Roundtable on “Planetary Writing” and SF in 2014

In The Economist‘s recent “The World in 2014” issue, Jonathan Ledgard writes:

“Dystopian literature will lose out to more optimistic fare in 2014. In part this shift is attributable to readers’ fatigue with mutant, vampire and (particularly) zombie stories. Mostly, though, it reflects a move in the popular consciousness from civilisational angst to the question of preserving biodiversity.”

Later, Ledgard concludes, “2014 will mark the rise of planetary writing: high literature which will seek a truer perspective of man’s place in time and space.”

Is Mr. Ledgard right? Why? Will we really see a decline in the types of stories he identifies? What does “planetary writing” make you think of, anyway?

Cecelia Holland

Stan Robinson does planetary writing, and one of his finest qualities is his profound optimism.

Michael Dirda

“Civilisational angst,” “biodiversity,” “planetary writing”–oh, come on, it’s hard to sound more pretentious. And when hasn’t “high literature” sought a truer perspective on “man’s place in time and space”?

Siobhan Carroll

I think I recognize the terms the article is using. “Planetary” is a popular term in discussions of global circulations. Whereas “globalization” emphasizes human control, the word “planetary” acknowledges human smallness in the face of vast natural forces. (Think a more environmentally-minded critique of globalization and neo-imperialism.) So, if I had to guess what “planetary writing” was, I’d look at texts like Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. And I’d be looking for two things:

1) Characters whose identity is created outside “traditional” categories like the nation, and emerges from new technologies and mobilities (in The Windup Girl, the windup girl, the refugees, and the ex-pats).

2) A natural setting that menaces or otherwise overwhelms the human forces in the foreground (the environmental deterioration in The Windup Girl and Ship Breaker).

Such visions are different from the Orwellian dystopia. Both 1984 and The Hunger Games imagine the dark future of old identity categories (Cold War superpowers, the USA) and their image of nature is of a pure, almost friendly force that offers the protagonist a refuge from the Nasty Human Society.

But I disagree with Ledgard that there’s necessarily a difference between dystopian and planetary writing: all the examples I can think of, like The Windup Girl, would also qualify as dystopian fiction. Maybe there’s some I’m not considering?

Ken Liu

“…it reflects a move in the popular consciousness from civilisational angst to the question of preserving biodiversity.”

1. I haven’t detected any shift in the “popular consciousness”–whatever it is–in this manner. As far as I can see, it’s politics and more politics.

2. I think predicting future cultural trends is a loser’s game.

I also don’t understand why mutant, vampire, and zombie stories are identified with dystopian literature. Most of the stories I’d classify as dystopian don’t have vampires or zombies in them.

Ellen Datlow

I can’t speak for science fiction “trends” nor would I like to speak about trends at all–because as Ken says, predicting future trends is a loser’s game.

But lumping vampires and zombies in as part of “dystopian” literature seems ignorant of horror as a fantastical mode. Vampire fiction has been around for over two hundred years.

Zombie fiction has been around that long and possibly earlier. So they’re not going away any time soon.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

The Economist piece reads to me like a press release promoting the Hieroglyph Project’s anthology. One book does not a trend define, and Ledgard’s argument (if it even merits that definition) seems glib in its assertions, and unforthcoming with any proof to back them up.

If we are really tired of dystopian futures, then why is the second Hunger Games film pulling crowds into the theaters in record numbers?

“[R]eaders’ fatigue with mutant, vampire and (particularly) zombie stories”–We have been for two decades, and yet, here’s this week’s batch …

And why, suddenly, is 2014 the turning point away from dark and dreary dystopias to biodiversity uplift? Did we pass out of a suppressive cloud future mopiness, a la Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave, and into a new dawn of thematic enlightenment overnight?

