The “new” sf debate

It seems to have started with The Mundane Manifesto, which arose from a discussion between Geoff Ryman and a class at Clarion East, a science fiction and fantasy writers’ workshop at Michigan State. Simply summarized (at least from my standpoint), the manifesto asserts that sf should abandon such topics as interstellar travel, time travel, alternative universes and, except in very rare circumstance, aliens. Instead, sf needs to focus on more “mundane” issues and recognize that “Earth is all we have. What will we do with it?” They now have a blog that promises to “transform the way you think about SF.”

As might be expected, the manifesto is not going unchallenged. Ian McDonald, whose River of Gods is nominated for the 2005 Hugo for best novel, recently weighed in with a lengthy broadside. McDonald’s position is the manifesto “is totally unnecessary to produce the type of science-fiction it celebrates” and that sf “has a much richer palate of colours.” In other words, by advocating sf restrict itself to certain areas the manifesto stifles creativity. His approach is interesting because even McDonald asserts that River of Gods, which I have not read, probably meets the “MSF” criteria.

Now Charles Stross, he of the multiple sf shortlists (three nominations each, including best novel, for both the 2005 Locus Award and the 2005 Hugo), has weighed in. He observes that, for whatever reason, about every 20 years, sf writers start “denouncing each other as running dogs over their iced lattes.” While Charlie believes the manifesto “is as much a provocation as a prescription,” he says if he were going to start writing manifestos,”I’d start by thinking about the values I want my fiction to reflect rather than obsessing over the calibre of bullet to load in my Browning.”

I would tend to side with McDonald and Stross. I am a fan of what the manifesto describes as MSF. Yet the bottom line is the effectiveness of a sf archetype depends immeasurably more on the creativity of the artist than the canvas he or she uses. Hopefully, the worst that will come of this is a spilled iced latte or two.

A new focus on human beings: their science, technology, culture, politics, religions, individual characters, needs, dreams, hopes and failings.

The Mundane Manifesto

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