Saturday, 28 January 2006

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The Stoning of Adam Roberts, Part III: Genre & Genocide Knowing I would write about Stone tonight, I decided to spend the day reading this study of everything a British science fiction novel isn't. So I was surprised when I realized how neatly George Dekker's argument about the generic development of the romance and the novel dovetailed with the ongoing conversation about the formal elements of Adam's novels. (Why I thought a work on genre wouldn't be germane to a discussion about genre isn't something I care to discuss.) Dekker defines the romance through Walter Scott as a representation of the conflict that arises when a noble old guard struggles against the cold and scientific order and renders it irrelevant. (He even provides charts which my HTML ignorance renders me unable to reproduce cleanly.) The romance, uh, romanticizes the extinction of an entire way of life by mustering sympathy for its nearly exterminated practitioners. (Think Fenimore Cooper .) How does this relate to Stone? Adam noted that generations of enthusiastic SF fans have seen nothing distasteful or psychopathological in this sort of [genocidal] thing at all. Killing billions of Starship Trooper bugs? Celebrate! They’re a threat to humanity, and besides they’re only vermin. Insects. Viruses. One truism of science fiction as a genre, then, is the utter absence of the dynamic responsible for the genre which preceded it. (I belong to the epic to romance to novel school of generic development and take its validity for granted here.) Instead of organizing itself around the symbolic preservation of a dying culture, science fiction novels celebrate obliteration. Only in Stone, Adam recapitulates Dekker's old romantic structure by fashioning a narrator who him/herself belongs to a dying culture . . . one in which humanity is still capable of sin. Stone is not a romance per se but it is romantic in that it forces readers to sympathize with a character who seems natural instead of artificial, wild instead of bounded, mysterious instead of reasoned, and soaring instead of fettered. In short, Ae bears all the markings of the romantic figure in Scott's historical romances. Why should this matter? I would argue because it allows Adam to address, albeit indirectly, what science fiction seems constitutionally incapable of addressing: the eradication of a culture. That the character whose culture is being eradicated resembles the reader is significant, because it forces the reader (as Scott's romances forced his readers) to sympathize with the known instead of the alien culture of those Ae murders. Ae generates sympathy in the same way Rob Roy did in the novel bearing his name: not because of what he does but because of who he is. Just as Scott's readers could fathom clan life more fully than those produced by the estranging conditions of mercantile capitalism, Adam's readers sympathize with Ae because they can't fathom the alien culture in which she is an atavism. Or I've gone to insane lengths to justify my sympathetic identification with a sociopath. One or the other.

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