Video of Neal Stephenson talk on science fiction

A two-month-old video of Neal Stephenson giving a talk at Gresham College on "Science Fiction versus Mundane Culture."


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Gripping!

Seriously, thanks for that- Mr. Stephenson's thoughts are interesting, even if he's not the most exciting speaker. I'm not sure he's so right when he gets to the bit about being an SF author among poststructuralists. A lot of the post-modern lit-critty sorta stuff I've read takes SF pretty seriously as a cultural product, and specifically sets as part of its agenda the elimination of high-brow/low-brow distinctions. I guess what's in common between SF writers who are taken seriously by postmodern academia might be that they tend to have some kind of countercultural (and not just geek-cultural) cache.

Jesse | Mon, 07/07/2008 - 3:13pm

I guess squaring his conclusion with what I just wrote would take a little thinking-through. I think there's probably a sub-bifurcation we could pursue within SF: the sort that I would read, and the sort that requires vulcan ears.

Jesse | Mon, 07/07/2008 - 3:17pm

Internet buzz for his newest book is extremely positive so far, so you might not need Vulcan ears for that, even though the only quote I've found so far from it is this: "Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs. We have a protractor."

I think your point about poststructuralism and SF is valid, and that Slavoj Žižek has written extensively about The Matrix is evidence that it's not atypical within the field. But I'm not sure I've found any critical theory on anything like Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time fantasy series, although now I'm thinking a simple Google search would bring something up.

crazymonk | Mon, 07/07/2008 - 3:29pm

Wow, it would have taken me like twenty minutes to figure out how to type Slavoj's last name. Did you cut and paste, or pull up whatever the Mac's version of character map is?

RumorsDaily | Mon, 07/07/2008 - 4:33pm

The wonderment of copy and paste.

crazymonk | Mon, 07/07/2008 - 4:49pm

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Jon May | Mon, 07/07/2008 - 4:53pm

You're absolutely right, CM, and it's a bit unfair of me to feel like I have any sf taste arbitration status. I really don't know the first thing about Robert Jordan other than what his covers look like and his wikipedia bio, but I just sorta reflexively assume his books fall into the category "SF I woudn't read." I think an amazing thing about science fiction or sf as genre is its ability to side with the anarchic in ways that 'conventional' fiction can't (and so it is in a strong sense 'idea porn,' just like stephenson says).

When I was a wee one I read Ender's Game and Lost Boys, which is this other non-sci-fi Orson Scott Card book- I don't remember why, I just stumbled on them. I remember the narratives being really gripping but I was innocent. I remember then later hearing O.S. Card is this arch conservative whose books are all expressing of his values and I remember being disappointed 'cause I had so enjoyed the books earlier. I never went back and looked at the books to see how his ideas show up, but I just read this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orson_scott_card#Personal_views

Jesse | Mon, 07/07/2008 - 4:59pm

It's hard for me to square those personal views with the writer of "Speaker for the Dead."

crazymonk | Mon, 07/07/2008 - 5:07pm

His personal beliefs don't have to have any impact on your enjoyment of his books. It's kind of sad that you were post-reading disappointed by his book merely because you don't like his personal ideology. The books stand for themselves. Ender's Game has some pretty glaring flaws when you read it as an adult, but it's also a good and somewhat unique sci-fi story.

RumorsDaily | Mon, 07/07/2008 - 5:41pm

I have no problem admitting that the knowledge that someone spends their time advocating against gay rights and global warming would affect how I feel about their fiction. It's not because I don't want to hear from people who disagree with me. If I reread ender's game (which I probably won't because there's no time) and enjoyed the story, I wouldn't lie and say I didn't enjoy it.

Jesse | Mon, 07/07/2008 - 11:54pm

I don't think I have a problem disassociating someone's art from someone's politics. I'd need to really test the theory out though... did Hitler write any awesome sci-fi? I read Battlefield Earth with an open mind. It sucked, but it sucked on its own merits.

I still think it seems a little bit sad not to enjoy the work for the work, but to be caught up in the situation surrounding its creation.

RumorsDaily | Tue, 07/08/2008 - 12:13am

RD, I think Wagner is the prototypical example.

flea | Tue, 07/08/2008 - 3:57pm

I always use Hemingway.

Jon May | Tue, 07/08/2008 - 4:02pm

"I always use Hemingway."

In which way?

crazymonk | Tue, 07/08/2008 - 4:03pm

as the prototypical example.

Jon May | Tue, 07/08/2008 - 4:12pm

I mean, to which personal beliefs of Hemingway are you referring?

crazymonk | Tue, 07/08/2008 - 4:15pm

Not his beliefs as much as his behavior, though in this case the one likely informed the other. He was regarded as being a racist, homophobic, anti-semitic, violent, womanizer. Also kind of a jerk.

Jon May | Tue, 07/08/2008 - 5:22pm

AFAIK, even people who read Robert Jordan books don't like them.

Did I enjoy some Orson Scott Card books? Yes, especially the Alvin Maker series. Do I respect him? Not after reading his ill-informed screed denying global warming.

Lorelei | Wed, 07/09/2008 - 6:14pm

I have a friend who I guess really enjoys Robert Jordan books. I would also have to say that he has the most 'mainstream' tastes or lifestyles of any of my friends- I only know he's a Robert Jordan fan because after years of knowing him I happened to notice a big R.J. hardcover sticking out on his bookshelf and I thought to myself, "X reads fantasy?!? What the hell?" I didn't press him on it, but I got a clear confirmation that he really enjoys his Robert Jordan.

I'm not saying I can't enjoy a book because it was written by an asshole. But what I know of an author affects how I enjoy or don't enjoy a book, or how I process it, for sure. And if someone is using their work as a vehicle for their ideas, and I can detect those ideas at work, then there's no clean break between the work and its creator.

Jesse | Wed, 07/09/2008 - 6:42pm