The Genre That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Mind Meld is at it again.  This time they asked a bunch of us about taboos in sf, and the responses run the gamut. Steve Aylett laments the conservatism of the genre.  Glenda Larke seems to contradict herself.   Kristine Rusch and Mark Budz channel Pollyanna.  Margo Lanagan has obviously walked the walk.  Anna Tambour has an asterisk fetish.  Jason Sanford grumbles about the genre’s incessant realism.  Nancy Jane Moore sees ghettos within ghettos. Ellen Kushner is, IMHO, sadly unappreciative of the joys of constant profanity. Hal Duncan makes good points, but I’m not sure I agree with them.  David Levine wishes poly and bdsm were portrayed more positively, and I think I do agree with that.  Neal Asher has evidently never checked out the prose in the novels of Dan Brown or Stephenie Meyer.  And John Wright, speaking from the Comments section, inadvertently improves upon Tolkien.

But I got to go first.  And I used that position to decry science fiction’s failure to reach out to the twenty-first century’s pro-incest lobby.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Friday March 20 2009at 05:03 am , filed under ink on art, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

15 Responses to “The Genre That Dare Not Speak Its Name”

  1. …I should never have told you about my honours thesis. Also, that comments stream is hilarious. I *totally* want the Guy Ritchie edition of LotR. (The diamond is sort of like the ring, now that I think of it. This means Frodo could be played by a yelping pit bull. I’m liking this idea more and more.)

  2. I am trusting that, like Science Fiction, people here realize that graphic novels or sequential art storytelling has come a long way. Moving forward…

    Peter, I think you’d love Garth Ennis’ work. I just finished Wormwood (the story of the anti-Christ and his best friend, Jesus, getting caught up in their respective fathers’ plans and trying to avoid what may be their destinies). Sounds a lot like the Moorcock story you referenced at MM.

    Ennis’ “Preacher” series is also an obvious one (one that HBO has been playing with for years but will probably never do because they aren’t THAT into taboo, despite their reputation).

    And all of his stories have nearly non-stop profanity, even when it’s the Pope talking to his bishops.

  3. David Levine wishes poly and bdsm were portrayed more positively, and I think I do agree with that.

    *wistfully*

    Sci fi is the Wish Fulfillment Genre, isn’t it? Anything one fondly thinks there ought to be more of, someone has written that into a world.

    Now, personally, I feel we ought to have more sci fi in which middle-aged, bespectacled mole ladies are the protagonists. We can be so exciting, we have lots of deep thoughts, wonderful fur, and would make fine absolute overlords of say, another planet with an underground civilization. One where everyone must wear colorful straw hats with floral designs, somewhat like mine, only more high tech.

    I hate to be complaining here, but there is a stunning lack of the representation of talpidosexual themes in science fiction.

  4. A couple of points to you, Peter, and the same to David Levine and Steve Aylett. Nobody else came close (oh, maybe minus 10 points to Neal Asher for general obliviousness). But why was everybody so sure that there are only taboos about sex, religion, and politics? OK, we all know that a story about a sympathetic pedophile won’t fly*, and you shouldn’t say nasty things about religion or superstitiious anti-science beliefs†, and it’s frowned upon to make a dedicated Marxist your hero‡. But what about those taboos that are so embedded in the culture that most SF comes from that most people don’t even realize they’re there?

    For instance, it seems to be OK to write “shit” in a story, but I rarely see the act of shitting described. And there are a lot of situations where the protagonist taking a shit could be as important to a story as the romantic leads fucking their brains out. Maybe she’s got a GI bug and her misery is the reason why she’s not spotting the villain’s latest ploy.

    * Except … anyone remember John Barnes’ short story “Gentleman Pervert, Off on a Spree”? It got published.

    † The state of Oklahoma is currently trying to figure out how they could have shut Richard Dawkins up. Good luck with that, guys. Bet if they try to stand in his way they end up with tire tracks all over them.

    ‡ Or even a real progressive for that matter. Thank the Cosmic All for writers like Ken MacLeod and Charlie Stross, who don’t much care about those taboos.

  5. Just a reminder: if it all ends tonight with Gaius choking Six on a beach, or a whole crowd of people saying “Congratulations!”, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  6. It’s almost like Jason Sanford was calling you out specifically.

  7. I don’t completely disagree with John C. Wright’s comment though. We have gone through a cycle of anti-heroes and borderline-villains. We should be about due for another cycle of heroic hero is heroic right about …. now. Ok … NOW! Wait, wait, NOW!!

  8. Chris in NY Said: I think you’d love Garth Ennis’ work. I just finished Wormwood … Ennis’ “Preacher” series is also an obvious one (one that HBO has been playing with for years but will probably never do because they aren’t THAT into taboo, despite their reputation).

    I’ve never heard of this Wormwood of which you speak, but I loved “Preacher”; I think I may have cared more about those characters than I have for characters in any graphic novel before or since (not that I love Moore, Miller, or Ellis less, you understand; only that I love Tulip more). Even if I never could figure out how Cassidy was able to talk while decapitated.

  9. And I used that position to decry science fiction’s failure to reach out to the twenty-first century’s pro-incest lobby.

    Did Heinlein’s ‘Time Enough For Love’ figure into this at all? Been a while since I read the book, but I remember it delving into this territory fairly heavily…

  10. Actually, I think Winterbottom’s film CODE 46 might qualify as pro-incest science fiction.

    Personally, I don’t know how anonymous sperm donation works, but there is probably some 20-year old college student out there who might father dozens of kids by the time he’s 40. What happens if they accidentally bump into each other? Or if two unknowing siblings run into each other accidentally? There is some evidence that blood relatives feel a natural sexual attraction if they are not raised together.

  11. What happens if they accidentally bump into each other? Or if two unknowing siblings run into each other accidentally?

    If they fall on top of each other and start having sex, that would be incest, even if they have no idea of the fact.

    It’s a genetic crap shoot, right? Until the last century, people married their first cousins, no problem. Not ideal, but I think the real genetic problems occur when you do this repeatedly, generation, after generation, not when occasionally someone knocks up his sister, daughter, mom, etc.

    I’m not proposing that incest is good, mind you, or that it can’t cause psychological harm, but isn’t the genetic risk about compounding chances of dangerous recessive genes not being canceled out? It’s not about having sex with your family, per se, but about failing on the average to get genes from less-related people?

  12. I think that there are going to be a few interesting aspects to modern day fertility science. A man might father up to a dozen kids in his life, but today, fewer kids are more likely – unless you are a sperm donor. Then you could have dozens of kids running around out there with artificially inseminated women giving birth to litters of children instead of one at a time.

    Recently, I saw the movie Duplicity and one of the characters mentions that he believe human evolution has run its course with the most successful competitors choosing to have few if any children while the least competitive tended to produce more.

    He had shifted into the idea of corporate evolution, where the collective business entities competed to pass on the best advantages.

  13. question:

    has there been a distinct lack of queer (in all senses of the word) voices since the 70s, i mean Ballard is doing his social commentary thing, Delaney is no longer really writing fiction, Triptree Farmer, and Disch are dead, though the last two got less weird or less skiffy the older they got, and the new weird seems a hell of a lot less strange then the old weird…i have not read a heck of a lot of new written sf but

    i like yr point, pete, that sf (and i would argue general culture) has got more censorous, less weird, less fucked up and less open to possiblities since 1980 (i for one blame reagon)a

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