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Monthly Archives: January 2012

On my nearest bookshelf, I have some excellent Science Fiction anthologies. At just a quick glance, I see the ParaSpheres anthology; Feeling Very Strange, the “slipstream” anthology; two anthologies on cyberpunk (Mirrorshades and Storming the Reality Studio); two anthologies devoted to “new wave fabulism” (whatever that actually is); Rewired, the post-cyberpunk anthology; two anthologies of steampunk; and two anthologies of “the new weird.” Each anthology contains some excellent pieces, some that I could live without, and some that I will never read again.

A good number of the texts could fit within a broad definition of SF, sure. But some of them could also fit in a broad definition of Fantasy. And a few of the texts seem a bit out of place in SF anthologies at all, unless we really stretch the definition. For example, the anthology Storming the Reality Studio includes a brief excerpt from Don DeLillo’s White Noise. DeLillo’s work is excellent, and certainly expresses the fractured nature of technocratic Modernity. It fit in well with the “fifteen minutes into the future” idea that the anthology seemed to be reaching for. But is it really Science Fiction? DeLillo is SF (and cyberpunk) only if you want to argue that we are living today, this very moment, in a SF world. (I think that argument could be made, but it is outside of my larger point.) To call DeLillo a “Science Fiction” writer is to really stretch the term to a breaking point. On the other hand, I have little problem with Gibson’s Zero History, Sterling’s The Zenith Angle, Stephenson’s Reamde, or Doctorow’s Little Brother being placed in the Science Fiction section of my local library, despite the fact that none of them ever involve alien technology, time travel, cybernetics, or any other common trope of SF. So why does DeLillo not belong?

How do we define Science Fiction? When we define a genre, we include some things and exclude others; who we include and exclude can, on a first glance, seem nonsensical. For example, look at the novel Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton and Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. In Jurassic Park, genetically recreated dinosaurs go on a rampage. The dinosaurs are created through scientific means that are semi-scientifically possible, and there is some narrative hand-waving to misdirect us from the bits that are impossible. It examines science in a semi-plausible way, but also manages to make science, scientists, and theory interesting. It is SF. Why is this book never stocked as such in the few brick-and-mortar stores that remain?

Cryptonomicon, on the other hand, dealt with the world as it was when it was written, with two other storylines that took us back to WWII. There was no significant hand-waving, and (from what I remember) nothing that was scientifically impossible in the year it was written. (Full disclosure: I am not a scientist, nor am I a computer guru. I am relying on those who are to confirm that everything in Cryptonomicon was, at least in theory, possible with no hand-waving. Other than Enoch Root being, possibly, the same Enoch Root who appears in The Baroque Cycle.) In fact, Cryptonomicon had more in common with a techno-thriller written by Tom Clancy than with SF.  So why is Jurassic Park stocked in “Fiction” and Cryptonomicon stocked in “Science Fiction” in my local bookstore? And, more to the point, why do I have a gut-feeling that, at the end of the day, these classifications are all right?

I don’t have a good answer to the question of shelving practices and genres. But the question returns to SF. How do we define it? What is it? I’m not going to touch that question directly, at least not here. SF is too deeply contested a genre for me to want to step on that particular land mine. Instead, for the purposes of this problem, I think it comes down to the issue of discourse conventions. Interpretive communities use not only language but also style in ways that mark them as being “insiders” in a group; SF, fantasy, NASCAR, and MMA fighting all have their own discourse conventions. (I do understand that the term “discourse convention” more properly belongs in academic discussion, but it is also relevant to issues of mass culture.) These conventions are often so internalized that they become invisible, and we think of them as “natural.” Of course, they are anything but natural. The discourse conventions come over time and with practice. But writers do participate in discourse communities that tend to reinforce their own styles.

By reading many SF writers, SF fans build up a set of tools for understanding how Science Fiction is “supposed” to read and feel. A good reader will have several different discourse conventions in which he or she feels comfortable operating, and sometimes readers will see something in a “non-canon” work that speaks to their own genre. I think that is what the editors of Storming the Reality Studio saw in DeLillo: someone who was not SF, but whose aesthetic project was, in some way, allied with their own. The same thing has happened with Thomas Pynchon: many SF geeks have claimed Gravity’s Rainbow as a text that is SF-ish. Pynchon is not SF, but his aesthetic project seems to have something in common with that of SF.

