I²: Ivory and Ivy
Ivory and Ivy, a column on academic and research oriented SF subjects
by Edward Carmien,
Welcome to the first I2 column here at SFRevu. First, some words of introduction. I’m a writer, reader, and teacher of science fiction, and have been at least one of those things since about five minutes after I learned to read. SFRevu Editor Ernest Lilley asked me to come up with a semi-regular column on academic and research oriented SF subjects. I agreed, then waited for the right moment.
That moment arrived in the mail (can moments fit into packages?) just the other day, when I received Cosmos Latinos from Wesleyan University Press. This collection of science fiction by South American and Spanish authors was ably edited by Andrea L. Bell and Yolanda Molina-Gavilan. I positively reviewed the anthology elsewhere (see review). The moment of which I speak was not the book, however. It was the advertising flier that accompanied it. I seriously doubt it was written by the editors: most likely the university press publicist is to blame. What words raised my ire?
“For English-speakers…looking to break out of the confining bubble of Anglo-Saxon culture, Cosmos Latinos enlivens….”
Thankfully, nothing in the text itself suggests the editors are as ignorant of the world of science fiction as the author of the press release quoted above. True, most American fans of SF are ignorant of all but a small sample (which has been translated and published in the USA) of SF published in Spain and Latin America. True, we as a nation would be better off if more of us spoke more than one language.
Demonstrably false in the world of SF: the idea we live in an Anglo-Saxon bubble. No other literary genre promotes diversity of thought more rigorously. No other genre makes readers question the very premises of our culture so extensively. No other words than “break out of the confining bubble of Anglo-Saxon culture” could have illustrated more perfectly the lack of understanding in the “mainstream” world about science fiction and the real culture we live in today.
Why is that? What is it about readers of SF that allows us to see and understand what is happening in the world more clearly than, in this case, a publicist? As James Gunn has said with precision and grace, science fiction is the literature of change.
This does not allow us to see the future with any certainty. Sure, Clarke peered into his crystal ball and saw satellites. Heinlein, bless his salacious heart, thought up spandex (and what jaw-dropping uses skin-tight—I mean really skin tight—clothing would be put to).
How is the average SF reader’s perception of the world different from the average non-SF reader’s perception? Change. We know the world will change. We imagine where change will take us. We imagine utopias, dystopias, and all the worlds in between. We can and do picture ourselves in the role of the colonized, in the role of the colonizers. We read fantastic stories about genocide and space exploration and genetic manipulation and time travel. We read stories in which the primary impetus to the tale is “take X and apply Y change…”.
We are people who pay attention to census figures and who can imagine our future, especially here in America, will be very different than our past. Within decades America will have no dominant cultural or ethnic block to speak of, which is to say that today any perceived dominant cultural block is hardly dominant.
So where do statements like ‘Anglo-Saxon cultural bubble” come from?
They come from the past, from masters of what James Gunn calls the literature of continuity. They come from those who have made scholarly hay out of America’s unjust, unbalanced past. Like shooting fish in a barrel, scholars and critics have for decades pointed out the obvious and the fairly obvious aspects of our literary heritage—it is Eurocentric (well, duh! What a surprise!), man-oriented (ditto!), class dominated, and so on and so forth.
In short, things that readers of science fiction are as a rule aware of because we’ve read tales that explode Eurocentrism, tales that are woman-oriented, tales that illustrate what social class was, is, and might be, and so on, and so forth.
Not around this cobber. Porous screen? Maybe. Often-but-not-always prevailing wind? Could be. Anglo-Saxon? Strange way to describe me, but it will do. Not many of my neighbors, mind, who recently or at one or more generation’s remove hail from Russia, Israel, India, China, Italy, Africa.
I look forward to reading and reviewing (and possibly writing columns about) work that springs from the academic world. I hope this work reflects the sensibility of the editors of Cosmos Latinos and not their publicist, who probably has written many a “oh woe are we, the narrow minded” press release in order to push a book from the university press. I look forward to the future, because change is in the wind.
Heck, even Bob Dylan knows that.