing more than a pretentious way of saying everyone else in your field sucks, except of course for you.
I know I've edged close to saying things like this, which is why I have to face up to it. It helps no one to say that your favorite art form is "dead". Imperiled, maybe, or just lacking for recent examples of it at its best -- but really, when has there not been an age when all of those things seemed to apply? Every golden age is only golden when you're looking back over your shoulder at it.
It wasn't a golden age when we were in it.
if you're inclined to believe that fantasy fiction (for example) has been ruined since the late 1970s/early 1980s by the influx of Tolkien imitators, people who take Dungeons & Dragons as the baseline assumption of the fantasy genre, and (eventually) the rise of shallow grimdarkery as the dominant mode, then you're likely to see the golden age of fantasy as being at some point between the 1930s and 1960s, despite the fact that genre fiction didn't get much critical cred at the time. As said in my first comment, there's nothing which ties the golden age of criticism to the golden age of the subject of that criticism (assuming the term "golden age" is even remotely useful, which this conversation makes me doubt).
Emphasis mine, and in fact I would argue the two ages cannot be congruent for one simple reason: it's only really possible to understand such things in retrospect, not as they're unfolding around you. ("The owl of Minerva flies at dusk," as someone else once said: you can only fully understand something after it's over.)
It's easier to see now that Tolkien's work was not intended to give rise to a whole section of the fantasy shelf on its own, but rather that it at best flanked a whole slew of other authors doing remarkably dissimilare things. Nobody confuses Peake with C.S. Lewis, for instance, and neither of those are conflated with Tolkien.
Plus, the amount of criticial cred that SF&F generally got didn't really start reaching anything like mainstream acceptability until the mid-Seventies at earliest. I suspect, ironically enough, the one thing that allowed it to start getting exactly that was when the cultural products that took on those labels started making tons and tons of money, and could no longer be argued with as a cultural force. At that point, you don't have any choice but to start some kind of scholarly dialogue about such a thing.
Why masculinity in SF&F most often manifests as chest-thumping meatheadedness.
A really good essay on the way several of the most popular TV shows in recent history are all about threatened masculinity:
... I think that we deserve shows of this caliber that focus on a less narrow aspect of humanity, and for that matter, shows that recognize that the lust for power and control, and the fear of death, are not qualities unique to a certain gender or race.
This came by way of a Ferretbrain article on the House of Cards remake, which argued something similar: the show isn't about political power or revenge, but threatened masculinity, and because it doesn't recognize this properly winds up becoming something a lot less than it ought to be. The article also argues that you don't need eleven episodes to tell a story that was told more succinctly before in four, something you don't have to reach too far back into my archives to know I agree with completely. But the real meat of the piece was about masculinity.
This page contains an archive of posts in the category Science Fiction Repair Shop for the month of March 2013.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind