In past articles on science-fiction I have talked about how the politics of the future inherently lend themselves to more socialist viewpoints; ideas of co-operation, of plentiful resources and of reduced need for work and more time for leisure. This can lead to a return to a rural or antique idyll – a leisure-focused society free from concerns such as poverty and want, and indeed a move away from concepts of money and the value of objects. Yet beneath this surface the issues raised – of the economics of a post-scarcity world – warrant deeper consideration.
In previous articles on the subject of evil in fiction, and its many manifestations, I have considered how the best depictions of evil show not that society is consistently active in it as a whole, or that people are frequently complicit in it, but that instead often there is a pervasive attitude of tolerance that manifests as a failure to condemn evil acts committed by others – the effect of societal prejudice is normalisation of evil, not necessarily increased participation in it. Indeed, my ultimate conclusion is that the most unsettling and unpleasant depictions show worlds where evil has “won” – that people have sleepwalked into a dystopic stasis as in Gormenghast or that inherently unfair systems have become widely accepted as in Under Heaven.
In the end, neither Cyber Formula GPX nor Redline had anything really to do with the kind of racing I wrote about save for being science-fiction, but watching them definitely shaped how I wrote about motor-racing.
This year I decided to have a go at National Novel Writing Month; I decided, rather than trying to write a 50,000 word work from scratch in 30 days, to expand an idea I had abandoned by 50,000 words in that time. For what it is worth, I still failed. But the effort put into the writing I did complete during that period drove me to continue writing afterwards and now the book-to-be is sitting at around 50,000 words and may be finished in first draft form at some point in the next few months.
This, however, is not an article specifically about my writing life. It is an article about the strange way I went about task of researching something central to the project, and what I found on the way.
While one can debate the value of An Unexpected Journey as an adaptation of Tolkein’s novel The Hobbit at great length, it is ultimately an entertaining film. I recently realised there are very few truly good fantasy films made; many are entertaining or fun but flawed, but few are unequivocally good. I was thus very surprised at the quality of the first in the three films loosely based on The Hobbit; it was tonally consistent throughout, visually impressive and had a real sense of being a film made with some love and care.
An Unexpected Journey is not, much to the concern of many people, a film of the novel The Hobbit. If it is an adaptation, it is one which does not closely follow the book and the fact that it has been sold as such is understandably an annoyance. Hearing that a slim but entertaining book – essentially a fairy-story – was to be turned into an epic scale trilogy of films was met with great concern that the resulting film would be driven by money more than creativity – a victim of a trend to split single stories into two parts in film essentially begun with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows but also seen with the final Twilight story and apparently the conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy.
I find the concept of comic books significantly more interesting than most of the best-known examples of them. The most popular and visible comics still, despite the significant increase in attention given to innovative and interesting niche-interest titles, are continuity-heavy and forebidding stock superhero ranges which could be argued to have long passed the point where they were fresh and interesting. What ultimately put me off was how seriously everything was taken yet how empty it seemed; there was little distinction being made in discussion between something being not for children in content terms and being mature in writing terms.
In a past article about Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series I talked about how a key part of the setting and overall mood is a result of the sense of inevitability and inescapability that is created. Routine becomes destructive and insular, and as a result any kind of change – even change from a traditionally “evil” source – is welcome to the reader. This ties in to what I see as an interesting possibility for historical or pseudohistorical fiction – an exploration of evil. The concept of the empirical novel, central to science-fiction in its consideration of the effects of a setting on its inhabitants, becomes interestingly mutated when the settings and attitudes being explored are real ones or close to real ones.
Recently there has been much less furious media outcry about the content and possible harmful effects of computer games and violent media; this in itself is probably a good thing. Kneejerk Mary Whitehouse-esque decency witch-hunts muddy real debates about what sexual and violent content is appropriate in popular media, and lead to reductive situations where real discussion is avoided simply because the prevailing attitude is a simplistic censorship is bad. Closing down debate in this way prevents any possibility for improvement of the status quo.
A lot of fantasy and SF fiction, especially within anime, focuses on the hero as the central viewpoint character, or if the protagonist is not particularly heroic it will tell the story of their development as a hero or desire to become one. Generally this is through gaining physical strength, or fulfilling some quest. Even fish-out-of-water stories, in which a new protagonist tend towards this predictable plot arc, with other narratives stopping or becoming rapidly repurposed to assist the new viewpoint character. In essence, it is generally the case in genre fiction that the viewpoint character will be given significant agency in the main narrative; the epitome of this is The Lord of the Rings, which focuses strongly on how it is the inherently unassuming nature of its protagonists which is their greatest strength. The hobbits are out of their depths, but nevertheless are integral to the quest and ultimately are revealed to have an innate heroism which is superior to the strength of arms of their companions.
The best time to write a response to a debate is some time after the controversy around it has died down, in order to get a measure of perspective about the issue and see through the immediate outrage. In September 2012, the head judge of the Booker Prize, Peter Stothard, claimed that “the mass of unargued opinion” available online risked diminishing literature; this was reported by the media as “blogs are harming literature” which led to a spirited but ultimately misguided debate.