Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Science Fiction is no laughing matter

There's a pile of work about the nature of satire. Basically the "modern" view is that satirical writing is inherently reactionary. Essentially, satire uses exaggeration to ridicule, and in doing so, re-enforces stereotypes, and preaches to the converted. Typically it works within the comfort zone of the reader.

Satirical work in science fiction goes back to Lucian (satirical sketches includes a trip to the moon) and forward until now. Dystopia is a common feature of the genre (whatever that is) and many dystopic visions use satirical mechanisms to present aspects of society to good or bad contrast. (Think Swift, Laputa etc). Again, SF lives in the comfort zone of the reader (or viewer in film, TV, or even music).

More specifically, SF often uses the form (particularly in short stories) of a joke - quite literally in the case of some writers such as Norman Spinrad, Robert Sheckley, Fred Pohl/Cyril Kornbluth, Philip K. Dick and similar, particularly in magazines of the 1950s and 1960s - where the structure is often extremely closely modelled on the "shaggy dog story" or other extended joke - viz Freud's Jokes&the Unconscious and other sad attempts to explain poor humour. At its height one can see this very clearly in the snappy Twilight Zone tales of Rod Serling - one story that one could home in on, though, is The Joker, by Isaac Asimov. This is a self-referential tale (somewhat like the Lottery of Babylon, the Library of Babel, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller etc etc), but also echos back to the Ancient Greek (viz Lucian, above) with the motif of a Theos Ex Maxina (deus Ex Machina- sorry for lack of Greek font and spelling:).

So what's the point here - well I guess I am going to make some sort of terrible faux pas when it comes to post-modern criticism, as I am making a value judgement - this sort of SF is poor. There is other writing (such as Vonnegut, some Arthur Clark, and Dorothy L. Sayers and one early Mervyn Peake) which attempts to examine this aspect of life without falling into the reactionary trap - I am thinking of the play, Comedians, by Trevor Griffiths (a fairly harrowing experience if you ever get a chance to see it - there is a fairly good film of the original stage production) - it is NOT funny.

So you want a joke: well, all I can say is that I take humour very seriously and Science Fiction is no laughing matter. But if you want something funny then how about this:

An Englishman, a Welshman and a Scotsman go into a bar, and the barman says:
"Is this some kind of a joke?".

A Martian, a dolphin and a robot go into a bar, and the Earthman says
"Twighlight Zone is next door, we only serve people here"
"OK it'll be a human for me, and the robot and dolphin will take an oil cheque"


A possible form for the dissertation (based on something radical a friend of
mine did in the alternative English faculty in Cambridge in 1981 - his
dissertation was about TS Eliot's "The Waste Land", and was written entirely
using quites from critiques of Eliot's work, and more specifically, by
juxtaposing writings that agreed with each other, where my friend agreed with them,
and disagreed with each other, where he disagreed with them, and the context of
the pome made it clear who was "wrong".

I propose to write at least one version of the dissertation as an annotation
in the same manner, of "The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams,
showing where the
original version of a joke (e.g. 42 versus the mystical significance of the
number 23 in the Illumianatus Trilogy; also, overly friendly doors and
depressive robots in Sheckley (actually also the bathetic character
of Slartibartfast == GoD)).

Thesis Outline

Satire and Futurism
Gods and Aliens
Jokes and the Clairvoyant

Motivation and Background
The Liberal Ethic in Speculative Fiction
The Liberal Ethic and Humour
The Structure of Some Jokes
The structure of the classic 1950s SF short story
Combat Liberalism, and the Reactionary Nature of Satire
Combat Liberalism, and the Reactionary Nature of Satire

The Joker and other Self Referential Concepts in SF Writings of the Period
Gods and Alients - Deus ex Machine revisited

Film and Text
Dr Feelgood and the Bomb
Dr Strangelove and the Joke
How I learned to live with depressed robots

Exaggeration in One Dimension
In Humour
In Satire
In Speculative (Science) Fiction
Exaggeration as a tool for Bisociation

Conclusions and Remarks
How was it for you?
How many science fiction writers does it take to change a light bulb?
Why are there no cell phones in SF movies?
Towards a radical chic for true SF satire.

No comments:

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
misery me, there is a floccipaucinihilipilification (*) of chronsynclastic infundibuli in these parts and I must therefore refer you to frank zappa instead, and go home