So What Happened to Mundane SF?

It created a flap, a few people signed on, most everybody missed the point, so now what? First off let me say that I’m not sure science fiction needs another sub-genre. It’s getting a little ridiculous with such labels as steampunk, new weird, chickpunk, slipstream, or the silliest of all: military sf. (Isn’t it all military sf, or almost all?) So in the end, I’m not sure that I care that the mundane sf movement never got any traction. How do I know it didn’t get any traction? Well, the mundane sf blog hasn’t been updated since June. Since half a year in Internet terms is way dead, apparently the very promoters of the movement don’t care about it anymore. I’m guessing that no one else does either.

I have to say, though, that I do care.

I recently came across a website, vMeme21.com that promises to launch an Internet magazine in January with a more noble type of sf. vMeme’s manifesto states they are interested in Wellsian science fiction, stuff with a message. The editor states that vMeme21 aspires to provide “an operating system for civilization itself — one that maximizes personal power, freedom, and morality, and therefore provides the greatest opportunity for us to thrive.”

He uses the word “mundane” in his manifesto and feels that the type of work he’s looking for is slandered by the term. Considering the Island of Dr. Moreau, The Time Machine, and War of the Worlds amongst others, wouldn’t fit the definition of Mundane, I don’t think he has to worry. But his point is well taken. He’s looking for something other than what he considers the typical gee whiz, space opera. Put ’em on a space ship, send ’em through time, give ’em a sidekick with six boobs. Boom! A science fiction novel. He wants something more.

I can’t speak for the entire field, but there is a lot of sf with a message available, mundane or otherwise. After all there is such a thing as feminist science fiction, much of which deals with alternatives to the current culture. Can’t get a much bigger idea than one that upsets the applecart completely. And certainly no other genre deals with ideas as much as science fiction. That’s the whole basis of science fiction: ideas.

I do know what he means though. He is looking for mundane sf even if he doesn’t want to use the word. He’s looking for near future stuff. Scenarios that are believable. He wants recipes for solving problems. Utopias as well as dystopias. Ideas. And he wants it well written.

He says it’s going to be interactive. Lots of multimedia stuff. So I’m interested. Doesn’t take much for me, though, I’m always interested when a new pub comes out that promises something more. I always sit up and take notice. I always subscribe. (It’s only five bucks a year for vMeme21, so there’s not much risk.) I always remain skeptical. Every editor is different, every zine, magazine, manifesto, and blog is different. What remains to be seen is whether the writing is engaging. If we can solve the global warming, world peace, and bad breath in the bargain, well that’s nice too.

Read the vMeme21 Manifesto. Tell me what you think.

Sue Lange
The Textile Planet

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So What Happened to Mundane SF? — 10 Comments

  1. And whoever selected the name “mundane SF” needs to think again. What next? The release of “The Boring Movie”?

  2. The site in question put out a call for Mundane SF shorts for inclusion in a Special Edition Interzone (longest running UK SF magazine) As I’d been trying to get a piece into this zine for so long I tried with a mundane story of my own. However, it didn’t make the grade (one reason being I has a ‘supposed’ time machine in it – which didn’t work) perhaps another was it just wasn’t good enough 🙂
    Here is a link to the Interzone Special:-

    http://ttapress.com/439/interzone-216-special-mundane-sf-issue-2/

    BTW, my mundane story remains unpublished…so… *wink wink*

  3. Brenda is right – mundane died of a horrible name.

    The idea behind mundane sf is fundamentally a good one: near future science fiction that doesn’t violate the laws of physics. SF THAT COULD REALLY HAPPEN.

    No FTL warp drives, no time travel, no alien life (especially intelligent), no alternate universes, no cheap space travel.

    The last point effectively limits mundane sf to the Earth’s surface, and is one point I disagree with. Cheap is relative. Why build a jumbo jet when a bicycle costs so little? A $40M aircraft makes no sense at all, like building computers when the total world market is maybe 50 of them.

    You can have great science fiction stories set in the near future without violating any of the known physical laws. We have thousands of such stories.

    But by labelling them as “mundane”, you declare them boring. We simply need a better name.


  4. The idea behind mundane sf is fundamentally a good one: near future science fiction that doesn’t violate the laws of physics. SF THAT COULD REALLY HAPPEN.

    No FTL warp drives, no time travel, no alien life (especially intelligent)……

    Since when does intelligent alien life (or AI, another thing many mundanes object to) “violate the laws of physics”?

    I always like debating ideas and the Mundanes took strong positions and argued for them vociferiously.

    Personally, I miss the Mundane SF blog.

    I even like the term. The in-your-face ironic embrace of an unflattering label. Gutsy.

  5. What’s wrong with just calling it “near future” ? We’ve been doing so for decades.

  6. There’s lots of what the Mundanes consider scientifically implausible near future SF.

    Stories of a technological singularity in the next few decades, for example (not that I necessarily agree with the Mundanes on this—I’m at least open to the idea that such a thing could happen in a short time span).

  7. Ellen, I think people like to come up with new names for sub-sub genres to proclaim that they’re doing something different. Sometimes they really are coming up with something new; sometimes not so much.

    Whenever someone describes any kind of science fiction as “SF that could really happen” or SF “that doesn’t violate the laws of physics,” I am reminded of something I learned reading the excellent book Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson: In 1900, the conventional wisdom among meteorologists was that a hurricane would not make a direct hit on Galveston Island. Isaac Cline, who headed the Weather Bureau for Galveston, acted on that so-called scientific principle, and 6,000 people died in the 1900 storm. Of course, Hurricane Ike proved them wrong once again. (Today the conventional wisdom is that you shouldn’t build on barrier islands, though no one seems to be paying attention.)

    At the beginning of the 20th Century, a lot of people believed science had reached its peak and there were no new discoveries to be made. And then Einstein came along. So every time I hear someone say “violates the laws of physics,” I tend to think “the laws of physics could change.”

    I grant that some of the devices in the more fanciful SF are more far-fetched than others. But I also suspect that some very bright people are going to come along and discover something that completely upends current conventional scientific wisdom. Right now I’m making my way through Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Impossible, looking for places where I can logically make that happen in fiction.

    As for aliens: Given the size of the universe, it is damned absurd to believe that human beings are the only intelligent life that has yet evolved. Hell, we’re not even that intelligent and we’re far from civilized. I’d really like to think that there’s something better than us out there. And since we’re not likely to find such aliens in my lifetime — I’ll be lucky if they discover microscopic life on Europa before I kick the bucket — I like to imagine what they might be like and to read the ideas others have on the subject.

    Not that I don’t write near future, too. There are lots of things to imagine out there, some of them happier than others. My near futures often involve economic collapse, dirty bombs, and climate change; these days that doesn’t even require much imagination.

  8. For me the only objectionable thing about “mundane” sf is that we have to have another label. And it seems like it always comes down to marketing. Yes, the fans want to know what they’re getting, but really, is it that important? I think the point Ryman was making is that all of science fiction doesn’t have to be space opera. And maybe making a big deal out of type of story that seemed to be going away, was a way of challenging writers to write that type again.

    For me, mundane is to sf what Lars Von Triers’ dogma manifesto was to film-making. I just viewed his Medea a week ago and, let me tell you, putting limits on how a movie is made does not result in a visually boring film. And putting limits on what is included in your science does not necessarily result in a boring story. But it does, perhaps, require a more artistic pen. Just as a dogmatic film-maker needs to be more artistic to create a visually stunning movie.