Tuesday, 11 October 2016

An Alternative Literary History

Here is another pseudo- or proto-thought about genre interfaces. Imagine that:

sf and maybe other genres did not get ghettoized into magazines for decades;

writers like HG Wells, ERB, Kipling and their successors continued to write general fiction including occasional works that we would recognize as science fiction.

Would the line, if any, between genres be drawn in a different place? Might some otherwise mainstream novels have included background details that we would call sf but that did not impact directly on the plot? Poul Anderson's detective novels contain passages demonstrating that the author thinks like, as he indeed is, an sf writer. See here, here and here.

I would like to see:

in a mainstream novel, Manson Everard in civilian life;

in a historical novel, a trader or other worthy citizen who, we knew from other works, was a disguised time traveler;

a novel about scientists in which some of the supporting characters were making discoveries beyond the current level of scientific knowledge;

a mainstream series in which the characters discovered a buried ancient spaceship under their street in the final installment.

After all, if such a discovery is to be made, then it will be made by people whose lives have until then been what passes for normal. I think that I dreamed that last example a long time ago. It would be the author's job to make the conclusion seem plausible, not arbitrary or deus ex machina. But let's push the boundaries a bit.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    There were two kinds of magazine in roughly the first 50 years of the 20th century: "slicks" and "pulps." The former were printed on better quality paper while latter used poorer paper often with rough edges. What became science fiction was banished to the pulp pager magazines and often considered trashy literature for that reason alone.

    I can see it being possible there might have been no sharp distinction made between SF and mainstream literature if the authors you listed and their successors (including Poul Anderson) had continued to "do" both kinds of writing. The way PA used "sensory deprivation" in one of his detective novels was a science fictional touch.

    Shouldn't all scientific research strive to go beyond our current levels of knowledge?

    I would be DELIGHTED if the remains of an alien space ship was unearthed on our planet! Perhaps while a new tunnel for the London Underground was being dug? (Smiles)

    If such a discovery was ever made (may it soon happen!) several questions would be immediately answered. One, it would prove that non human intelligent life DOES exist on at least one other world. Two, it would be PROVEN that it is somehow possible to travel from one star to another--either by STL or FTL means. Soon, soon, soon!!!

    And I have wondered how *** I *** would react to the presence of non human rational beings. Would I be overcome with terror, horror, or panic? I hope not, but I could not possibly know either way till I actually met or saw such beings.


    1. Sean:
      "I would be DELIGHTED if the remains of an alien space ship was unearthed on our planet! Perhaps while a new tunnel for the London Underground was being dug?"

      Ugggh, no. That was the starting point for *Quatermass and the Pit*, U.S. title *Five Million Years to Earth*. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quatermass_and_the_Pit_(film) for full details. Short version: the aliens were Martians, who genetically altered primitive humans to create a "colony by proxy" ... where Martian attitudes that would've been right at home in Nazi Germany could live on after Mars itself died.

      Digging up the ship allowed a mind-control projection to make those with more of the Martian taint psychically murder those humans whose ancestors were mostly unmodified. Ironic, that in those scenes "witch-hunt" meant the "witches" -- the psychics -- hunting ordinary people.

    2. Kaor, David!

      Darn! I never saw or read "Quatermass And The Pit," but I will look it up. It SEEMS to be an interesting variant on the hostile alien invasion theme. But I don't see the BENEFIT in these Martians having a "colony by proxy." What would be the point in the Martians behaving like the Draka if they themselves were not THERE?

      If an alien invasion ever does happen, I think it would look more like what we see in Niven/Pournelle's FOOTFALL. OR even Poul Anderson's THE WAR OF TWO WORLDS.

      But, I would still hope an ancient alien wrecked ship was found. I want some REAL knowledge of what be OUT there!


    3. Sean:
      It was an OLD movie (1967), so the Martians seem to have been motivated to pass on the SPIRIT of their so-called civilization by nothing more rational than "Let's be (Cackle!) EEEE-VIL!" They did NOT make as much sense as the Draka. (Maybe there was a justification that didn't make it into the script about being reincarnated into the enhanced humans, or something like that.)

      A nice touch of foreshadowing was that, when found, the Martian ship was at first believed to be a WWII German rocket bomb that hadn't detonated. And the bomb-disposal people called the type of bomb they thought it was a "Satan." Then it turned out that the image of Satan having horns was a "racial memory" of the evil Martians' horned heads.

  2. Sean,
    Yes, research strives to increase knowledge but, if it happens in a novel, we automatically classify the novel as sf - although increases in knowledge occur all the time in the real world.

    1. Kaor, Paul!

      That does clarify your otherwise puzzling or obscure comment.