written by Samuel X. Brase
Science fiction often questions the value of success and happiness in the futureâ€”usually by contrasting what it means today against unreal alien circumstances. A couple of new short stories offer traditional answers, as well as food for thought when refracted onto the medium of their publication: independent e-magazines.
“Thief of Futures” by D. Thomas Minton demonstrates value in terms of wealth and talent; the story is only concerned with characters who are either rich or possess a very certain innate skill. Everyone else is consigned to the background. “Antiquities and Tangibles” by Tim Pratt examines value through connections and luck; the more social-oriented tools of achieving success and accruing value. Those without connections and luck have no chance of exploring happiness to the extent the main characters do.
On the other hand, the stories themselves have been made available for free on the Internet, by independent publications unrelated to major publishers and the traditional approach to literary success. The medium undercuts the message.
I’ve taken value as one of my main concerns because it opens up discussion to issues that are increasingly relevant within our current political situation. How much do we value corporations and how much leverage should we allow them? The same with political parties, the same with wealthy individuals. Where do we draw these lines, and how do those boundaries influence society?
Independent art reinterprets these questions through guerilla tactics: Free availability of art, approachable artists, new venues. Each tactic challenges formal institutions, such as corporate publishing, by providing alternative means of creating and enjoying art.
Redefining the value of art is important because it helps differentiate literature. Art death occurs when one set of teachers raise generations of students to believe the same lessons and dogma about writing. Established knowledge is not a bad thing, but it is something to be resisted, because progress doesn’t come from the establishmentâ€”progress is found on the boundaries, the edge of understanding and form.
Why is progress necessary? Maybe the establishment has it right.
Old forms of art cannot address the issues of contemporary society. Outdated tools are useful, instructional, and entertaining; but they lack the scope our present times demand. Thus, while the establishment may have been “right” when it became entrenched, it has little hope of being “right” now. Is there really any question that literary methods from fifty years ago are able to dig into the issues of our present day?
Independent science fiction can slide into this role. Stories such as “Thief of Futures” and “Antiquities and Tangibles” are the very beginning of the discussion; they speak from the status quo, but are presented through the new medium. Such juxtaposition reveals the demand our present times place on literature. Once the free and immediate nature of the Internet influences stories, twenty-first century fiction will truly begin to find its stride, and will separate itself from what came before. Science fiction is uniquely poised in this regard; as genre writing, it is forced to stand on the outside to begin withâ€”all the better to test form and content. I encourage all writers of independent science fiction to let the medium seep into their writing, to let ideas of free and immediate fiction run wild.
Samuel X. Brase is the editor of Cosmic Vinegar, a monthly e-magazine dedicated to independent science fiction and politics. You can read more about the two stories discussed here in the November 2011 issue, available for free.