Even the best writers have styles in which they feel most comfortable and discourse communities within which they tend to participate. These styles will be the ones to which they return, even when they explore new creative avenues. Gibson’s work, fiction and non-fiction, just “feels” SF, even when it deals with the hyper-present “now” and not some kind of jacked-in, implanted techno-future. I think this is why, even though I would never call DeLillo a SF writer, his inclusion in the Storming the Reality Studio anthology made sense. White Noise was not SF, but it did participate in some of the discourse conventions that SF explores. (This isn’t an academic paper, so I will avoid long sections of analysis that compare DeLillo and Gibson in terms of their discourse conventions. But I do know what my next conference paper will be about.)

Originally, when I started planning this blog, it was going to be about the “identity crisis” that Science Fiction is in. I no longer think of that as a problem. Instead, when we ask ourselves these questions about who, or what, SF really is, we ask our beloved genre to engage more deeply with the lived experience of the community. If anything, I now think that this proliferation of styles that are “sort-of-kind-of-maybe SF” (styles like Nowpunk, Dieselpunk, Slipstream, and the New Weird) is liberating. But it does demonstrate that being a Science Fiction writer is probably harder now than it was thirty years ago. If nearly everything can make an argument to be SF, then that means that Science Fiction is everywhere. We are saturated with it (like Palmolive… “You’re soaking in it!”). At the risk of seeming like a fawning fanboy, I am going to point us toward Gibson again. He hit on this cultural saturation of SF when he said “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

This immediate presence of the future in the everyday makes Science Fiction more intellectually potent and more culturally relevant than it has ever been before. But it also makes SF so ubiquitous that it risks fading into the background. I think that this might explain the turn toward “Nowpunk,” as well as the rise of so many other “—punk” sub-genres. It gives their communities a way to force their view of SF, their own discourse conventions, onto the discussion of culture. It forces a genre that is often seen as monolithic to accept collaborative voices.

Hmm. I guess I’ve come around.

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In Neal Stephenson’s Reamde, a group of characters discuss languages in fantasy fiction. The point is made that fantasy and SF names and languages often fail to match up with reality, and that throwing apostrophes randomly in fantasy names and words would be like plopping an active volcano in the middle of a prairie. (I’m paraphrasing for the sake of simplicity, so please don’t bother to tell me that isn’t exactly what they said.)

Language presents a significant problem for writers of fantasy and SF. We casually develop character names, place names, and other examples of foreign language without any thought about how those languages actually work. One of the cultures that I developed with a friend of mine back in our Dungeons and Dragons days had an incredibly high vowel-to-consonant ratio. According to the World Atlas of Language Structures Online, less than 1% of the languages in the real world have a consonant-to-vowel ratio as high as what we created.

But worse than that is the fact that SF and fantasy tends to create different species and races who never seem to have trouble communicating with one another. Star Trek has the universal translator. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has the Babel Fish. Star Wars just has people understand each other, or has C-3P0 translate for them. But translation isn’t quite that simple. Imagine the seemingly simple question, “What’s up?” Speakers of American English (and English more generally) have no problem with this term, understanding it to be a simple greeting. But speakers of other languages might be confused as to why they are being asked to explain what is above them. Further, the question “How are you doing?” might receive puzzled looks, and the response, “How am I doing what?” Just because a person can translate the words from one language to another does not mean that the sense is recreated. The more culturally different language communities are, the more difficult translation becomes: speakers of American English are more readily able to learn culturally appropriate usage in German, Spanish or French than they are Cree or Tumbuka. If languages on one planet are so dissimilar that they create problems in learning and translation, how much greater would these problems be in the case of different races from vastly different planets?

Anyone who has ever played around with a simple translator knows that the results can be quite odd. The German word for “television,” for example, is fernseher. This is fine: it literally means “far-seer.” This isn’t a significant problem, because that is what the English word “television” means as well (tele, Greek for “far,” and visio, Latin for “sight.”) But imagine a language that used the term “far-seer” as a term for a prophet or holy man. A literal translation from our imaginary language might be “I want to talk to my television,” when really he means that he wants to talk to his pastor or religious leader. Or the term cul-de-sac: this is a term to mean a dead-end road or a court. But it literally means “butt of bag.” A universal translator would have a difficult time dealing with that. Imagine an alien being who wants to know where I live, and what he hears through his universal translator would be, “I live down that butt-of-bag.”

