Cultural Notes: A woman, a polar bear, a love story

THIS SUMMER was quite the season for science fiction. We had the 30th anniversary of the Moon landing. The first GM crops in England were destroyed, both by farmers and by activists. The first female astronaut to command the Space Shuttle at last got her booking (if not her flight) on Columbia. Oh, and Star Wars made its long-awaited return to the cinema.

Along with so many action movies of the last few years and together with Star Trek on the television it was in fact the last of these events - the release of Star Wars - which caused the most publicity, the most money to change hands and the most spirited conversations. For Star Wars, like the "Trek Universe", is a culture within the culture. Its values - white, middle-class, ur-Christian - underpin its far-reaching ideas with a comfortable conformity that reflects the dominant culture, yet glosses its anxieties with a wild streak of colour.

Paradoxically, if you consider that science fiction is a literature of the future, the vast media sci-fi output rarely addresses the present day. Like westerns it is generally escapist, conformist and pacifying. Paranoiacs have even speculated that sci-fi is a tool of the Cryptocracy; a method of social manipulation that has been fiendishly devised by US Naval Intelligence, the CIA, L. Ron Hubbard, Gene Roddenberry and the same people who brought you the Roswell crash and the Kennedy assassination. Of course, the very nature of this organisation means that we can never know if this is true.

You probably already know many of SF's proteges - Iain Banks, Ian McEwan, J.G. Ballard, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, Gore Vidal, Joyce Carol Oates and Philip K. Dick. All of these authors write in, or have emerged from, the science-fiction zone. The often unreadable junk contents of several decades' worth of pulp were enough to have SF booted out of "respectable" literature and into a far-distant genre ghetto where it has stayed for more than 30 years. Since when the questions "Is SF literature?" and "Are the SF and mainstream fiction worlds about to collide?" recur on an annual basis in enlightened reader circles.

We are obviously living in a world that is so overtly science-fictional in itself that you might think our popular culture would reflect it, speculate with it, toy with it artistically as though it were a giant tub of intellectual Lego. Instead the mainstream literature continues to boldly ignore technological and scientific advances.

Meanwhile the popularity of philosophically bland cinema sci-fi and TV series has not had much of a filtering effect into a wider reading range beyond the tie-in books. Partly this is because the popular image of science fiction is defined by these film and TV mammoths which promise little in the way of a good read for the technologically allergic, the artistically discerning or the female.

But SF has done itself no favours either. Although it may claim victimisation by unfair marketing and the fact that critics tend to ignore it there is no way for the uninitiated reader to identify the world-class book from the hackwork. With a few modernised exceptions SF all looks the same - dire. But before you give up on it, first witness a statement written by an anonymous, unprompted reviewer on the Amazon books website, about one of SF's finest writers, Geoff Ryman, and his book, The Child Garden:

A woman, a polar bear, a love story. Reading this book is like hearing the King James Bible set to music, or being presented with a holographic rose as big as Brazil, or discovering that you are in fact the cure for cancer.

The best of science fiction explores all the big stuff - the self, society, the nature of memory, relationships, bioengineering, artificial intelligence, space exploration, the state of the universe . . . as well as the other stuff that can make you laugh, cry, marvel and, above all, think on what may be and what is. And it's here right now.

Justina Robson is the author of `Silver Screen' (Macmillan, pounds 9.99)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us