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Elsewhere

By / October 27, 2016 / no comments

Work forced me to take my eyes off the blog for the last week or so, but I’ve still been keeping a lookout for interesting things to share. And actually there’s quite a bit recently.

Let’s start with someone who has a good claim to be one of the very best sf writers: Ursula K. Le Guin. Despite her saying that she has given up writing fiction, it’s been a busy time for her recently recently with four new books coming out in the space of a month or two.

Ursula K. Le Guin: The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs (The Library of America)   The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin   The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin   Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week
For a start there’s The Complete Orsinia, which makes her only the second living author after Philip Roth to be honoured by the Library of America. Then there’s her collected novellas, The Found and the Lost, along with a collection of her best short stories, The Unreal and the Real. And most recently there’s a new collection of her non-fiction, Words are my Matter. Essential reading, all! And to celebrate those publications, a wealth of profiles and interviews and articles have appeared. For instance, in The Nation Zoe Carpenter says we need Le Guin more than ever. In the New Yorker, Julie Phillips (author of the brilliant biography of James Tiptree, James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, and now working on a much-anticipated biography of Le Guin) provides a fascinating profile of the author. While in a Guardian interview, Le Guin reflects on the limitations of genre.

It’s hardly a coincidence that both Le Guin and Tiptree turn up in this interesting polemic on science fiction’s women problem.

Le Guin is, of course, one of the Grand Masters of the genre, but she doesn’t appear in this video showing some of the biggest names in sf. Indeed, other than a brief glimpse of Andre Norton, it’s an overwhelmingly male list including Frederik Pohl, Damon Knight, William Tenn, and Brian Aldiss among others. Still, it is fascinating to catch a glimpse of these almost legendary figures.

You might think, or indeed hope, that one of the ways science fiction has changed is that it is no longer the exclusive province of a few predominantly white men, but I don’t think that’s the change that is the focus of this pair of linked podcasts on “Where does science fiction meet science fact?” and “How has science fiction changed over the decades?

Actually, the changing face of science fiction seems to be all the rage right now, as witness this essay on why society needs science fiction, notice in particular the interesting if somewhat eccentric list of key books at the end of the article.

The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other StoriesWhat’s most interesting about science fiction, of course, is the way it changes to meet changing conditions. And you get some sense of that in this essay by Vandana Singh (author of The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet), which looks at science fiction in the anthropocene.

Vandana Singh is, of course, part of one of the most exciting new developments in science fiction, our growing awareness of sf from other cultures and other peoples. And a couple of other pieces I’ve found recently act as an introduction to parts of that sf diaspora.

Everfair: A NovelFor a start, Nisi Shawl, whose new novel Everfair looks set to be one of the most interesting books of the year, provides a crash course in the history of black science fiction. Meanwhile, Christopher Kastensmidt has produced a list of Brazilian science fiction in English that looks remarkably tempting.

Of course, we can and should never forget the anglophone writers who did so much to shape science fiction. So here, for example, 150 years after his birth, the Paris Review publishes a letter that H.G. Wells wrote to James Joyce about Finnegans Wake, which concludes, wonderfully: “My warmest wishes to you Joyce. I can’t follow your banner any more than you can follow mine. But the world is wide and there is room for both of us to be wrong.”

Another of the great male writers who changed the way we understand science fiction was J.G. Ballard, and a couple of recent BBC radio dramatisations of his stories put you inside the soundscape of his head in a rather disturbing way.

One of the things I like to do in these links posts is point out some of the recent scientific developments that overlap with science fiction, and believe me there has been an awful lot of that recently.

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy)For instance, Elon Musk has announced plans to colonise Mars, even though Kim Stanley Robinson (author of the incredible Mars trilogy), has said that his plan is a 1920s science fiction cliche. And thinking of Mars, NASA has just released some stunning images of that planet.

And while we’re on the subject of our nearest neighbours, the Japanese Space Agency has released some absolutely jaw-dropping images of the Moon; while the European Space Agency has been making plans for a moon base.

And then there’s our other near neighbour, Venus, famous for its dense clouds and toxic atmosphere, but that hasn’t stopped people thinking about how we might colonize Venus, complete with some very familiar science fiction ideas such as cloud cities and terraforming.

A little further out into space (okay, a lot further out) one of the most breathtaking of recent discoveries came when NASA scientists observed, for the first time ever, something coming out of a black hole. Our previous understanding of black holes would suggest that that was impossible, so this could be a major development.

Something else that might get science fiction writers beavering away in new directions, is that a computer has apparently solved the grandfather paradox of time travel, though to be honest I’ve always regarded that as a logic puzzle rather than a scientific one.

Finally, one team of scientists is reporting that signals they have detected from space are “probably” coming from aliens. Well, don’t hold your breath waiting for proof of that one; but if it’s true …

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Paul

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