The problem gets worse when one considers inflections: some languages attach grammatical meaning to a word through a morpheme, or semantically meaningful units. In some languages, called “agglutinative languages,” many of these meaningful units can be attached to a word. A single word in these languages can express the meaning that, in English, would require an entire sentence. In a case like this, a universal translator might have to spit out some weird stuff. An alien who says, “Baetthakuerian” might have that word translated as “Feminine marker, plural marker, past-tense, leave.” The target “should” be, in English, “the women left.”  (“Ba” being a gender marker, “et” marking past tense, etc.) And if a universal translator manages to be good enough that it can translate sense-for-sense instead of literally there is the concern that important contextual meaning is lost. The Hebrew word yom can be used to describe the period of time in which the sun is shining, a full twenty-four hour day, or an unspecified period of time that could be days or centuries; context tells us which is meant. And, of course, sometimes contextual clues are absent. How would a universal translator handle that? The universal translator would have to know which use was meant. This means that translators would also have to have telepathic power.

I’m not suggesting that universal translation can’t be achieved with advanced technology or (in the case of fantasy worlds) through magic. But what I am suggesting is that some basic care needs to be taken when we create worlds. Unless we are engaging in an intensely personal process of creation that will never leave the space between one’s ears, the worlds that SF and fantasy fans create are meant to be consumed by others. They are game worlds that we share with our friends, worlds that we set novels and comics in, and we turn our creations into web series and LARPs. When a person sits down to create a world, it has to pass a basic “sniff test.”

This, then, requires that we know a little basic linguistics. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Many fantasy worlds I have encountered include jarring biological abnormalities, such as having two examples of an apex predator occupying the same ecosystem without coming into conflict. And the problem of fantasy races is another example: while I love elves, dwarves, and hobbits, it is a bit odd to think that they would all live in the same space. Wouldn’t one have crowded the other out, much as Neanderthals were crowded out/absorbed by Homo sapiens? And what about the maps that many of us randomly scribbled down while we should have been paying attention in our high school chemistry classes? Are we absolutely certain that the world we are setting our stories, games, and graphic novels in have fjords where they are supposed to be? And why is it that so many game worlds have Bronze Age raiders valiantly resisting or at least being completely unaffected by the numerically superior and better organized Iron Age empires on the borders?

Similarly, in SF, how is it that entire cultures manage to spring up on planets that have only one discernable ecosystem? (Really? Entire planets of nothing but desert, forest, or ice, you say?) Perhaps I am being too picky. I can already predict a reasonable response to this: “I play RPGs/read/write/etc. to escape from reality, not to make more of it.” I suppose that is fine for some people. But I am always impressed when someone gets it right. And that means knowing a little bit of physics, geography, history, linguistics, biology, and probably economics as well. While you’re at it, knowing some comparative mythology, music, architecture, and chemistry is probably smart. And some basic military history would help.

If you have the stories in you, go ahead and keep writing them. Keep naming your races things like “Ke’theqixa” and “Plixin’glaming” if you want to. Let them wear bastardized and a-historical armor. Let beam weapons and swords exist side-by-side if you must, and allow extremely low-powered space-faring races to somehow, against all odds, resist being colonized by super-advanced beings who can warp space-time to their will. But I hope you have some kind of internal logic that explains why every warrior in your metal-poor world walks around in full plate mail, or why your technologically superior race of conquering aliens seems to lack the basic social cohesion necessary to make lunch, much less get off their home planet.

And please, if you have to use apostrophes in names of your alien race (as I am guilty of, too), then have your language worked out well enough in advance that you can explain why they are there.

