[GUEST POST] Martin Berman-Gorvine on Anti-Sophisticated, Postmodern Science Fiction
Martin Berman-Gorvine is the author of three science fiction novels: Seven Against Mars (Wildside Press, 2013), 36 (Livingston Press, 2012), and, as Martin Gidron, of The Severed Wing (Livingston Press, 2002), which received the 2002 Sidewise Award for Alternate History (Long Form) at the International Science Fiction Convention in Toronto in 2003. His short story “Palestina,” set in an alternate history in which Israel lost its war of independence, was published in Interzone magazine’s May/June 2006 issue, and was a finalist for the Sidewise Award (Short Form), and his short story “The Tallis” appeared in Jewish Currents magazine, May 2002. He is a professional journalist, currently serving as a reporter for the Bureau of National Affairs newsletter Human Resources Report. He lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. with his wife, two children, two orange tabby cats, two shy, overgrown kittens, and a sort of Muppet dog.
It’s easy to dispose of the old slander that science fiction is not literature by appealing to any number of genre works that can hold their own against any approved texts in the literary canon. I’d take Robert Charles Wilson’s Hugo-winning 2005 novel Spin against any of Philip Roth’s novels, for example, for its depth of characterization and empathetic presentation of real human dilemmas in a world experiencing violent and dizzying change.
Another way to demonstrate science fiction’s literary status is that trends seen in the broader literary world are also seen within the genre. Postmodernism, which I would define as the introduction of meta-awareness into fiction on the model of the dream within a dream, is one such trend, and Jasper Fforde’s delightful series of Thursday Next novels, in which the heroine seeks allies to battle formidable foes from the world of classic fiction, is an excellent example. (As to whether Ms. Next’s adventures are “science fiction” or “fantasy,” Dr. Johnson’s wry observation that “definitions are tricks for pedants” is the best answer.)
Of course, what’s now called postmodernism goes back to the very first novel of any kind, Miguel de Cervantes’ sixteenth-century classic Don Quixote. The eponymous would-be knight has been driven mad, to inhabit a land of his fantasies, through the reading of romances, and his friends try in vain to cure him of his delusions by burning his books, among which are the works of one Miguel de Cervantes!
The biggest problem with present-day postmodernism is that it has become ubiquitous in fiction while evolving into a joyless game of knowingness between the writer and the reader. I suspect this is due to writers losing sight of the joy and wonder of storytelling, the duty to the reader to entertain and have a fabulous time doing so.
In this regard, I must confess I had an unfair advantage in writing Seven Against Mars, in the form of my younger son Daniel, then 12 years old, to whom I read aloud each passage as I wrote it. He was my sharpest, most discerning critic, meeting any drift on my part into literary gamesmanship with an eye-roll and a drawled, “Daa-ad!” I had to keep the story entertaining or risk losing him to the professionally if mechanically entertaining joys of the video game world, and I knew I had succeeded when I stopped reading and he asked, with disappointment in his voice, “Is that all you’ve written so far?” As a bonus, I realized when I had finished writing the novel that I had on my hands a book tailored to the “young adult” audience.
Seven Against Mars has two heroines: Rachel Zilber, a 15-year-old Polish Jewish girl who is trapped with her parents in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 as the story opens, and Katie Webb, a 15-year-old girl from the independent Republic of Texas in the mid-twenty-second century. They are brought together by the power of the imagination, in this case Rachel’s writing of Golden Age-style pulp SF as an escape from her terrible circumstances. The escape becomes a literal one when, on the night her parents are rounded up and deported to a death camp, Rachel wakes to find herself on the jungle-world Venus she has written about in her stories, face-to-face with her made-up gunslinger hero Zap-Gun Jack Flash and his girlfriend, the Martian Princess Anya Olympulska. To Rachel’s further astonishment, they are joined by Katie, who read Rachel’s stories in an anthology titled Lost Classics of Science Fiction and found herself transported to the “fantasy” Venus when her parents were taken prisoner by invading soldiers from the “Southland.”
Without giving away too much, I can say that my heroines must fight a bad guy who resists the cliché of the villain delivering a lengthy speech while giving the good guys ample time to foil his fiendish plot, but who has a weakness for the cliché about throwing virgins into live volcanoes. Why two heroines? Well, they are needed to illuminate a truth that some of our too-clever postmodernists have forgotten, as have bad writers everywhere: that fiction is a cooperative effort of the imagination between the writer and the reader, not a solipsistic vomiting out onto the page (or into the computer) of the creator’s every thought, nor a twisty labyrinth devised to be solved only by the in-the-know lit-crit reader. We writers all need Daniels (and editors!) to keep us honest.
Follow Rachel, Katie, and Anya online at their character blog, martianperspective.blogspot.com. Follow Martin online at his website, martinbermangorvine.com, facebook.com/martingorvine, or via Twitter @MeshuggeWriter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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