Russell Letson

Alvaro’s Economist snippet set off familiar alarms in my head, so I thought I’d better read the piece first to make sure they weren’t of the false kind. The full piece set off the same alarms, the ones that say, “Here’s somebody who doesn’t know much about SF talking about SF, all innocent confidence”–the kind of general-culture commentary that often winds up being quoted by Dave Langford in Ansible’s “As Others See Us” department. Vampires and zombies and rage-against-dystopia are doing well at the box office and bookstore (at least in the YA department) and on cable now, argal that sci-fi stuff is all about vampires, etc. But we’re gonna turn the corner come 2014 and get our heads around some, like, positive, *planetary* notions and stop being all negative and stuff and go back to inspiring engineers to build Big Things like, um, a new Tower of Babel. Would that be cool or what?

But I thought I’d better follow up on Ledgard’s inspiration, the Hieroglyph project, and the Stephenson piece that provided its name. (That Hieroglyph Theory of SF, by the way, sounds like Gary Wolfe’s notion of icons, repurposed to make literature into a better lever or hammer or Archimedes’ Screw or some such.) Now, I like Stephenson’s work a great deal, and he doesn’t speak of SF from a position of ignorant simplicity, and if he wants to start a movement or cheering squad or secular church, that’s fine with me. Ledgard, on the other hand, sounds like somebody on the wrong end of a game of Telephone.

Jeffrey Ford

Mr. Ledgard knows as much about what is going to happen in SF as my dog. I’m always amused when the big thinkers make predictions about where SF is going, or decide they have to save it, or that something will be the ruination of it, or what readers are tired of. The truth is SF takes care of itself. SF doesn’t give a half a fart about Mr. Ledgard’s predictions. It’s going to do what it’s going to do regardless. No one knows where the next incredible writer is going to come from. Right now, there’s a 15 year old girl living in Haiti who has just had a vision of a story. It will stay with her for a few years while she works on her writing, and then she’ll send it out, it will be published, and the history of SF will never be the same again. Or something like that or not. The most fascinating thing about the field is the way talent rises up out of nowhere to grab the spotlight and dominate it for a while. SF is not made vital by its reactionary center but by its outliers, its truants, and its blasphemers, and yet always the big thinkers look to the center. Right now, SF is rolling the dice, doing a little dance and telling me to shut the fuck up.

Rachel Swirsky

Siobhan, I’m thinking maybe Oryx and Crake … those seem dystopian, but perhaps that’s a matter of perspective. Really, if I’m remembering correctly, I’m not sure the world that the second book portrays is so much significantly worse than things that happen currently. Am I right in thinking this might be planetary fiction by the definition you suggest?

So, if I’m getting this right, planetary fiction is fiction in which part of the world’s hostility to man is that nature is a hostile and dangerous, rather than idealized, place. There’s no retreat to Rousseau. It’s not just “what if we all went back to live in the trees” or “what if we went to play outside the fence in district eleven where things are better,” but “there is no retreat; the environment in which we live can be hostile, both from its own inclinations and also because of environmental devastation caused by humans; nature as idyll is fallacious idealism.”

Anna North’s America Pacifica comes to mind, although I’m pretty sure that novel was absolutely outside the SF conversation. I wonder if this is one of the places where the clearly science fictionally inflected novels written and published as literary fiction have a conversational and conventional break from things that are published within genre. The novels I brought up (North, Atwood) are largely contextualized as mainstream, and one of the things that allowed The Windup Girl to break out the way it did was its ability to work both inside and outside of the genre conversation.

Or maybe I’m just not thinking about this very well.

Elizabeth Hand

Ditto Ken’s comment re: predicting tends as a loser’s game, and what Jeff said:

“The most fascinating thing about the field is the way talent rises up out of nowhere to grab the spotlight and dominate it for a while. SF is not made vital by its reactionary center but by its outliers, its truants, and its blasphemers.”

Trends in literature, especially genre literature, are like trends in fashion or music or any other kind of commercial enterprise that depends on selling a creative product: they crop up, stick around a while, die when the market’s saturated and eventually return to life when there’s a new generation that didn’t grow up wearing miniskirts or reading [insert author name here]. The great books are by the people Jeff describes, and they don’t go out of fashion any more than a Chanel suit does.