Anyone who read my last two blogs will know that I did the following things: dismiss the “X-punk” affix, (unintentionally) dismiss some sub-genres that use the affix to describe themselves, and then backtrack from my position. I’m nothing if not inconsistent. But in the discussions that followed, my good friend and fantasy/SF writer Marshall Maresca suggested (if I may paraphrase) that “—punk” serves as a useful shorthand. It calls to mind a subversive, rebellious attitude that transgresses accepted social norms to create a more liberated social space. He wrote, “If someone tells me, ‘I’m doing a teslapunk story’ or ‘I’m doing an atompunk story’, then I’ve got an instant sense of exactly the feel and look they want to achieve.” He then went on to agree that “nowpunk” makes no sense.

I was satisfied. I still disagree with the use of “—punk” on the grounds that overuse strips it of meaning. But I was willing to accept his argument. After all, that is one of the processes through which languages change. Linguistic communities (or, more accurately, interpretive communities) decide for themselves how a word is to be used, and set the term in ways that are useful for them. In Old English, the word “stench” (stenc) simply meant “smell.” It was possible to tell a woman that she had a lovely stench, and not get slapped. Words change as the community needs them to change. So I accepted Marshall’s argument, and accepted that he threw me a bone in agreeing about “nowpunk.”

And then, I woke up at 2:00 AM. Why not nowpunk? If we accept that “—punk” is a useful shorthand (which I haven’t completely accepted, I just don’t want to argue about right now), then what keeps “nowpunk” from being meaningful? If we are going to build a useful framework, nothing excludes this term from use.

My first thought was that “nowpunk” is really just “punk.” Not so under our new schema. If the “—punk” affix means that something about the setting or the characters therein transgress social norms and strive for liberation, then we have to accept that this carries its own meaning that is distinct from “Punk” in terms of the social and musical movement from the ‘70s. The terms are related, but not conflated. “Punk” in terms of the social and musical movement is a free morpheme: it stands alone as a unit of meaning. Meanwhile, “—punk” is a bound morpheme: it must be attached to another unit of meaning to be useful.

I was still unconvinced at that point. After all, if I were talking about the oatmeal that is sitting next to me, waiting to be eaten, I wouldn’t call it “now-oatmeal,” would I? My dogs that share my house are not my “now-dogs” (in contrast to the dogs I have had in the past). But actually, we do that all the time. People talk about “my current girlfriend” or “the class I am taking now.” It is a way of classifying the information. All of my objections to “nowpunk” had been put to bed.

I did have a final problem, though. What made “nowpunk” fundamentally different from, say, a techno-thriller by any number of Tom Clancy-esque writers? What made “nowpunk” different from Modern Warfare 3? At first, I recalled that in the discussion, CSI was suggested: they do impossible things with technology, but put into a modern setting. “Enhance the picture” was the example. But the characters in CSI don’t subvert the social order in any way. And it isn’t just subversion: Sterling, in his original suggestion about “nowpunk” said that “Gibson’s doing this too” (http://craphound.com/sterlingsxsw04.txt). The characters in Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History aren’t all about subversion.Some are, but others are just trying to navigate their way through a fragmented and splintered Modernity.

There is the key: I don’t think “nowpunk” is describing the characters or the technology, so much as the ways in which the characters move through technocratic Modernity. The modern world just has a different feel than the world of a few generations prior. Walter Benjamin, in his essay “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikoli Leskov” (1936), wrote, “A generation that has gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body” (84). For Benjamin, the world had changed in ways and at speeds that culture was not capable of accepting or even understanding. And the pace of technological (and economic) change has certainly increased since the time Benjamin wrote his essay. Benjamin suggests that we live in a fractured, partial existence. But more than this, according to critic Ben Highmore, Benjamin suggests that the fractures of our existence are the detritus, the trash of previous eras. Highmore suggests that:

The ‘object’ of fascination that animates Benjamin’s later work is the Parisian arcade, not in its heyday but as a ‘ruin’ existing in a time when it has been superseded, outmoded. The rag-picker [Benjamin’s image for those in an uneasy relationship with Modernity] deals in the second-hand, in the dreams of the past for a future that was never realized. (Everyday Life & Cultural Theory, 65).

We are the ragpickers, the people who deal in trash culture. We are trying to take the failures of modern culture and repurpose them into new ways of dealing with the ruins all around us. That, I think, is what Nowpunk probably is.

