An Imaginary Line

After the last two posts collectively regarding strokes, pigs, and sci-fi (Kicking A Dead Pig and Mind Reading), I recalled that I have a short short story of speculative fiction sitting in a metaphorical drawer about a man suffering quadriplegia, pigs, and sci-fi.

But Space Pig, it's the other way!
‘I must rush to check that out!’ – Doctor Who Space Pig

Now. You might think that all sounds a bit silly. And you might be right. But read on…

[And in the meantime, visit the Apoplexy Newsletter for a soundtrack to distract you.]

If you do think that sounds silly, then Congratulations, you’re in esteemed company. Ian McEwan has been at pains recently to promote his new AI novel, Machines Like Me by proclaiming that it is not science fiction.

McEwan’s On Chesil Beach

It pains me to read of this. I first read and enjoyed Ian McEwan’s work when Black Dogs was released in 1992, and then when Enduring Love came out in 1997.

You can click below to read about him…

…drawing an impermeable boundary between literary fiction and science fiction, and placing himself firmly on the respectable side of the line.

‘It drives writers mad’ – The Guardian, 18 Apr 2019
I really need a laughing cavalier side-eye gif here, don't I?
Is that right, aye?

I wonder if he’s really placing himself on the right side of the imaginary line, here. I’ve been recalling again this week JG Ballard’s assertion that

…to write about the world in an interesting and relevant way as early as the Twentieth Century meant to write a form of science fiction.

‘I think you’ll find mid-century design is timeless, darling’
Tom Hiddleston in
the Ballard adaptation, High-Rise

Having recently read Rita Indiana’s none-more-contemporary Tentacle – which isn’t so much sci-fi as cli-fi and what-the-fi? – and now currently working through a collection of John Wyndham’s short stories from the forties and fifties, and being a confirmed fan of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which is very of-the-moment, I’m inclined to fall on the Ballard side of this argument.

That’s not to say I don’t have some sympathy for McEwan’s point.

There could be an opening of a mental space for novelists to explore this future not in terms of travelling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots, but in actually looking at the human dilemmas.

Ian McEwan, there.
(Can you believe I still haven't seen 'Threads', though?!)
I’m still recovering from Wyndham’s knockabout space opera 38 years later

Like, anti-gravity boots! Who could possibly imagine that?

I’m glad that Ian Mcewan has, in recent years, been focussing on the real life problems that people can really relate to. Like, the problems of the characters in Sweet Tooth who are facsimiles of the former Director General of MI5 and, er, Ian McEwan. Or the graduate student of history and the sting quartet violinist in On Chesil Beach. Or the respected High Court Judge in The Children Act which was inspired by a rather lovely dinner party the author attended…

Some years ago I found myself at dinner with a handful of judges – a bench is the collective noun. They were talking shop, and I was politely resisting the urge to take notes…

McEwan, again
‘And then, because he went to Sussex,
McEwan almost passed the port the wrong way!’

Urgh. I’m getting back to the Wyndham. At least his stuffed shirts and Mars colonists are delivered with a degree of self-awareness. Till next time…

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2 thoughts on “An Imaginary Line

  1. Oh where does sci fi end and literature begin. The same place that jazz ends and rock starts. Just in books.

    Some things are clear of course and I agree ballard is a good example of rock-tinged jazz, but occasionally you get a book like “super sad true love story” or “the book of strange new things” and you sort of realize that, well, bitches brew was a great album.

    then one day you wake up and you realize modern hip hop has become 60s psychedelia crossed with free jazz (for real) and you sort of stop thinking about it.

  2. Ray Bradbury is a good example of a writer who blurred the imaginary line between sci-fi (and fantasy) and “regular” literature. He always focused on human dramas first and foremost, regardless of whether the humans lived on Earth, Mars, or elsewhere.

    As a kid, I read his short story, The Next in Line, about an American couple who stumble across a collection of mummified corpses in Mexico. As an adult, I stumbled into the museum housing the mummies that inspired Bradbury to write the story, without knowing that his story was based on a real life place. Creepy!

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