Peter Straub

I just love what Jeffrey is saying here. It applies to general fiction, too–nobody knows when some unknowns rule-changer is going to charge up out of the deep background, redefining both the goals and the method for all who are awake and receptive to the wider implications of the new voice. In other fields, this was true, for example, of Charlie Parker and John Ashbery, both of whom were hugely influential though for some time actually reviled by more conservative listeners and readers. They were the little girl in Haiti!

Fabio Fernandes

Totally agree with Liz and Jeff. People who try to define trends (particularly in SF, but, as Liz pointed out, this is also true in fashion, music and design) are trying to be a sort of parallel SF writers, creating (bad) pseudo-Borgesian lists and going the extra mile to be avant-garde arbiters of taste. And then, naturally, when things don’t happen the way they predicted, they move on or just insist and try again.

Paul Witcover

In terms of “planetary writing,” Ballard’s novels The Wind from Nowhere, The Drowned World, and The Burning World spring to mind. These seem more apocalyptic than dystopian. I see that The Wind from Nowhere was published in 1961. So much for that hot new trend.

Paul Graham Raven

Of course, the one discipline where predicting trends and repeatedly getting them wrong (with little repercussion for one’s failure) is economics … and I’m sure the future looks rosy to those who write around economics and economists, because–as we all know!–the most reliable indicator for things being right and proper is big black figures beneath the bottom line on someone’s balance sheet. I don’t feel any great shift in optimism in my neck of the woods, either; I suspect no one in the UK but outside of certain parts of London does, either. But then, nor do I think the sort of folk who go to see the Hunger Games movies think of themselves as watching dystopian SF any more than the folk who went and watched The Running Man; they’re just movies, to all but us critics. So Ledgard speaketh through his hat, but that was a given.

Much like Stefan, though, I saw Alvaro’s snips from the piece and thought “ah, Stephenson’s PR people are on the warpath again.” I like Stephenson’s work (though he’s got some persistent and very frustrating problematics going on, especially as regards his sweeping use of national stereotypes, and his characterization of women), but the Hieroglyph thing sounds like a monstrously retrograde project in science fictional terms; we don’t need Gernsbackian “heroic engineers,” we need engineers with an awareness of the contexts within which engineering does its work, and tall tales of taller towers ain’t gonna get us there. If anything, climate dystopias like The Windup Girl are of far more use for inspiring scientists and engineers to do stuff that needs doing, though that book comes with its own set of problematic caveats, too.

(Sorry, pet topic of mine–dunno if any of you saw any of my recent writing or talks about “infrastructure fiction,” but I’ve basically spent the best part of a year arguing that the most useful thing fiction can do around engineering is elevate the prosaic and under-appreciated into public view, rather than fetishizing ridiculous megastructures with no real use-case.  If you’ve twenty minutes to spare, my presentation from Improving Reality sets out my position about as coherently as anything else.)

As for “planetary writing,” it sounds like yet another way of being able to say “science fiction” without people hearing “rockets, robots, rayguns.” Frustrating, perhaps, to those who’re aware that there’s more to SF than the three Rs, but it’s a problem that’s not going to go away for a long time; culture has a short attention span but a long, long memory, and SF as a subculture has done itself few favors as regards image management beyond the ghetto walls.

But as we’re talking of SF’s reception beyond the walls, and as his name’s already been dropped, did y’all see this piece on Kim Stanley Robinson at the New Yorker? I just finished reading Shaman last night, which was (shame on me) the first KSR novel-length piece I’ve read; he manages a very subtle job of showing the questioning spirit of scientific enquiry and problem-solving as being something intrinsic to us as human beings, in a context wherein (or so I imagine) most readers would be very surprised to find it. Also surprised by how much emotional engagement he squeezed into the book, given its lack of the more explicit or gung-ho sort of conflict; while reading it, I felt it was a pleasant read but not particularly gripping, but after finishing it I was all wrung out. Anyone else read it yet?