An interesting thing happens when one puts their words out for consumption: other people read them. Obviously, this is what should happen. We write and speak to communicate, and communication is about forging relationships. Having been in the lower and middle levels of academia for many years, I’ve forgotten how easy it is for words to be read. I am used to my words being graded and then forgotten.

I seem to have gone off half-cocked, and put out words that seemed to make sense to me at the time. But were they accurate? Evidently not, in more than one case. (And thanks to the good folks at dieselpunks.org for pointing me in that direction.)

I still stand by much of what I wrote in my previous blog, and I don’t back down from the position that “—punk” affixed to another term is played out. But which X-punk sub-sub-genres are “valid” or not is not for me, as an academic, to say. I am supposed to be descriptive, not prescriptive.

We all can deal with a good dose of reality from time to time. And we could all use someone who helps us expand our horizons. I look forward to having mine expanded even more.

Update: I’ve received some useful feedback from people, both here and elsewhere. At first, I was considering re-writing this whole thing to be more coherent and intellectually useful as a piece of cultural criticism. And then it struck me: this entry was never MEANT to be intellectual or fully-formed as a statement. It is, in essence, a rough draft. Read it as you will, but know that this is not a formal essay that I am seeking to get published, nor is this some kind of absolute statement from an ivory-tower theorist. It is part of a work-in-progress, and should be taken as such.

But it can be read as if I am bad-mouthing some sub-genres. I suppose I did. That was from a lack of care, not from any actual intent. Read with caution, and I promise that in the future I will post with more care.

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I am a big fan of Cyberpunk. I always have been, and I always will be. I do have to admit a bit of relief that science fiction fandom has moved on to a “post-cyberpunk” mode. After all, “post” indicates that cyberpunk is no longer a faddish subculture, but has been folded into SF more generally as one of the many tools in the box. But cyberpunk will always have a place in my heart: as a child of the ‘80s, I was raised on it. Blade Runner is one of the first movies I remember my father taking me to, and Neuromancer is one of the first non-fantasy novels that I read cover-to-cover.

But cyberpunk has a crime to answer for. Namely, cyberpunk gave us the mushrooming of “–punk” styles in SF criticism and subgenre fragmentation. Gibson, Sterling, and their compatriots might not have been personally responsible for their sub-genre’s name, but the “X-punk” convention is a result of the cyberpunk phenomenon. It seems to come and go every year or so, but I have noticed a significant upswing in the “–punk” discussions of late.

I think that some of my distaste for this phenomenon of labeling things “–punk” comes from the fact that I spent a brief but intense period of my youth (and another brief but intense period in my young adulthood) worrying about who (and what) was “punk” and who was hardcore, post-punk, psychobilly, and all kinds of other fragmented musical subgenres. It was the kind of thing a well-off suburban kid worries about when he has no real problems to concern himself with, and has way more free-time than he has common sense. It was, in retrospect, a waste of my time; I think the “–punk” discussions in criticism are similarly useless.

But to demonstrate what I mean, I think I must take us on a tour of the terms. Defining our terms is important in any analysis, and it will be of some use here.

Cyberpunk: This one is the grand-daddy, the one that started it all. The criticism of Paul Di Filippo aside, this one made sense. Cybernetic implants and cyber-tech creations were being used to explore a melding of man and machine that technological progress seemed to offer. And the stories were engaged with a low-life, street-culture aesthetic that had much in common with the aesthetic and social goals of the punk movement. Cyberpunk made sense.

Steampunk: This one made sense, too. In large part, it was tongue-in-cheek. It was suggested by K.W. Jeter in Locus magazine in 1987 as being “the next big thing” in the SF world. But I hold that it made sense even beyond its tongue-in-cheek suggestion, because the Jeter/Powers/Blaylock group that was writing Steampunk had something of the same kind of feel as the Gibson/Sterling/Rucker group. Of course, I do not mean that these two groups had similar literary or aesthetic goals. But rather, both cyberpunk and steampunk were groups who were united more by a guiding aesthetic principle than a hard-and-fast ideology, but in both cases ideology followed. Both cyberpunk and steampunk grew beyond the boundaries of SF to influence pop culture in multiple ways. Both cyberpunk and steampunk started as a core group that soon found an ever-growing number of people exploring the style. And both cyberpunk and steampunk, while existing even today in ideologically “pure” forms, are more of a tool for storytelling than an end in themselves.

