MIND MELD: Ecological Science Fiction

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The recent United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio 2012 or Rio+20, where the heads of state of 192 governments discussed sustainable development and declared their commitment to the promotion of a sustainable future, has – even if for a short while – galvanized the media attention. Science fiction, however, has never turned its back on ecology, being a constant theme, growing strong particularly in the past few years, with authors ranging from the master ecothinker Kim Stanley Robinson to younger and prolific Paolo Bacigalupi, all focusing in strategies to survival of humankind under a grim scenario of climate change.

So, we asked this week’s panelists:

Q: With all the debates on global warming, the constant fear that we may be running scarce of basic resources such as potable water in the near future, what is science fiction’s role in this panorama? What are your favorite SFnal scenarios for problem-solving regarding the maintenance and sustainability of ecosystems, if any? Is there any scenario science fiction could be exploring better with relation to ecology?

Here’s what they said…

Tobias Buckell
Tobias S. Buckell was born in the Caribbean and lived on a yacht until he moved to the US. He writes science fiction. His latest novel, Arctic Rising, is out from Tor Books. He lives online at www.TobiasBuckell.com.

Is potable water really that huge of a threat, I wonder? I think my background actually plays into my answer here. I spent my high school years in exactly the sort of dystopia that people posit when talking about ‘peak water’ or ‘water wars.’ In St. Thomas, USVI, the sole spring doesn’t produce much in the way of potable water for the 150,000 or so people on the island at any given time (residents plus tourists). As a result, water is made using reverse osmosis from the ocean. There’s a lot of ocean in the world, well over some 1 billion cubic kilometers. What happens is price. The reverse osmosis system requires energy (in St. Thomas it’s diesel power, so the whole edifice of being able to drink there requires fossil fuels) to be created, and the cost of water I grew up using was $65 per 1,000 gallons, versus $1.50 in Ohio for the very same amount. I grew up with water costing 50 times what it does in the US. What does it do? Well, it changes your conservation behavior, for one. I remember reading in the papers that Californians were in a drought, and being told to limit their showers to ‘fifteen minutes’ and laughing. Who the hell took fifteen minute showers? That shit was expensive.

But even at over 50 times the cost, we didn’t don our Mad Max American Football-inspired leather uniforms and head out to do battle. There were water trucks, more conservation, more awareness of water use, and lots of clever human hacks around the situation (roofs that collected rain, cisterns, etc). People are clever.

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MIND MELD: Current Politics In SF/F

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2012 is an election year in the United States and you can bet we’ll be inundated with all things political. Our question is –

Q: How should SF writers respond to the politics of their time, if at all?

Here’s what they said…

Heather Massey
Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express. She’s also an author: Her latest sci-fi romance is Queenie’s Brigade from Red Sage Publishing. To learn more about her published work, visit www.heathermassey.com.

For me, it’s very, very simple: I love a good wish-fulfillment fantasy. One of my favorites is the idea of a female President in a futuristic setting. Battlestar Galactica’s President Laura Roslin ranks right up there at number one.

The concept of a female President defies expectations, invites readers/viewers to question their assumptions about women, and serves up an empowering character.

It’s disheartening to think that in my lifetime, the only place I can experience a female President is in fiction. But I’m grateful that authors and filmmakers have dared to dream and have pushed those characters into the spotlight.
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This week’s Mind Meld topic was suggested by John Klima. We asked this week’s panelists (including John):

Q: Which SF/F/H book do you love that everyone else hates? Which SF/F/H book do you hate that everyone else loves?

Here’s what they said…

Farah Mendlesohn
Farah Mendlesohn used to edit Foundation, the International Review of Science Fiction, is the President of the International Association of the Fantastic of the Arts, and is about to send McFarland a Manuscript about Children’s and Teen science fiction. She has read around 400 of these books so you don’t have to.

Gene Wolfe’s Wizard-Knight. As far as I am concerned this was like reading C.S.Lewis writing Conan the Barbarian. I was mostly repulsed by the ethics, and while I quite understand that this was meant to be a juvenile wet dream of muscular morality, that doesn’t mean I need to read it. The frightening thing was that when I presented this analysis to several well known critics, they agreed with me, and then went on to explain why it was a work of genius.