But good grief, would I like to see an end to the zombie fad. It’s one of the most pernicious tropes of them all, riddled with creepy class/race loathing; World War Z (the novel) literally disgusted me, to the extent it was the one book on my Masters reading list that I flat-out refused to finish. But looking at the ARCs that pass through my letterbox, it looks like zombies will be displaced by (or maybe merged with) the “[x] but with Nazis!” concept. Which is enough to make me think maybe I should just put up with the zombies …

F. Brett Cox

I’m intrigued by the distinction Siobhan notes between “globalization” and “planetary”; it reminds me of the distinction sometimes made between “frontier” (something you conquer) and “wilderness” (something you inhabit). “Planetary” strikes me as a perfectly good way of trying to describe literature that recognizes global connections more than conflicts. Go for it.

That said, I’m pretty much with everyone else in my doubts as to how this equates to a reduction of dystopias, or even what it necessarily has to do with SF. As I think I’ve said before in this forum, most of what we consider to be great stories are tales of people behaving very badly, and I don’t see that going away anytime soon. The end times are too seductive, and few things are more satisfying than having your worst fears confirmed.

And–almost always–there’s the difference between what the trendspotters point to and what’s really going on. I look forward to that novel from that young woman in Haiti.

Karen Joy Fowler

Yes, I’ve read Shaman and thought it was a remarkable book. I saw Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams only after reading it and taken together the two occupied my mind and my imagination for a long time. We do stretch back aways.

Not clear how far forward we stretch. History would suggest that we are not living in the end times, because no previous humans who thought this actually were. But it is hard not to fear that we are, at least, approaching a great extinction event. An upsurge of optimism would piss me off a bit, I think. Not that I’ve seen one on the horizon.

Cecelia Holland

We are always living in the end times. This very moment is the end of time. New time begins with the next breath.

Karen Burnham

I agree that most of the “planetary” fiction I see nowadays (if “planetary” refers to just the Earth and not so much to the other planets in the solar system) doesn’t necessarily trend towards the optimistic. Even Stan Robinson’s Capitol Science trilogy shows things getting worse before they maybe get a little better, and the world seems to be hewing pretty closely to his extrapolation as Hurricane Sandy showed last year.

For Economist pieces on SF recently, I prefer this one in which they recommend Ted Chiang to a wider audience.

James Patrick Kelly

Like Jeff and Ken and others, my take on this prediction is that it is unlikely to happen. I do think that there is an increased awareness of our place on this planet and how we might manage our impacts on it more wisely, but that does not lead to the triumph of Stephenson’s Hieroglyphic engineers—not in SF and not in the real world. Where does a publishing trend come from? The reading public? Editors? The multiple generations of writers currently publishing? I think not.

Literary history demonstrates that trends come from someone like Jeff’s Haitian tyro and her friends, although I think the next trendsetters may be closer to changing the conversation than she is. I’m guessing that they may already be among us, publishing interesting stories that nobody understands exactly in fourth tier ‘zines (or maybe self-publishing!), emailing like-minded new writers, writing snarky blog posts about the intellectual failings of established writers (like many of us), and waiting for one or two of their number to make the conceptual and stylistic breakthrough that all can point to and say, “We’re trying for that.” My own prediction–fool that I am–is that when they arrive this group will usher in a trend that is rather darker than Mr. Ledgard would like to see.

Nancy Kress

Many of the tenets that the article cites in Stan’s Mars trilogy are also ones explored by Ursula Le Guin as far back as The Dispossessed: common stewardship of the land, an economic system based on ecological reality, local control of governmental functions, etc.

John Clute

A long time ago, in 2007 to be exact, I wrote about something like (but not at all like) this crap. Said “fantastika is the planetary form of story.” And talked about it a lot, and have done so. Not sure what point there is trying to coordinate what I was trying to talk about with what The Economist has printed, which sounds like a press release, mission-statement boiler-plate, whatever. Maybe we should be talking about the death of journalism.

Everyone else has already, it looks like, in any case, said what I would.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

We can speak about it non-stop among ourselves and we will be the only ones who listen. The world at large needs to hear it from a pundit in order to believe it.