But beyond here, there be dragons…

Biopunk: This one is a bit more problematic. In the case of both cyberpunk and steampunk, there were precedents and influences, but the movements themselves tried to take their influences and create something that split off in an entirely new direction. Biopunk failed here: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells did “biopunk” first, did it better, and has yet to be surpassed or transcended. Wells and Verne might have been the inspiration for steampunk, but authors like Meiville, Moore, and Blaylock have all taken steampunk beyond what Wells and Verne ever created. Biopunk, however, has yet to transcend its origin. For that reason alone, biopunk as a term occupies a problematic place in SF criticism and genre study.

But even more, “biopunk” lacks any, well, PUNK. For that reason (and many others that you can read in his RIBOFUNK: The Manifesto1), Paul Di Filippo suggested the term “ribofunk.” But that term has failed to catch on, for good reason. Di Filippo intended the term as a portmanteau of “ribosome” and “funk,” but both of these are duds. Ribosome is a failure because most non-specialists don’t know what a “ribosome” is, and probably think of “riboflavin” instead. And “funk,” while an excellent musical style, is just that: a style of music. Punk might have been a style of music, but it was also a social movement. Funk? Not so much.

Clockpunk: This is basically steampunk, but without the steam. I find this one problematic because punk doesn’t even remotely belong in a Renaissance-style universe. I might be showing my lit-crit/culture studies background here, but “punk” is a feature of Modernity. It can only happen in a society so thoroughly saturated by media spectacle and capitalist alienation that a small part of culture turns on itself in an anarchic return to the libidinal. It is only possible in a world like that described by Walter Benjamin2, Guy Debord3, and Henri Lefebvre4. Alienation certainly existed before Modernity, but the flavor of life in Modernity (and post-Modernity, if we accept that such a thing exists) is simply different than it was prior. “Punk” existing in a Renaissance-style society makes about as much sense as Marxism existing in an egalitarian hunter-gatherer society. Besides, clockpunk has yet to show itself as more than a sub-sub-genre of steampunk.

I can anticipate the counter-argument here: “punk” has nothing to do with the social movement; it is a name that captures a feeling. “Clockpunk” doesn’t have to actually have any “punk” in it to BE “punk.”

My response: if there is no actual “punk,” then why use the term? Cyberpunk deals with the low-life street culture of punk. Steampunk does, at least sometimes, deal with the lowlife of the Industrial Revolution; while it might not be “punk” properly, it has something in common with punk. But clockpunk doesn’t seem to have a similar cultural connection.

Sandalpunk: This is a “punk” derivative set in a bronze-age or iron-age society (and I have also seen the term “ironpunk” proposed5). The problem here is similar to that proposed above. Specifically, I cannot accept that “punk” would have been even possible in an iron-age society. After all, if large numbers of people are spending a significant chunk of their day either struggling to eke out a living or trying not to die of chicken pox, pneumonia, and the plague, there can’t be a whole lot of time left over for a social movement of privileged, middle-class kids revolting against a stifling social order of conspicuous consumption.

Nowpunk: Evidently, Bruce Sterling used this term to describe his contemporary techno-thriller, The Zenith Angle. Sorry, Bruce, I love your work… but wouldn’t “nowpunk” just be “punk?”

Atompunk, Dieselpunk, and Teslapunk: Okay… what? These terms are nonsense, and in large part seem to be invented by people who want a culture to exist that just plain isn’t there. They are trying to invent a sub-sub-sub-sub-genre that pulls itself up by its bootstraps. Atompunk seems to exist in the minds of three or four people, most of them Dutch. And Teslapunk seems to exist in one place, and one place alone: the Wikipedia page for “Cyberpunk derivatives.”

Dieselpunk has slightly more reason to exist: it has two or three existing aesthetic examples, and a sub-genre seems to be coalescing around those few examples. The problem is, one of those examples is Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Did you see that? No? Oh, right… no one did, partly because it is just too narrow and too specific a sub-sub-sub-genre. When you split a hair that fine, there isn’t enough left to be of any substance.