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“Best of the Year” lists start appearing as early as November, so we are perhaps a little late in asking folks around the community:

Q: What were the best genre-related books, movies and/or shows you consumed in 2009?

[Also added was this note: They don't have to have been released in 2009. Feel free to choose any combination of genres (science fiction/fantasy/horror) and media (books/movies/shows) you wish to include.]

Read on to see their picks (and also check out Part 1)…

Jack McDevitt
Jack McDevitt is the author of fifteen novels including The Devil’s Eye and Time Travelers Never Die, both from Ace. McDevitt has been a frequent Nebula finalist. He won for his 2006 novel, Seeker.

Books I most enjoyed:

  • WWW:Wake, Robert Sawyer
  • Mars Life, Ben Bova
  • Plague Zone, Jeff Carlson
  • Overthrowing Heaven, Mark Van Name
  • Rift in the Sky, Julie Czerneda

I’ve just started Galileo’s Dream, by Kim Stanley Robinson. Am hooked already.

We haven’t seen any SF films I can recall. A TV series that stands out: FlashForward.

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Recent events and discussions once again bring the topic of genre fiction’s mainstream respectability to the forefront. So we thought it’d be timely to ask this week’s panelists:

Q: In your opinion, does literary science fiction and fantasy have mainstream respect? Why, if at all, does it need mainstream approval? What would such approval mean for genre fiction?

Read on to see their level-setting responses…

Gene Wolfe
Gene Wolfe is a science fiction author noted for his complex and dense prose which is liberally influenced by his Catholic faith. He has won the Nebula Award and World Fantasy Award four times and has been nominated for the Hugo Award multiple times.

That’s a softball. No. Literary sf and fantasy are not respected by mainstream critics or the mainstream professoriate. Neither needs mainstream approval, which would diminish (and perhaps destroy) both. Just look at what they DO respect. Look at what poetry was as late as the early 20th Century, and what it is now.

Now and then I’m asked at cons why I don’t write fiction of the respected sort. You know, he is a professor and she is a professor and they are having adulterous affairs, and they are almost overcome with guilt and angst, and there is no God, and scientific progress doesn’t enter into it, and just about everybody in the world is upper middle class.

When that happens, I ask the questioner abut Martin du Gard. Have you read him? Have you heard of him? Invariably the answers are no and no. Then I explain that Martin du Gard won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the year H. P. Lovecraft died.

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SF Tidbits for 9/18/09

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As is usual around awards-time, there is much discussion about the usefulness of awards, the books that made the list of finalists, and what the Best Novel shortlist says about the field. With the Hugo awards coming up, we thought it timely to ask this week’s panelists a series of Hugo-related questions:

  1. How would you rate the track record of the Hugo Awards at directing readers to the best that the genre has to offer?
  2. How well do you think the Hugo shortlist, year over year, represents to the outside world what speculative fiction has to offer?
  3. Which of this year’s finalists do you predict will receive the Hugo award for Best Novel?
  4. Which of this year’s finalists do you think should receive the Hugo award for Best Novel?
  5. Which books do you think were missing from this year’s list of Best Novel finalists?

Read on to see their answers…

Cheryl Morgan
Cheryl has been active in the science fiction community for many years with her Emerald City magazine. She can currently be found writing at Cheryl’s Mewsings and at SF Awards Watch.

1. How would you rate the track record of the Hugo Awards at directing readers to the best that the genre has to offer?

I wouldn’t. The Hugos are a popular vote award. The books that win are generally good books, but it would be silly to suggest that they are representative of some ideal of literary quality (always assuming you agree that such a thing exists in the first place). Furthermore, Hugo winners are always books of their time, voted on very quickly after they are published. It is entirely possible that deserving works get missed because they are not as widely available as books offered by the major US publishers. Also books do sometimes fail the test of time. What I will say is that the Hugos have a good track record of rewarding books that are good examples of the sort of science fiction that was popular in the year they were voted upon. It is probably better to look at the full nomination slate than just the winner, but I think very few Hugo winners have been bad books (except in the eyes of those who feel that any book that doesn’t meet their exacting standards is, de facto, BAD!!!).

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