Saturday, October 6, 2012

More Reactions to Pauk Kincaid

Paul Kincaid's comments on the state of science fiction in last month's L.A. Review of Books is still sending out ripples through the critical universe.

Some of these ripples appear in a lengthy two-part interview Kincaid gave the site Nerds of a Feather Flock Together, in which he clarifies and elaborates some of the ideas he presented in that article regarding science fiction's crises of "ideas" (the lack of engagement with the genre's actual possibilities), "identity" (the tendency to write science fiction as fantasy to avoid science fiction-al rigor, or write fantasy sans the fantastic) and "confidence" (as writers eschew real exploration of their worlds).

Two other pieces seem especially worthy of mention.

One is Jonathan McCalmont's response to Kincaid's recent writing in "Cowardice, Laziness and Irony: How Science Fiction Lost The Future." There is much that I agree with here. (McCalmont's comments on the genre's refusal to take anything seriously, its tendency to push buttons without taking a coherent intellectual position, the unwillingness or inability to imagine serious alternatives, are all very much on the mark. So too his remarks regarding the attitude of the genre's "gatekeepers" toward the type of debate Kincaid has started.) There is also much that I disagree with. (His take on steampunk's appeal seems to me representative of only a part of that subgenre, and his readings of the Enlightenment idea of a universal subject, and of identity politics, differ substantially from my own.) But I found all of it worthwhile - and the same goes for the lengthier-than-usual comments thread following from it (thirty-nine posts, some quite long, at the time of this writing, with Pat Cadigan and Jeff Vandermeer among those who have dropped by to offer their thoughts).

The other, rather shorter, reply that caught my eye is M. John Harrison's "Pink Slime Fiction," in which he memorably sums up Kincaid's reading of the genre's prevailing pattern as
the intense commodification of ideas & styles evacuated of their original meaning & impact, an apparently deliberate industrialisation of the commonplace & worn out.
Kincaid, when asked for a prognosis, suggested in the interview that the genre seems to be "going through one of its phases of being inward looking, repeating itself rather than reinventing itself." McCalmont and Harrison, too, have some hope of the field's recovery, and all three can point to recent work in the field they have enjoyed, but as McCalmont's analysis demonstrates explicitly and at length, some of the problems of the genre appear to be not just genre problems, but problems broadly and deeply rooted in the cultural moment.

New and Noteworthy (Star Trek)
New and Noteworthy (Spielberg's Early TV Work, The Dark Knight Returns' 25th, Niall Harrison at the Strange Horizons Blog)
Paul Kincaid and Last Year's Best
Review: The Centauri Device, by M. John Harrison

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