Thursday, January 30, 2020

Why Won't These Puppies Stay In The Box?

     Slate manages to misunderstand both science fiction and how stories work.

     It is, I suppose, impressive: swinging wildly, Slate's man-on-the-scene manages to tease out the "Hero's Journey" at the heart of many cyberpunk stories -- not to mention each and every one of John D. MacDonald's "Travis McGee" detective novels* -- and deems it a rut, a weakness:
     "Indeed, even when they reject it, these new subgenres often repeat the same gestures as cyberpunk, discover the same facts about the world, and tell the same story. Our hacker hero (or his magic-wielding counterpart) faces a huge system of power, overcomes long odds, and finally makes the world marginally better...."

     There aren't very many plots in the world.  "Hero's Journey" is one of the oldest and one of the strongest.

     Nevertheless, Slate thinks we got stuck at "punk."

     While cyberpunk has spawned a host of semi-sorta-subgenres ending in "punk," that's no more than a handy tag for kind of gadgety fun that SF has offered readers since before Gernsback; 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (Verne, 1870) is essentially steampunk -- or perhaps electropunk -- and the first modern steampunk novels (for instance, K. W. Jeter's Morlock Night or Thomas F. Montelone's The Secret Sea, both published in 1979†) precede the invention of the term "cyberpunk" (1983).

     No, the last time I checked -- yesterday -- Science Fiction had kept on moving.  Not in any one direction, and much as Slate's sources may like to be moan "... publishers always want to find evermore-narrowly-sliced microgenres, hoping to squeeze every aesthetic niche dry," publishers don't write this stuff and most books are not written to some puppetmaster's prescription. Books stem from the writer's imagination and succeed or fail based on how well readers connect with them.

     Science fiction writers and readers have always been the literary world's punks,  scruffy and not given much respect.  Is it any surprise that they have held onto the term once it came their way?
* Or the first Star Wars film, the Hunger Games series, and on and on.
† They have something else in common, as well, which I will leave as a surprise for the reader.

1 comment:

Jeff the Baptist said...

Heinlein said that there were just four kinds of stories: the gadget story, boy-meets-girl, the little Tailor, and the Man Who Learned Better. You'd think a Slate writer would know that.