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Friday, August 9, 2013

'Science fiction fandom reminds me of the IRA'

My Tuesday posting on writers who are consistently good inspired a back-and-forth in the comments between Eric Wagner and myself. I like to think all of that was interesting, but I particularly liked Eric's last comment:

I started reading Robert Anton Wilson in 1982 and read all of his books I could get a hold of. When I attended the World Con in Baltimore in 1983 I felt disconnected from the science fiction world, and that feeling increased at the few conventions I attended after that. Bob Wilson replaced Robert Heinlein as my favorite author, and my worldview changed. The worldviews I encountered in the sf world didn't appeal to me as much. Wilson got me heavily into Pound, and that led me to change my college major from math to English. However, science fiction fandom reminds me of the IRA: Once in, never out. I have never fully entered the university English department worldviews because they tend to look down on the Heinlein/SF worldviews which have shaped me and still seem to me to have some validity.

I have think my tastes have evolved. I like to revisit science fiction worldviews from time to time.

I hope Eric can be coaxed into explaining what he means when he writes, "The worldviews I encountered in the sf world didn't appeal to me as much." I never noticed much of a contradiction between Robert Anton Wilson's technological optimism and the science fiction worldview, so perhaps Eric is referring to something else. I never felt disconnected going to SF conventions back in Oklahoma, because I always saw a bunch of old friends, but it can be an odd experience going to a convention if you don't know the attendees. I went to Penguicon in Michigan last year and didn't run into a single person I knew.

It's interesting that RAW replaced Robert Heinlein as Eric's favorite author. Arthur Hlavaty has written many times that his worldview was shaped by RAW and Heinlein. I read plenty of Heinlein as a teenager (my favorite was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) but he was never my favorite, as he was for so many fans. (If I had to pick a favorite in those days, it probably would have been Isaac Asimov.)

Bonus bit: For anyone who is interested, Iain Banks' Culture novel, Surface Tension, is $1.99 today only as an Amazon Kindle. I liked it very much.


Eric Wagner said...

I remember going to an Arizona convention in the late 80's. They had a panel about life in space. I suggested that people might go through real psychological transformation through the experience of living in space. People looked at me as if they thought me crazy.

It probably has something to do with my arrogance, but my Wilson inspired ideas seemed airy-fairy to those with a more nuts-and-bolts SF attitude towards change and the future. I felt far less at home among non-Wilson reading SF fans. On the other hand, a number of my Wilson reading friends in the 80's also loved Heinlein. I would buy each new Heinlein book, quickly read it, lend it to Ted who would read it quickly, lend it to Sue who would read it quickly, etc.

michael said...

I find this discussion interesting, and I feel sympathetic to what Eric's saying. Also, early on, as I got to "know" Tom Jackson and realized he's a serious and very thoughtful reader and commenter on science fiction: he also likes Jane Austen and Nabokov. See: this gets to where I part with Eric's "IRA" members in SF.

But maybe I'm even weirder: I remember as a teen getting the idea that I should like Star Trek. I kept trying to like it, but I couldn't get past the assumed militarization of space idea.

Similarly, Jerry Pournelle and a bunch of others like that.

PKD bringing phenomenological sociological ideas into SF made me love him, and RAW's use of quantum mechanics and Einstein and countercultural "goofy" ideas and Borges and Joyce: I loved that. Similarly, the when cyberpunk was born I appreciated the care about sentences, and the research of Pentagon materials, prospectuses from hi-tech industry, etc.

Stephenson's historical bend I find astonishingly great.

I find Rudy Rucker tremendous.

There are all kinds of SF I still want to get to, because I know it has much to offer, if only as the last Literature of Ideas.

I also don't like the Balkanization I've heard from some SF experts: when I've mentioned WSB, Bradbury and Vonnegut as SF writers I admire I've gotten reactions that were almost exactly like what I got when I mentioned I liked Yes or Kiss or KIss or Judas Priest or Bryan Adams of Cheap Trick when I was in high school: YOU MUST PICK A TEAM! "William S. Burroughs is great and all, but he's not science fiction," one guy told me, seemingly Ex Cathedra.

There's nothing I can say to someone like that, who seems like they're in the IRA to me.

