Independent Science Fiction

written by Samuel X. Brase

Science fiction often questions the value of success and happiness in the future,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 establishment,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 Outdated tools are useful, instructional, and entertaining; but they lack the scope our present times demand.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 with,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.

Published by

David Steffen

David Steffen is an editor, publisher, and writer. If you like what he does you can visit the Support page or buy him a coffee! He is probably best known for being co-founder and administrator of The Submission Grinder, a donation-supported tool to help writers track their submissions and find publishers for their work . David is also the editor-in-chief here at Diabolical Plots. He is also the editor and publisher of The Long List Anthology: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List series. David also (sometimes) writes fiction, and you can follow on BlueSky for updates on cross-stitch projects and occasionally other things.

2 thoughts on “Independent Science Fiction”

  1. Nice article.

    The value of anything (art, science fiction, political parties, etc…) is the product of two external forces. The individual and popular appreciation (or the collective mass of individuals). It’s the interpetation of value that is murky. Things like ‘money’ gives us an idea on how much we may value any particular item (that is because we put a collective value on money), but this age of digital outlets has made it possible to acquire things of value without an exchange of money – i.e. Youtube, ezines, downloading of music and movies (illegally in many cases). Hmmmm, are we seeing the beginnings of a sliver of the socialist utopia Marx envisioned within our capitalistic society? But digress…

    The things Mr Brase describes in his article are forms of artistic expression. Works of art are rarely ‘sold’ to be viewed but are often ‘bought’ for the right for others to view them. I see (and always have) media outlets (magazines as an example) as a form of art exhibits. Many musuems pay millions for works of art yet open their doors for all to view them – or charge a nominal fee to do so. They may find other ways to fund for this right but the idea that artistic expression should be free to all who wish to view it is hardly a new concept. It’s only the venues that change.

    As far as arts influence changing with the times (writing in this instance) that is hardly new. Music is constantly evolving. Progress is an untameable force. You can attempt to corral it, but any weak point in your penned in structure and progress will run free.

    In the grand scheme of speculative fiction, independent ezines are like the roadside musuems begging for visitors (the Pembina, ND historical musuem comes to mind). They’re fun to walk through, can be very interesting, but its unlikely you’ll find a DaVinci invention hanging inside one. Often they’re empty for days. It is only the will (and value) their owners place on them that they remain open. They can be just as satisfying to visit as the Smithsonian.

    So go visit your favorite venue. Mine these days in Daily Science Fiction, just remember there are plenty out there. Kindly sign the visitors book though. The curators will appreciate it when you do so.

    Oooo. On The Premises looks like a neat ezine! I’m going to stop and take a peak.

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