Saturday, March 24, 2007

science finction and the canon

So I just went to the first half of this - and jolly good it was too - congrats to the organiser for putting together some great speakers and fun people!

SF & the Canon at Anglia Ruskin University. Alas I had to bail (to go help clear out a library in london of a couple of thousand old SF books, by bizarre coincidence), but the first 1/2 of the talks were very informative, thought provoking, and, compared to a lot of "pure" old SF events I used to go to, human. Several thoughts of interest from discussions (not mine - I'm just noting them):

1. was Asimov a closet marxist - maybe (looking at the later Grand Unification of Gaia and Robots and Empire, he was - psycho-history is far more Das Kapital than Beyond the Pleasure Principle) - btw, harry harrison has a great throway line in one of his books about how "free markets were some mad social scheme tried in the dim past along with nazism and christianity, that noone can remmeber why anymore because its so clear they are bad ideas)

2. interstial joke - someone needs to do that trick that Lewis Caroll did with the ultra-short chapter (and it really was a kitten after all), and neal stephenson did in Snow Crash with a epic phantasy space opera between 1 volume and the next should be an ultra-slim volume with one line "and then there was the usual odessey"...

I misread the title "the past is an acid planet", and was disappointed it wasn't all about Lord of Light...

3. the asimovian speaker had spotted my cheeky blog and did a riff on it - he was spot on!

4 a paper on Sparrow (which i realized half way through, i had actually read!), was very very moving - I hadn't appreciated how powerful it was and will now go re-read it! makes my sf structure as joke look a bit weak in fact (even if its mostly harmlessly true)

5. a paper about the genealogy of cyborgs was interesting - the only one i had the nerve to make an observation about - that

  • cyborgs in ancient times were gadgets vought to life with magic (ichor) and runes ("meth/emeth", for golem on/off).
  • cyborgs later were monsters given some of the elements of life by unethical scientists (viktor)
  • cybermen were people who gave up part of their humanity (the borg)
  • but there are nore democritised cyber-folks (extropians) who take a wider view of the use of technology to enhance the human condition
  • often, the view of the cyber-organism reflects the superstitions of the time - magic creats robots, but they may be random liek the ancient gods. eldridtch science may bring dead cadavers back to life, but it is a Bad Thing and will lead to No Good, and even the Monster will be Pissed Off...especially when he has to float around in the melting polar sea.
  • but then science may remove your soul, which would be even worse (Dr Who, Seven of Nine etc etc?), on the other hand, it might be even better if the soul was just some illusion that caused confusion and made you remove somethign actually useful, whereas with out it you might just add something (like a keyboard, mouse, cell phone, pda, noise cancelling headphones and nanotech muscle toner).
  • oh, on afterthought/discussion with speaker, i think John Sladek's Roderick book, especially th first one, contains a LOT of good material o nthe difference between robots and cyborgs and where we perceive the difference too...remember to be unafraid of robots may be just as dangerous as to be terribly afraid, jung and annafreud as they say.

I hadn't thought what a clever clogs pun it is to call Arnie (the termiantor) the "governator" ( as in Gubernator or kybernetes) - some americal gags are quite erudite (and amusingly e-it-rude)

6. great paper about the pastoral (as in elizabethan literature such as Arcadia) and the way le Guin (especially in Always Coming Home) is an interesting angle on pastoral - i wondered if one might view anares in the dispossessed as an allegory of the early Kibbutzim in pre-UN sanctioned Israel - also, the Canticle for Leibowitz looks pretty pastroal in the first half.

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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