Much of SF fandom I've found adolescent, cultish, stunted and pretentious. OTOH, usually when I find a reader who's smarter than I am, has read more, they love SF and can talk engagingly about all kinds of writers within that "genre," usually admitting that "genre" is a difficult topic itself. Eric and Tom: you both fit into this set of Readers, for me.

I wish more hardcore SF fans had read Joyce, Austen, Nabokov, Pound...

Eric Wagner said...

Mike, I said, "However, science fiction fandom reminds me of the IRA: Once in, never out." I meant I feel I can never really leave fandom - I still feel a part of it although I don't participate in conventions or read it much anymore. I just wanted to make a joke - I didn't mean to compare fans to terrorists.

Thanks for the kinds words.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I totally relate to Michael's comments about being forced to choose sides in high school over what music groups he liked. When I was in high school in the 1970s I listened to the bands that were considered "cool" such as Yes and ELP. But I remember when I was a senior, my friends thought it was eccentric that I sought out early Elvis Presley tunes on a jukebox in the pizza parlor.

In college, although I spent hours listening to the music approved by my social circle (progressive rock and jazz-rock fusion stuff such as Chick Corea, Mahavishnu Orchestra etc.) I also committed acts of heresy, such as buying Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever" album. My roommate my sophomore year could not relate to my Dave Brubeck greatest hits album (which he called "Mannix music" or my interest in Paul McCartney's solo albums. And so it goes. The "choosing sides" phenomena seems to apply to all kinds of music. The few people who listen to modern classical music generally are divided up between the minimalists and the modernists.

michael said...

@Eric: I didn't really mean IRA/SF fans/Terrorists literally, of course. I think I misread you more egregiously by thinking you disliked the cultish aspects of sombunall SF fandom...which I think you sorta do, but that was not your emphasis, as I now re-read and misread you: you're a part of it and always will be and yet alienated from the conventions.

Not that this is all that related, but I'll never forget seeing a very young William Gibson talk, very soon after Neuromancer came out, that he showed up for a book signing and much of the crowd were mohawked, tattooed, motorccyclist-futuristic outlaw types, and they seemed taken aback that Gibson was a skinny bespectacled dude with a W.Va accent. People seem to want their fantasies to bleed into what we so laffingly call "real life"? (Similarly, many philosophy professors encounter students who have gone ga-ga with their first readings of Nietzsche, assuming he looked like Doc Savage, When they find he was a dapper dresser, sickly, etc: they seem shocked. Along these lines I was a little thrilled to see that a hot new male mystery writer who was getting good reviews turned out to be JK Rowling.

@Tom: You goddamned promiscuous musical SLUT! (I like Cat Scratch Fever, all of Brubeck, most of McCartney's solo stuff, Bach, Zakir Hussein, Burt Jantsch, Django Reinhardt, Glenn Miller, Sigur Ros, Apocalyptica, Cheap Trick, Joni Mitchell, Master Musicians of Jajouka, Brian Eno, John Adams, and Uli Jon Roth, among many others.)

No but seriously: do you like Larry Niven?

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Michael: Oh, I love Cheap Trick -- I have albums, a concert DVD, T-shirts, etc.

Did you know Bun E Carlos and Cheap Trick are on the outs?! Did you know Bun E Carlos' real name is "Brad Carlson?"

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Michael: Niven is kind of up and down in quality and does a lot of collaborations, but when he is good he's very good. "Inconstant Moon" is one of the best SF short stories ever.

Oz Fritz said...

A Cheap Trick song was playing upon entering the gym this morning.

AC/DC is my secret hard rock vice.

Science Fiction rocks. Common denominator dross exists in every genre.

Authors who I'd like to read all of their works(some I'm have)include: RAW, Crowley, Gurdjieff, kurt Vonnegut, James Joyce, Rimbaud, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Eliphas Levi, EJ Gold, FRank Herbert, Tom Robbins, Helena Blavatsky, Thomas Pynchon, Buckminster Fuller, PK Dick Kenneth Patchen, Alfred Bester, John Lilly, William Blake, Jack kerouac, Timothy Leary, William Gibson, Carlos Castenada, Nick Herbert, Reshad Feild, Walter Miller... that's all I can think of at the moment.