And the soul of science fiction

I have a new piece in The Bookseller explaining that books can be ‘misinformation’ too. Trust in media sources is bottoming out, and books aren’t immune. This is particularly critical for publishing: the book is already a threatened form of culture, and the authority a book conveys is one of its few remaining USPs. There have been some, to put it frankly, egregious fuckups”

Just in recent years, we’ve seen books on mental health that actively discourage psychiatry, diet handbooks that cause eating disorders, and political histories that are thinly veiled antisemitic conspiracy theories. These are the equal of any bizarre post on Facebook, yet unlike Aunt Bea’s Paintshopped memes, this misinformation comes in book form, given all the authority and credibility thereof.

It needs to be sorted out, and that is a ‘whole of society’ problem: in this case, a society of authors, publishers and retailers.

On a related note, I’m hosting Nina Jankowicz for a discussion of her fascinating new book, How to Lose the Information War. This event takes place on July 29th, and is the fifth in a series of discussions around conflict and communications. So far, the series has touched on Ezra Pound, the rise of ISIS, YouTube algorithms, and fascist pizza (a real thing). Jankowicz is one of the leading experts in mis- and disinformation, and I’m really looking forward to the conversation.

Adam Roberts on the political soul of science fiction. A 2013 piece, but still relevant.

But here's the thing: my genre divides politically in a manner unlike others. Writers of historical or crime fiction might be rightwing or leftwing, but few would attempt to define those genres as intrinsically left- or right-leaning. SF is different: the genre defines itself according to two diametrically opposed ideological stances.

Adam Roberts

The tension between reactionary/progressive movement (nostalgia/change, etc) is not unique to SF: it applies across communities and cultures of all forms. But in SF, with its explicit focus on ‘talking about types of future’, it is simply easier to see.

I also think Adam is a generous and empathetic writer. He’s very clear about where he, personally, stands, but is able to understand - if not agree with - the persuasive virtues of the ‘other’ side. With all the debates about division and cancelling and whatnot, that’s a rare and important talent, and a necessary one, if any division is going to be healed.

We can empathise with, and understand, the ‘other side’ without subscribing to, or endorsing, it. Again, easier when we’re talking about rocketship fiction than, say, the 2020 election.

How Covid-19 has shattered the ‘myth’ of college in America. A really powerful insight into one, very specific, audience and one, very specific, change that has come about as a result of Covid. Whatever the long-term future looks like, certainly the next few years are going to be incredibly disrupted. That may be nothing in the ultimate scheme of things, but it is odd to think of a generation with ‘no college experience’.

Again, using a pop cultural lens, that is one of the most common tropes for finding oneself, for escaping, for achieving, for starting over… All, for one generation at least, toast. Every teen movie on Netflix is, now, more or less, a historical drama, with ‘the university experience’ as dated a cultural reference as corsets and ‘coming out’ parties.

Another example: for our tiny Iguanodon, every children’s book is - essentially - wrong. They don’t have masks on, there’s no social distancing. They show him pretty pictures of crowds and hugs and bustling classrooms and group activities that, will not, for him, exist. At the rate children develop, he’ll be long past these books by the time these books are ‘right’ again. Again, this is very specific example for a very specific audience, but goes to show how everything, everywhere is subtly off. We are, on top of everything else, living in an era of all-pervasive cultural cognitive dissonance.

Tor.com’s Reviewers’ Choice for Best of 2020 So Far (TDCRCBO2020SF) - despite the flagrant misuse of ‘best’, this isn’t even pretending to be an objective listicle. Tor.com’s regular (and irregular, cough) reviewers pick their favourites, and it always winds up being an eclectic mix of under the radar books. My contributions are Drew Williams' sensitive-but-splodey space opera, and Stark Holborn’s self-published math-Western.

Given the way the first half of the year has gone, they’re both comfort reads, but ones that mix shameless escapism with hidden depths.

Speaking of the best… This year’s volume of The Best of British Fantasy is now available. It features Tube monsters, a very good dog, and Billy Zane.

Finally: Monsters & Mullets revisits Beauty & the Beast (2017) and it is hilarious.

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