Gary K. Wolfe

I used to try to keep track of dunderheaded pieces about SF written by folks whose main qualification seems to be that they have heard of it (or at least of “sci-fi”), so my first reaction to Ledgard’s piece was to go back to sleep. But Ellen points out something that I’ve seen in other journalistic pieces as well: a general confusion of zombie and vampire tales, or any sort of postapocalyptic fiction, with dystopian fiction. More than once I’ve seen The Walking Dead and even I Am Legend described as dystopias. I’m not sure what to make of this, other than the sort of journalistic sloppiness that John and others have pointed out, but if I spend another five minutes worrying about it I will have spent more time on this response than Ledgard apparently spent on his entire article.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

Yes, to say that zombie or vampire apocalypse tales are dystopian fiction implies that there are stories in which civilization is just muddling through the usual onslaught of bloodsucking vampires or flesh-eating zombies–and then things take an Orwellian turn…

Karen Joy Fowler

Just curious–if you imagine that zombies and vampires are dystopic, what is your assessment of elves and dragons likely to be?

Gary K. Wolfe

Well, in terms of Tolkien elves at least, Peter Jackson and his team pretty clearly see Rivendell as a kind of utopia. You can tell because movie utopias always have lots of waterfalls.

Ellen Datlow

I was going to say—depends on the elves—there are nasty elves out there, too, you know?

Stefan Dziemianowicz

If vampires and zombies are dystopic, then nasty elves and nasty dragons are dyspeptic.

Guy Gavriel Kay



Cecilia Holland

Just dropping in to find this whole discussion has gotten just totally weird.

Kathleen Ann Goonan

If elves are not numinous—and the numinous should be uncanny; deeply strange; hair-stand-on-end scary—the heck with them. Rules bleed the numinous dry.

When I was, say, 12 (’64), and the house was full of the mass-market paperbacks of the day, including SF, I read just about everything except the SF. I thought of SF and fantasy both as fantastic literature and it took me a long time to sort this out. In my first novel, elves and SF coexisted, and the elves were not prosaic, or linear. Call it Elves in Space. Living in space and elves were both fantastic, as far as I was concerned, except that, paradoxically, fantasy seemed a lot more real than SF. In fantasy worth reading, the world is alive—deeply alive, and the narrative is accessible at any point, because the prose is also alive. Characters have a relationship with the world, and vice versa. In SF, characters manipulate the environment. They might be out in the Great Unknown, but there is faith that the unknown can eventually be parsed and—this is important—put to use. Quite seriously, I lived in a fantasy world, and I continued that relationship with literature through college by reading mostly fantasy, children’s literature (considering a grad degree), medieval literature, and poetry of all ages. Blake a huge favorite. Swift, Bacon, Reason—feh! I chewed their dry words with their own spirit of skepticism. In a word, I was a mystic, on the edge of insane, but learned to pass.

Sensawonda can be numinous, I’ve found, and the process of understanding nature, which includes us, as exciting as fantasy once was for me. And women who wrote SF were my passage into the literature.

Planetary: For the record, I responded to an invitation to the Hieroglyph project and have a story in it, so I’m pleasantly surprised that there is actually some publicity.

At the same time, I definitely thought that the main assumption of the project—thatSF has some kind of mighty power to change things in the real world and that we need to roll up our sleeves and envision a Good Future, and that is the Job of SF Writers—simply not true. Dangerous if true! Yikes! Von Braun wasn’t interested in rocketry because he read scientifiction. Scientifiction existed because these possibilities were out there. SF is our myths about how science and technology might change us. In a way, it is magic laid bare and made accessible to the masses. So where can magic—necessary magic, for we need the numinous—go? We still have our nightmares and dreams, the uncontrollable. Sometimes I wonder what academics in 2060 will think our Metropolis, our central nightmare is.

I began by thinking I would write something about one of my passions—the science of perception—and spoke with some academics who were doing cutting-edge research on vision—but got the impression that they thought I was going to make real their ideas in fiction. Maybe some of the writers did just that. I went on to write a story about universal literacy, which ties into perception. It is a story of possibilities, but I am under no illusion that the story will help any real, reading-challenged child learn to read.

It’s just not possible to hijack the ship of science fiction. It’s way too big and wild.

Paul Graham Raven

“SF is our myths about how science and technology might change us.”

