Sunday, January 30, 2011

Technical Fiction: A Proposal

Rev. Barky and I canceled our cable more than a year ago, not just because of all of the crap on regular television, but because of all of the crap on so-called "science shows." The last good science documentary that I watched on cable television was "How the Earth Was Made." (It is a tour of history through the Precambrian and I highly recommend it!)

We were disgusted by the inaccuracies, the cliches, the inexplicable appeals to asteroids in impending apocalyptic collision with earth or the Bigfoot "expeditions" with dancing graphics and metrosexuals with hair gel doing their Blair Witch act, talking into a spotlight and a camera about how scared they were. (As someone who was a Bigfoot enthusiast when I was twelve, all I could think was, "What would Rene Dahinden or Peter Byrne think of these losers?" Scared! I wish Bigfoot existed! I'd run ahead and tell the big guy that he needs to pick up a digital camera and film the crazy humans for a change.)

Moreover, we are sick of these apparently ubiquitous cliches that seem to happen even in so-called "science fiction": aggressive computers that can be outwitted by being asked to solve a paradox; sparking and exploding electronics; fires that are bright (in reality they are dark) and from which people run upright (the heat and pressure from standing up in a hot fire can kill you before the smoke does); logical people/aliens/robots who discover emotions just by trying really hard (I would like to see the opposite happen for a change); aliens taking human bodies (although I wrote such a story, and the novel Those Who Watch also handles this idea quite well); computers that make a teletype noise when they display print; the scream of a hawk whenever a scene is outside; a character throwing a gun at an opponent once s/he has run out of bullets; cars skidding to a stop; and other tiresome crutches.

There is a natural tension between fiction and reality in literature, but hard science fiction is an attempt to reconcile the two in order to explore certain ideas. Thus I stumbled upon what I think is a new form of fiction, at least as explicitly proposed: Technical Fiction. My idea behind this is that the writer would refrain from falling back upon such literary crutches, and when presented, as writers so often are, with the choice of moving the story along or wrestling with an inconvenient, plot-mangling fact, the writer would deal with the fact even if it derailed the story. The writer would choose to tell a different story, an organic one arising from this fact, instead of glossing over it.

However, technical fiction goes even farther than this. Instead of reducing the story to another soap opera about (often unrealistic) humans, technical fiction will be the first genre since surrealism and science fiction to elevate the machine and the object to the level of character. My work this summer at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum solidified for me the ideas that had been simmering since I read the works of Robert Desnos and Andre Breton, who often featured objects as their main characters: that planes, space ships, engines, kites, gliders, cars, and turbines could be as beloved as literary heroes, and in a very real sense were heroes to many people. Their stories, their "characters" would be accurately captured in technical fiction.

However, technical fiction need not be limited only to technology: algorithms and modules of code can be included. However, a very important point to make here is that I would also include accurate representation of sex and sexuality as technical fiction. For a long time I have been troubled by the apartheid between Hollywood/independent films and porn; the former presents sex/uality in an appallingly naive manner while doing a very good job in creating arresting romantic situations and appealing characters; porn is ostensibly more realistic, but today it has become mechanical, a function performed by Brazilian waxed, boob-jobbed, faux blondes and men who have no appeal to me whatsoever. Cunnilingus, fellatio, missionary pos, and doggie - it's the same damn thing all the time. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

Writers like me who wish to write realistically about sex, love, and sensuality, using real people, real men and women, are writing a form of technical fiction as well. I would like to combine the ability to involve the audience in a good story and a romantic situation with more frankness about sex. (The first thing I would change: no one in porn smiles any more! At least in the 1980s, the women would have these glazed, ridiculous over-smiles, but now everyone is so serious. It's joyless, and annoying.)

What kind of stories would we start to tell if, instead of taking poetic license, we pushed ourselves to work through all of the inconvenient facts? I have two projects in the works right now. I don't know if they will be successful, but their progress will be posted here for you to see and comment upon.

(At least this time I hopefully will not be getting spam bots to the comments section of my blog begging me to put my peer-reviewed paper online for lazy, cheating college/graduate students to plagiarize!)