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July 29, 2009

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The Delong was awesome. Very nice find. The increase in innovation circa the late 19th century is an area of particular interest to me.

Well, the thing is that as *written* SF as a genre tends to wither and die, other, ancillary phenomena like film SF, comic book adaptations, RPG's, and televised SF have metastasized across the culture. As such, even though SF novels and short stories are collapsing as spectacularly as the tenured professorship, SFnal stuff is actually more visible in the culture at large than it would have been back in the heyday of written SF. As a result, it's something that you can cover from a cultural studies perspective.

And then there's the fact that one of the hot new directions in cultural studies and queer theory is the study of fandom.

I don't see DeLong working with Doc Smith as SF, specifically, but as pulp fiction that makes good primary source material for the attitudes of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers. Wells - Food of the Gods, frex - might be even more interesting, but would be harder to work with because Wells is a deeper writer than Smith.

(And while DeLong's moral comments - "casual genocide" - are 100% right, it's still a little sad to hear. Kind of like seeing a childhood friend on the news taking a perp walk.)

Andrew - are the derivative things you mentioned really SF, as it was understood by Golden Era writers and readers, or are they just stealing its clothes? It seems to me that the Golden Era types were wrestling with particular problems that the later things aren't aware of.

Well, David, a purist wouldn't necessarily call them SF, but they're out there in the culture and like it or not, they're its new face. Fantasy also seems to occupy a similar niche, both socially and in the bookstore.

Perhaps a better term for such phenomena would be "fantastical, with elements of the science fictional."

Andrew - on the one hand, I think that you and I and Dr. Maurer are all...not saying the same thing in different words, but naming pieces of the same elephant: Science fiction ain't what it used to be. Which doesn't answer the interesting questions, but...

On the other, "fantastical, with elements of the science fictional" isn't much help when the cataloging clerk says to me "I have here a paperback about a romance between a 19th century cowboy and a 21st century time traveler.* Where do I put it?"**

*Go to Amazon and search for "Once an Outlaw", by Debbi Rawlins, but there have been others.

**In real life, of course, Kathy would check the imprint, or just look at the bright red cover. However, she and I do have to agree why that answers the question.

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