There are others, and I don’t even want to have to think about them. But just for completeness’ sake, there is mythpunk, elfpunk, dwarfpunk (is that really so different from elfpunk?), vamp-punk (please, God, no…), furrypunk (eww…), nanopunk, and probably a few dozen more that I have yet to hear of. And hopefully, I will never have to.

So, can we please put the “—punk” thing to rest? It is played out, and has become meaningless. Unfortunately, there isn’t a better term yet. But SF fans are a clever bunch. If we put our minds to it, we can come up with something far better.

But trust me: “funk” won’t have anything to do with it, either.

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1. Which is actually quite good; despite the fact that I seem to say only negative things about Di Filippo, I actually find his work interesting and engaging. Problematic, but interesting and engaging.

2. Who wrote The Arcades Project. Go read it NOW.

3. Society of the Spectacle. Read it after you’ve read Benjamin.

4. Critique of Everyday Life. Read it after Debord. You’re welcome.

5. While I think that idea is just as bad as any of the others suggested here, at least the name has a nice ring to it.

[An unrelated introduction: I understand that it is a bit of a cliché to re-launch old projects as the New Year opens, but this is as good a time as any to try. So, here it is… the new blog. I do plan to post twice a week (Monday and Thursday, probably) as a way of developing discipline in my writing practice.]

2011 wasn’t the best of years for me or for my family. But it did serve as a prolonged learning experience, and that is a good thing. Here are some of the things that I have learned. (Warning: some things are rather mundane. I don’t have any followers yet, so this is more about developing some writing discipline.)

 

1) Star Wars is a lot better in my memory than in reality. As a child, the Star Wars movies really excited me. The lightsaber duels still get my heart pumping. But I’ve purged from my memories all kinds of things: the plot holes, the uneven performances of the actors, the melodramatic dialogue, and particularly the Ewoks. In fact, most of my favorite memories of Star Wars come not from the movies, but from the scenarios that my friends and I came up with while playing with the action figures.

And while I am at it, Star Wars isn’t science fiction. It is mythic fantasy that uses some science fiction tropes and techniques. But really, Star Wars has much more in common with The Belgariad or The Wheel of Time than it does with Asimov’s Foundation or Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

2) Being vegan does not equal automatic weight loss. Full disclosure: my wife and I are no longer vegan. But we tried (for health reasons, not moral ones), and found that we were feeling so deprived of the things we needed and wanted that we were stuffing our faces with the rather limited diet we actually could eat. I suppose the real lesson we learned from this is that “all things in moderation” would be a better nutritional philosophy than “suffer now for a reward later.”

3) I’m finally ready to write my novel. If anyone who knows me reads this, they might say, “Wait, you told me that you’d written novels, just not gotten them published!” I used to think that I had written some novels. Now, I think what I’ve written were Novel-Like-Objects (or what I have been calling NovLObs). A NovLOb looks an awful lot like a novel on a first glance: it is a prose work with a lot of pages. It allegedly has a plot and characters. But the difference between the writer of a NovLOb and a novelist is like the difference between a guy who plays pick-up basketball in the park and Kobe Bryant. The vast majority of “writers” (even some published ones) are NovLObers.

However, I think I’ve learned enough about myself as a writer that I am ready to really write my novel. In part, the change has come because of the discipline I learned while writing my thesis. And in part, I’ve been watching the process that a friend has gone through as he has become a working writer. Between those learning experiences, I think I am finally ready to put my hand to it.

4) Worrying is like borrowing extra trouble. My wife had a few health problems this year, and one of them was a scare that was potentially quite serious. While we waited for the results of some tests, I spent quite a bit of time in worry and fear. When I was worried and afraid, I couldn’t concentrate on anything and life became unbearable. On top of that, when I worried time seemed to slow down to an unbearable crawl. But between bouts of worry and fear, I actually just sat with my wife. In those moments of just being with her, everything seemed like it was going to be just fine. And then, when we finally got the test results we discovered that all was just fine. At that point, I cursed the fact that I wasted several days in worry. I realized that I could have spent the entire time in the pleasant, happy state I felt in between my worrying spells. Worrying wasted several days for us.

 

Hopefully, 2012 will bring new lessons!