I was thinking maybe it had something to do with how our world has changed so much over the past 2 decades, and maybe SF hasn't kept pace. William Gibson, for example, is writing about virtually the same world he wrote about in the early 80s, except now he's our most realistic, and best, narrator of the world as it is. Pattern Recognition was barely SF, and the reviews i've read of Spook Country have me thinking it's more of the same. (Don't misunderstand; Pattern Recognition is one of the best novels i've read in the past 10 years.)
But i'm in a SF reading group with Joe and a few other people, and our current volume (name withheld to protect the innocent) opened my eyes.
You see, in a good SF novel, there are one or two changes from the world in which we live, and these changes have percolated, resonated, and steamrollered through the novel's society, changing it in ways that make it unrecognizable to our own. Or so many authors believe. And the narrative device by which these changes are made known is often the infodump. In a less skilled hand, the infodump is analogous to a brick wall across the freeway, simply impassable. Why this should be, i can't say. The infodump was an essential part of golden era SF, and Asimov and Heinlein, who were not terrific prose stylists, handled it easily. But in much of what i've read from some of today's young masters, the infodump, and its close cousin the Laundry List of Things That Make This City Different, are just indigestible. My friend Terry has a theory. As the price of mass-market paberpacks has increased to $8 and $9, both publishers and readers feel that a book's heft is indicative of its value. Think of J. G. Ballard's early 60s catastrophe novels (The Wind From Nowhere) pumped up to the size of Sherri Tepper's Grass. It's like SF's own steroids era. A lot of stuff that could (and would have been 40 years ago) edited out, is not only kept in, but artificially inflated to the size of a Macy's parade balloon.
Which got me thinking about a novel i could write.
A guy walks into a bar. It's a bar on an alien planet in a far solar system being terraformed. He orders a beer. As the bartender pulls the tap, he starts telling the guy about how the grain that made the beer isn't barley, but a genetically modified rice brought over on the first ship 40 years prior, although the hops are actually Cascade from the Yakima Valley, which happened to thrive in the moist soil and the often overcast long days. The yeast, however, is native to the planet, but so similar to Saccharomyces cerevisiae that neither biology nor cosmology can explain how two planets, 150 light years apart, could produce nearly identical organisms. He goes on to describe to farms in the Southern hemisphere where the grain is grown, and the semi-intelligent native species that have been domesticated as labor to keep the farms productive, the presence of an underground movement dedicated to ending the exploitation of the native species, how things are Different in the rock and sand factories up north, where the natives can't survive the long winters. There's a sidetrack to a history of the various governors the planet has had, and the different structures the government has experimented with, including references to the times back on Old Earth that similar structures were used with varying degrees of success. Thinking about the Free Labor movement gets the bartender to ruminate on the 25 hour day, 8 day week of the planet, how there's only one day off during the week, how the days of the week and the hours of the day got their names (because they're not the same as the ones we, the readers, know. How could they be? there's 8 of them).
Two hundred pages later the bartender says "Here's your beer. That'll be 4 Leinsters."
The guy reaches into his manpurse for some cash, and starts ruminating about money, and the faces on the various bills and why they were chosen for which denomination, and the other history of the planet and the terraforming project which, as a former foreman for the Really Big Company which had roots on Old Earth, he has the special inside knowledge of.
One hundred and thirty pages later, he utters the phrase which gives the novel its name, "Keep the Change."
Labels: science fiction