Thursday, June 21, 2012

That Paradigm of Science Fiction

Here's a short fanboy review of the cyberpunk movement in science fiction by the brilliant Paolo Bacigalupi (courtesy, Wired): How Cyberpunk Saved Sci-Fi. (For newbies, Paolo Bacigalupi is the writer of The Windup Girl - the fabulous dystopian SF novel set in the globally warmed, near submerged, future Thailand. It won the 2010 triple crown in SF - Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell Memorial award -  a feat previously achieved only by <*gasp!*> William Gibson with Neuromancer.)

Here's Bacigalupi commenting on what Gibson would've referred to as a "Nodal Point" in science fiction writing:

Science fiction had lost the thread of reality. Human beings weren’t going to the moon; we were going digital.

And at the end of the (rather short) essay, Bacigalupi points out another nodal point that his fabulous book internalized in its plot and narrative design:

And of course, the huge question mark is global warming. There are so many variables, from sea level rise to disrupted ecosystems to catastrophic droughts, that a bunch of our comfortable narratives about what the world will look like—let alone how we’ll adapt to it—are in play. Just as when we were on the cusp of cyberpunk and didn’t know it, I’m hoping now for another new breed of writers, people who can craft drive-by speculations that leave us gasping with surprise. Those kinds of writers don’t just see the future; they see the present.
This framework is an excellent way to understand the contribution of the cyberpunk movement to fiction in general and SF literature in particular; and Bacigalupi (and of course the great Ian McDonald whose River of Gods - an SF novel set in near future balkanized, dystopic India is a deeply thought, masterfully etched anticipation of such a nodal moment (On this point however, one must note that McDonald's entire ouevre is a tribute to such an exercise and in this respect, he's probably the leading SF write alive today!)) is a prime exponent of such a style. This movement within SF emphasizes narratives that are set in the near future, almost always dystopic developing nations (Bacigalupi's Thailand and McDonald's India, Turkey and Brazil) and tackle head-on the major themes that any writer worth her salt needs to intellectually grapple with - global warming, massive corruption, debilitatingly poor societies, staggering economic inequality and so on - the "low life" part of the deal. Add to it the "high tech" - the second half of the cyberpunk aesthetic - sentient financial trading algorithms, ubiquitous, frugal, improvised, genetic engineering, self organizing, cutting edge nanotechnology - and you have a smorgasbord of heady, complex, edgy ideas about the future of humanity.

Hurray for this new wave of science fiction; and hurray for the new crop of writers championing it!

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