Thursday, September 06, 2007

mundane science fiction

Alex and I have been having conversations about Filipino science fiction, most recently exchanging views during the LitCritters panel at the Book Fair. In our (admittedly limited) readings of available Filipino scifi, we noted a rather pessimistic outlook toward the future - as if the gorgeous imaginings of fantastical or hard science fiction was not something that appealed to Filipino scifi writers or simply could not be presented as remotely possible.

It seems as if our writers cannot believe in a future where the Philippines is anything other than what it is right now, as if the country cannot possibly be anything else. In the name of verisimilitude, we present stories where the spectre of social realism is still strong, where the concerns of nationhood are paramount, and where the divide between the haves and the haves-not is even more pronounced.

There is nothing wrong in this, of course. Literature reflects the concerns of a people, and speculative fiction is no exception. At the core of things, stories, whether spun from magical cloth or constructed in terms of narrative realism, address human concerns, the human condition. My perspective is simply wanting more variety in the types of Filipino science fiction that we read and write.

Having said that though, if we were to go with the flow (remember: descriptive, not prescriptive), I'd suggest that some of us adopt the perspective of mundane science fiction (since we seem to be in no rush to posit scenarios that move too far away from what is "real").

Mundane Science Fiction, according to the Wikifolk, is a sub-section of science fiction that focuses on stories set on or near the Earth, with a believable use of technology and science as it exists at the time the story is written. Liberally quoting from the Wiki:

The central ideas are:

That interstellar travel remains unlikely; that Warp drives, worm holes, and other forms of faster-than-light travel are wish fulfillment fantasies rather than serious speculation about a possible future.

That unfounded speculation about interstellar travel can lead to an illusion of a universe abundant with worlds as hospitable to life as this Earth. This is also viewed as unlikely.

That this dream of abundance can encourage a wasteful attitude to the abundance that is here on Earth.

That there is no evidence whatsoever of intelligences elsewhere in the universe. That absence of evidence is not evidence of absence -- however, it is considered unlikely that alien intelligences will overcome the physical constraints on interstellar travel any better than we can.

That interstellar trade (and colonization, war, federations, etc.) is therefore highly unlikely.

That communication with alien intelligences over such vast distances will be vexed by: the enormous time lag in exchange of messages and the likelihood of enormous and probably currently unimaginable differences between us and aliens.

That there is no present evidence whatsoever that quantum uncertainty has any effect at the macro level and that therefore it is highly unlikely that there are whole alternative universes to be visited.

That therefore our most likely future is on this planet and within this solar system, and that it is highly unlikely that intelligent life survives elsewhere in this solar system. Any contact with aliens is likely to be tenuous, and unprofitable.

That the most likely future is one in which we only have ourselves and this planet.

So no aliens, no interstellar travel, no science that does not currently exist - it seems tailor-made. Personally though, if I could write excellent science fiction (which is a gigantic "if"), I'd go more with the "I want a space rocket" folk.

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