In the context of a genre overly replete with self-definitions, this is one of the best (and most terse) I’ve encountered, and I intend to reuse it (with appropriate citation). 🙂

Rachel Swirsky

I really like that definition, too.

Siobhan Carroll

And I may borrow it for my SF class. Consider this definition yoinked!

Guy Gavriel Kay

Grinch-like, I have two issues with the definition.

1. How are the imaginings of a given author “our myths”? Don’t, or shouldn’t, myths (let alone “our myths”) have a much larger and more general origin—and use in a phrase?

2. This seems to valorize a meaning of SF that skews it, or limits the range of the field. It is as if it is tiptoeing towards Atwood’s attempt to differentiate “serious” speculative fiction (defined her way) and science fiction, with tentacled aliens and heat shields in danger on the light-speed rocket.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

Granted, every work of science fiction/fantasy is the writing of an individual author, but to the extent that works of science fiction/fantasy draw, for the most part, from a repository of familiar genre tropes, there’s a universal quality to much of the fiction. I don’t think referring to science fiction/fantasy as myth tars it with the “serious” brush, so much as it unites both “serious” and “less serious” fiction under a single heading.

Guy Gavriel Kay

Is a trope a myth?

I take your point, Stefan, but surely thrillers, mysteries, romances, YA, and more have their repositories of the familiar, too.

Does your “less serious” SF invariably or inherently concern itself with how humankind is “changed”? I’m thinking of some classics, too. I wonder if this definition might apply more to a current writer, keeping up with theory.

Fabio Fernandes

“Our myths” is what happens when so many tropes accumulate in a genre along the arrow of time that they become sort-of “supertropish.” I wouldn’t say a trope is a myth, but a myth might be a well-established trope or “supertrope” (by which neologism I mean a strong enough trope that is seldom challenged by SF/Fantasy conventional wisdom, like travel via FTL drives, for instance).

Cecelia Holland

All writers draw from the common pool. That’s how the process works.

Guy Gavriel Kay

That’s interesting and worth mulling but …

Isn’t that a meaning for “our myths” that narrows it to the practitioners and readers of the genre? If so, less disagreement from me, even if I don’t love the appropriating of the word myth into that framework. But it also narrows the scope of the definition a lot, doesn’t it? A trope among baseball stat geeks is that the stolen base is overrated. Is that worth an “our myth” even among them? (Actually, to be wry, that gets us into the other meaning of myth, as they’d say “it is a truth not a myth!”)

It still leaves me wondering about how this definition asserts an intent to show how humankind is changed in “all SF.”

But thanks to everyone engaging on this, it was easily the equivalent of an extra cup of coffee this morning for getting the brain going. My myth is I need 2-3 cups. Actually, it is a truth.

Marie Brennan

I have to admit I give the side-eye to that kind of use of “myth,” because the word has a specific meaning in folklore, which has no bearing on the kind of thing we’re talking about. (It’s been a while since I read up on the fine points of this, but generally speaking in folklore, a myth is a narrative—usually sacred—that explains the origin/creation of something.) Obviously the word gets used for a bunch of other things, up to and including “lies,” and it’s a lost cause to try and prevent that—but I feel like using it here is a maneuver to claim a certain kind of respectability and deep meaning for what follows, in a way that, for me, undermines the actual point being made.

Maureen Kincaid Speller

Late to the party (don’t ask; it’s been a long week, I’m glad it’s over) and picking my way through everyone’s comments, which I unsurprisingly broadly agree with.…

My immediate thought, before going to read the full piece, was to wonder what, given the relative length of publishing lead times, had prompted everyone, a year or so back, to suddenly start writing “optimistic,” “planetary” fiction ready for 2014. I just couldn’t recall any shift that would suggest this, and certainly not anything that would produce the mass of fiction that the quotes seemed to refer to.

Looking at the whole thing I wondered then if it weren’t some sort of wishlist for fiction (along the lines of “if I keep repeating this over and over it will happen, they will write this stuff, it will appear”). Mostly, I find myself wondering what it is that Ledgard sees as a reason for a “cheering tale.” For that matter, I wonder what a “cheering tale” might be, other than something that is already ringing alarm bells in my mind. Danger, Will Robinson, improving fiction ahead.

