Monday, October 23, 2006

Mundane Mundane

This isn’t about Torchwood, although the title might suggest otherwise. While that premiered last night on BBC3, I was happily watching real drama play out in the last ever Prime Suspect.

There, the final act of The Final Act ratcheted up the tension to near breaking point. After the dull-as-mud return of Cracker, which brought nothing new to the character, Prime Suspect was all about character.

In Jane Tennison, here was someone who had sacrificed family, friends and relationships to put their career first, facing retirement and wondering whether it had all been worth it. In the course of the murder investigation she drunkenly severed relationships or ham-fistedly tried to make new connections, coming close to destroying the case.

Anyway, to business.

I can’t remember what tortuously circuitous route brought us to it, but while I was up with Work Buddy discussing the website requirements we ended up discovering the concept of Mundane Science Fiction. And boy, was that something to behold.

In terms of mundane, we’re talking “of or pertaining to this world or earth as contrasted with heaven”, as opposed to “common, ordinary, banal or unimaginative”. Although the opposite could certainly be true. reprints the list of central ideas fundamental to Mundane SF. In concept, it reminded me of the 1995 Dogme Manifesto, although in this instance, Mundane SF is more along the lines of Dogmess.

It starts with:

Interstellar travel remains unlikely. Warp drives, worm holes, and other forms of faster-than-light magic are wish fulfilment fantasies rather than serious speculation about a possible future.


There is no evidence whatsoever of intelligences elsewhere in the universe. That absence of evidence is not evidence of absence -- however, it is unlikely that alien intelligences will overcome the physical constraints on interstellar travel any better than we can.

And ends on:

The most likely future is one in which we only have ourselves and this planet.

In between are six other points, which you can go and look up yourself if you can be at all bothered.

I may be wrong but to me this looks like what comes from a bunch of SF writers getting together over a pint or four and bemoaning the fact that the science fiction section of a chain bookstore is jammed full of Star Wars and Star Trek tie-ins, space opera tat, and Tolkien rip-offs. Certainly it’s a reaction to the naively optimistic vision of a happy, shiny future conjured up by Gene Roddenberry and the juvenile escapism cobbled together by George Lucas. But it seems to go too far that they’re cutting of their nose to spite their face.

Robert A. Heinlein once described science fiction as “a realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method.” Which is something of a mouthful. Ted Sturgeon joined in with “a good science-fiction story is a story about human beings, with a human problem, and a human solution, that would not have happened at all without its science content.” Both of which may, or may not, include interstellar travel or contact with different species.

Then there is the speculative fiction, the satires that reflect today’s society with all its foibles and shortcomings, and something now called slipstream fiction, which seems to be magic realism by another name. But to produce science fiction that takes us to where we will be in one hundred years or one thousand years or ten thousand years takes a lot of thought, theory, and hard work. It involves looking at where he are today with advancements in science, and seeing where that could lead. It involves thought and reason and understanding. And most of all, it involves hard graft putting all the elements together, something not everyone is prepared to do.

Having grown up reading the likes of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and Frank Herbert’s Dune trilogy, along with the likes of Bug Jack Barron, The Forever War and Ringworld, I left science fiction literature behind in my late teens, virtually ignoring it until I was recently given The Reality Dysfunction, Peter F. Hamilton’s 1200+ page doorstop of a novel to read.

The Reality Dysfunction adheres to both Heinlein and Sturgeon’s edicts and buzzes with ideas and intelligence. Hamilton has certainly used thought, reason and an understanding of science to produce the novel. Which is something some contemporary writers don’t do, can’t do, or just can’t be bothered to do.

There is a website for Mundane SF: My browser steadfastly refuses to open it, which seems about right. As for Mundane SF’s premise, both Work Buddy and I agreed, it just sounds frankly dull.


At 10:31 pm, Blogger English Dave said...

I thought Prime Suspect worked really well because character and plot were intertwined much more than the usual ' okay let's cut away from the action to show how our protag has a tortured personal life which has nothing to do with the story' method which seems so beloved of the powers that be.

''It's about the story, stupid.'' It's why the best American dramas rip the piss out of British. If the foibles and failings of the protag have no effect on story then it is just writer, or more likely Exec masturbation.

At 7:01 am, Blogger wcdixon said...

Prime Suspect was always pretty solid - glad the newest doesn't disappoint.

But it's hard to write good - it really is. Just sayin'...


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