Legendary Science Fiction Author Stanislaw Lem Rags On Science Fiction As A Genre

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

“In the Science Fiction of today, there is not the slightest chance that genuine myths and theologies might arise, because the thing itself is a bastard of myths gone to the dogs. The science fiction of today resembles a ‘Graveyard of Gravity,’ in which the subgenre of literature that promised the cosmos to mankind dreams away its defeat in onanistic delusions and chimeras – onanistic because they are anthropocentric. The task of the science-fiction author of today is as easy as that of the pornographer, and in the same way. Now that all the real stops to the satisfaction of their impulses have been pulled, they can have their fling. But with the stops has disappeared the indescribable richness that can be conveyed only by real life. Where anything comes easy, nothing can be of value. The most inflamed desire must finally end in miserable dullness. Once the credible, the real barriers have been blown up, the process of falsification must go on; artificial barriers must be erected, and in this manner the stuffed waxworks come about, the miserable ersatz that is supposed to be cosmic civilzation” --- SF Writer Stanislaw Lem (July 1977) Explaining how the Trekification of Science Fiction is killing the genre.

it's part of a larger rant about how SF has a tendency to completely ignore the physical universe and make up it's own, which bears little or no resemblance to the real one, ergo it's indistinguishable from fantasy, endlessly populated with life, which is only superficially different from ours, in other words completely failing to create a truly 'alien' playground to explore ideas, and in so doing, it has nothing to talk about other than stupid adventure and introspective navel-gazing about ethics and crap, and really, what the frack does 'ethics' have to do with the nature of the universe? We’ve all seen this happen: We’ve got the entire universe of mystery and wonder and spectacle to play in, but we end up just telling boring stories about Riker’s inability to commit to Deanna, or Garibaldi’s alcoholism.

Lem - and I have to reiterate here, Lem is unquestionably on the short list of the best Science Fiction Authors of all time, he’s like in the top ten - was extremely critical of his chosen genre (As you can see) since it tended towards prepubescent adventure yarns that may as well be Cowboys and Injuns stories, they bear so little relationship to the actual realities of space, or even people. While this may seem a dated 1950s kind of concern on this side of the literary and cinematic New Wave, in fact it’s a valid concern. Arguably, it’s more than valid, it’s freakin’ prescient. I mean, *The* most prestigious SF series of the last decade was the new Galactica, right? And in Galactica what did we see? Machines that were essentially human fighting humans that were essentially an analogue of early 21st century Americans on board the USS Nimitz. Most (but not all) of the drama on the show had nothing to do with space itself, though it was set there, had nothing to do with biotech nor cybernetics though that was the crux of the whole series, had nothing to do with anything beyond a set of characters going through a series of fantasy world obstacles that are entirely artificial, and then sliding in to a shoehorned, nonsensical ending that we’re supposed to believe is a triumph of the will when in fact it’s just another variation on that episode of The Twilight Zone with Richard Basehart and that blonde chick.

I’m not denying that it was a great show for a while (Up until about Season 3, episode 5 or 6 if we’re keeping score); I’m not even arguing that it wasn’t’ the best SF show on the air for a while. What I am saying is that if this is the best there is, it still ain’t got nothing on a well-written SF novel, and we shouldn’t delude ourselves in to thinking otherwise. There’s just not a lot of ideas in the show, and TV is not the best idea-delivery system to begin with. Insomuch as our Science Fiction novels try to emulate TV shows, the genre is in crisis.

Lem wrote several essays and reviews on the state of Science Fiction in the 1970s compiled in a book called “Microworlds.” They’re all pretty insightful and even challenging. He makes a lot of points I would never have thought of on my own. For instance, it never occurred to me that some form of literary criticism could help the genre, but in fact he makes a very compelling argument about it. Interestingly he notes that because SF panders to the lowest common denominator of 12-year-old boys who like things that blow up all purty-like (And I’m guilty of this myself), all the previous attempts to improve the genre by applying literary criticism and thereby elevating the genre from merely being a genre in to being art have been quickly and vociferously slapped down by the fans.

You can buy a copy of the book here http://www.amazon.com/Microworlds-Stanislaw-Lem/dp/0156594439 I strongly, strongly, strongly recommend reading it.

(PS: This isn't an April Fools Gag. Really!)