Tag Archives: Literary

Mundane Science Fiction – taking fantasy out of the future

moon

Picture courtesy of Quora.com

Ok, so I’m a music writer first and foremost. The vast majority of my posts deal with (in no particular order):

  • The positive effects of music on overall wellbeing
  • Music therapy & community music articles of interest
  • Updates on my writing & recording work, focusing on new projects
  • Thoughts & discussions on the wider world of music, in all its beautiful and varied forms

However…

I do, on occasion, venture away from music and enter the wider world, focusing on my other favourite subjects: history, politics, travel and of course, books.

Like most people who write, I’ve tried my hand at fiction. I’ve started around five or six ideas for stories, only three of which were long enough to become novels. Two of these were science fiction. My love of sci-fi comes from a childhood spent reading the greats such as Asimov, Dick, Clarke, Banks and many, many more. Anyone who states that the genre isn’t proper literature has most likely not read the right books. The imagination required to conjure up these worlds and peoples goes fast beyond the standard writing advice of ‘writing what you know’.

Critics of sci-fi do have one valid gripe: in all of the grandiose settings and fantastical elements of the genre, characterisation can sometimes suffer. It is certainly true that only the very best sci-fi combines the huge space-opera backdrop with the human elements of character-driven plot lines. In that regard, can too much imagination be a bad thing?

Enter the relatively new sub-genre of mundane science fiction, a term first coined by Geoff Ryman and others in 2004. Those of you who follow my music blogs will no doubt be aware I have a dislike of genres and labelling. Good music is good music – shouldn’t the same be true for fiction? Well, perhaps with a focus on characters and more believable conflicts, it can.

The best way to achieve this? Remove the supernova-sized set pieces; the spaceships travelling at light speed; aliens from other worlds; time travel; in fact, anything considered to be outside of our current understanding of physics and the universe as we perceive it.

The Guardian newspaper wrote an excellent piece in 2008 introducing readers to the genre, which I happened upon recently which you can read here. This article and the original blog by SFGenics explain mundane sci-fi so much better than I can, but the basics involve a lack of the ‘fantastical’ elements mentioned previously, focusing instead on human stories and character-driven plot/conflict.

Interestingly, I have noticed that most of the books considered part of this movement (if you want to call it that) are set in the present day, near or approaching future. There is almost no likelihood of seeing a mundane sci-fi novel taking place in the year 30,212 A.D. because who knows what the world will look like then, and how could such ignorance be presented as mundane?

Another noteworthy feature is a focus the dwindling resources of this planet. In forcing themselves to look inwards, rather than to the stars, many mundane sci-fi writers imagine a future where food is scare, or climate change has irreparably damaged our ecosystem. Their stories focus on how these environmental perils being either fought against, or survived through by the protagonists.

In the full ‘mundane manifesto’ blog, which you can read here, a few classic works are included, including ‘Do Androids dream Of Electric Sheep?’ by Philip K. Dick, which became the classic movie Blade Runner, and ‘1984’ by George Orwell. These two contrasting examples of a near dystopian future should tell you that even without the wider galaxy to play with, there is plenty of interesting topics to be mined here on Earth.

To finish off, I’ll return to music an anecdote from Peter Gabriel. When working on one of his classic albums, he instructed the drummer not to play cymbals for the entire recording sessions. Effectively, he forbade cymbals from the entire album. While some might balk at such a draconian measure and say it’s a fast way to ruin his music, the end results were quite surprising. Forced out of his usual default playing patterns and styles, the drummer at these recording sessions had to entirely rethink his drum kit. Approaching it in this fresh manner brought out rhythms he would have never dreamt up otherwise.

As well as this, I have previously written on the amazing results pulled off by the late record producer George Martin in a previous blog post. Martin had severe limitations on the equipment he was using, but with The betakes, created the most technically astonishing music, certainly for their time. Some might use that example of ‘rooming the safety net’, but to me, it stands as proof that sometimes creativity works better within limitations. As I said earlier, what applies to music can also apply to fiction. Sometimes to ‘think outside of the box’, one has to be in a box to start with!

So what do you think? Get in touch and let me know!

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Gasull and guitar recitals

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend a recital by Guitar/Flute duo Maria Camahort and Lucy Driver at Newcastle upon Tyne’s beautiful Lit. & Phil. Society Library. This was the first time in a long time that I was at a classical recital where I wasn’t performing in some capacity, and though it made me restless to play, it did offer the opportunity to observe Maria’s wonderful classical guitar technique.

As a native of Spanish Catalonia, Camahort’s style is rooted in flamenco, with a right hand technique many guitar players would kill for. Again, anyone wishing to work on their own right hand technique, I strongly recommend Scott Tennant’s excellent book Pumping Nylon, which focuses on strength-building techniques and specialises in flamenco picking styles. A large amount of Camaohort & Driver’s recital repertiore favoured a spanish style which suited Maria’s guitar playing perfectly, though Lucy’s flute playing (in many cases their own arrangements and adaptations) soared to the reading room’s luxurious rafters and blended sumpuously with the guitar.

During their set, there was one composer of whom I had never heard, named Feliu Gasull. Another resident of Barcelona, Gasull started his career as a flamenco guitarist, studying guitar at the Geneva Conservatory of Music and composition at Indiana Univeristy. Many of his compositions (including the one’s I heard) are Gasull’s interpretations of Catalonian pop songs, featuring elements of flamenco, classical convention and even jazz. Camahort & Driver performed three of his peices (‘Dits’, ‘Nana de Sevilla’ & ‘Conta-xions’) and I have included the link to his official website here (www.feliugasull.com). I strongly encourage you to check out this amazing composer/arranger and incorporate some of his peices into your solo and ensemble playing.

In addition, here is the full programme from the recital, for those interested –
Sonata in E Major (J.S. Bach)
Andante in C (Mozart)
Danza Oritental (Granados)
Bagatella No. 2 (Walton)
Her Anxiety (J. McCredie)
Histoire du Tabgo – Cafe 1930 (Piazzolla)
There was also three short pieces by M. de Falla, grouped together in one multi-movement sitting called ‘Seis Canciones Populares Espanolas’ –
Nana
Polo (for me, this is another strongly recommended solo guitar performance piece)
Cancion

To find out more about Camahort & Driver (or to book them for performances), please contact them via their websites –
www.mariacamahort.com
www.lucydriver.com