Monday, January 28, 2008

Deep fiction ...

... Clive Thompson on Why Sci-Fi Is the Last Bastion of Philosophical Writing. (hat tip, Dave Lull.)


  1. Anonymous10:50 PM

    Philip Roth was one of the Greatest Living Writers until he published what will one day become the Most Disappointing Book of his career: The Plot Against America. And to hear Clive Thompson rattle off about Michael Chabon’s latest...well, there is a pattern developing here. Add Nathan Englander’s The Ministry of Special Cases for good measure, since Bryan Appleyard is so fond of the book and its author.

    I have said again and again that if John Updike wants to venture into troubled waters, the only thing he should tie to his leg is an anchor before jumping off a plank into the middle of the sea. But there is a reason that one of the worst manuscripts to be published in this century didn’t drown this WASP and others like him.

    What do all of these authors have in common?

    Let’s start at the beginning.

    We sure have come a long way since “Eli, the Fanatic,” haven’t we, Philip? Goodbye, Columbus, or something like that?

    And Michael. Really? Sitka? That is nearing the end of the alphabet, isn’t it?

    So I was really, really surprised that “Argentina” was still left when Nathan Englander’s turn came up.

    You would think the letter “A” would have disappeared a long time ago, or something like that.

    Sooner or later we would get to the letter “I” for Isreal (Is Real?), don’t ya?

    Maybe at the very end?


    Of course Science Fiction is the way to go, when “Reality” doesn’t work anymore?

    After all, The Sunday Times (of London, not reprinted in the USA) on the 19th June 1977 published Israel and Torture, a special investigation by the Insight Team (leading to the Geneva Convention of 1979), where you shall find in Israel’s responses the same rhetoric used by the Bush Administration today (is this the Bible they’ve been talking about?).

    Strangely, it took a couple of years for me to get this piece of “Reality” in the United States. It was not available in the Public Library. Or any bookstores. Not even the internet? (If you find it, please send me the link! I’ll do my best to educate my colleagues!)

    And don’t even pretend that you have read it. Because I know you haven’t.

    Frank and Bryan, that’s a “real” shame. But I guess what’s “real” is no longer the issue.

    Lucky you.

  2. What's most amusing to me about all this is that Clive is merely repeating what I and other SF fans have been saying for decades:

    Most of hte best writing isn't in mainstream fine-art fiction anymore, it's out in the genres. The mainstream neglects and ignores them at its own peril, beacuse that's where a lot of the great ideas have been for a very long time.

    As for Cormac MacCarthy, I think "The Road" was a travesty. Or maybe the travesty is the attention it gets when a "mainstream" writer starts dipping into the "genres." It's also nothing original or new. Better writers in SF have covered the exact same topic, in much better books, for at least the past half-century. "A Canticle for Liebowitz" is only the greatest of these many post-apocalyptic speculative fictions.

    But I give Clive points for figuring it out, and saying so publicly.

  3. Anonymous11:31 PM


    I see in your profile that one of your favorite movies is Baraka. I saw it when I was a kid and it left me disoriented for days.

    The only other film that has affected me like that is the internet film called Zeitgeist.

    Baraka is beautiful. Zeitgeist isn't. Unless you hold to some ideal that the "Truth' is beautiful.

    Good luck with that.

  4. Did your disorientation lead to ongoing dyspepsia, perhaps?

    I don't mind being labeled as a truthseeker. My definition of "beautiful" includes things other folks might deem ugly; but then, I'm a photographer who occasionally sees beauty even in ugly things.

    But yes I do reject the idea that only the ugly can be the truth of things. I'm just not that cynical. Well, duh, I DO read science fiction, which is not in bulk a cynical genre, but overall an optimistic one, even in its dyspeptic and dystopian moods.

  5. I shall only note that Israel is spelled as I just spelled it - with an ae, not an ea, which rather takes away from whatever point was being made.

  6. Anonymous10:08 PM

    A play on the word, Frank.

    If you read the rest of it, you will see that "Israel" is spelled correctly.

    I wonder if this is one of your habits. Dismissing something so easily without getting the whole of it.

    It might be one of my habits, too. In fact, I think it is a habit shared by ALL of us.

    Maybe I'm expecting too much, but I think Roth or Chabon should have written something about what has really happened since the creation of Israel in 1948.

    To call what they've done Sci-Fi is appropriate, that's for sure. Calling it philosophical is a stretch.

    But if you want to take the easy out on this one, go ahead. You'll be in good company with some of the biggest names in literature.

    I'm talking about the refusal and the failure to tackle and talk about some serious issues.

    Just because you choose to ignore something doesn't make it less real.

  7. I hold no brief for Roth or Chabon. I don't particularly like Roth and I haven't read Chabon. But what exactly "has really happened since the creation of Israel in 1948." I mean, I think I know the history well enough, but what exactly are you getting at?

  8. Oh, and my point about the misspelling is simply that it doesn't work (at least not for me) to make your point - precisely because said point requires that the word be misspelled.