“Mr Stephenson believes that just imagining an achievement into existence gives large organisations a common vision to work towards.”

Seriously? That seems a touch naive to me, and as others have noted, there are so many other trigger words being tossed around in this piece, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Actually, the more I read it, the less I’m clear about what Ledgard is really saying. I can see what he thinks he’s saying, but as we’ve shown, further probing shows not only his own lack of understanding of what fiction does, or can do, let alone science fiction in particular. He easily trots out the popular ideas but doesn’t seem to me to show much that could be called a genuine understanding of SF, dystopian fiction, literary fiction, fiction really.

But I was also struck by Rachel’s comment on the nature of planetary writing: “there is no retreat; the environment in which we live can be hostile, both from its own inclinations and also because of environmental devastation caused by humans; nature as idyll is fallacious idealism.”

It seems to me that Ledgard’s comments tend towards the idealistic (unsurprisingly, on one level) but I’m thinking about an idealism that is detached from the sense of practicality I think he’s also trying to foster. Paul Raven picks it up when he suggests there’s a failure to pick up on the prosaic. I see “20 km-high tower” to “service spacecraft”‘ and my immediate response is… can you honestly not do better than this?

I’d expect something closer to Siobhan’s formulation when I see the term “planetary writing,” and Ledgard’s ticking of Africa and equitable politics might indicate this, until he goes on to say “crucially, more of engineering solutions.” It’s people that seem to me to be missing from all this.

Incidentally, has anyone not seen a mention of this? I find it intriguing and hope I’ll get a chance to see it.

“Peter Jackson and his team pretty clearly see Rivendell as a kind of utopia. You can tell because movie utopias always have lots of waterfalls.”

Sorry to be trivial, but this amused me inordinately because it is true. I remember thinking after I watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey how crudely Jackson was using visual signifiers like waterfalls to show “good place.”

John Clute

Very briefly, I’m afraid I agree with Guy on this (in the midst of storms and stuff, so am not sitting down to lucubrate, besides we need the oil in case the power goes). A more dignified apprehension of the culture that has brought us to here and threatens to continue is OK; but only within some framing context that allows the continued use of the term “SF” without constant demurrings.

Kathleen Ann Goonan

Briefly, to answer the question posed by Maureen, this is the effort of the Center for Science and the Imagination at ASU, and this particular anthology is simply a themed anthology like many in the field: are you interested in writing a story about green rocket ships for our anthology, Green Rocket Ships, which is to be published by Superbest Publishers? We will pay you 10 cents a word and will pretend there may be royalties.

Professional writers imagine things and respond to such invitations all the time. Some might find it interesting to write such a story; others might say piffle!


6 thoughts on “Roundtable on “Planetary Writing” and SF in 2014

  • January 24, 2014 at 10:16 am

    As a bit of context, I suspect Ledgard’s subtext is partly to promote his own writing, which he’s described as planetary writing, and does sound interesting — see this New Yorker blog interview with him, and also Matt Cheney’s glowing review of Ledgard’s Submergence — which I’ve now bought, but not yet read myself. More broadly I’m with Siobhan and Rachel in their interpretation of the original article.

  • January 24, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    “There’s a 15-year-old girl in Haiti”…
    …or in Egypt/Sudan: Sofia Samatar
    …or in Barbados: Karen Lord
    …or in Sweden: Karen Tidbeck

    I could go on. And that’s what I love about SF: I could go on, and on. Jeff is right; we don’t know where they will come from and how they will change the field…but we know they will.

  • January 26, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    The reason I chose Haiti is because the Economist was running an article on it in the same issue as the one Alvaro pulled the quote from.

  • January 29, 2014 at 7:30 am

    When I survey the SF shelves at my local bookstore, it looks like STAR WARS and HALO and WARHAMMER 40,000 have changed the field more than any of the “fine” writers mentioned here.

  • February 14, 2014 at 8:15 am

    The sci-fi stories will be change in the near future, u will see!


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