Aqueduct Press has taken delivery of Gwyneth Jones's new collection of essays, Imagination/Space: Essays and Talks on Fiction, Feminism, Technology, and Politics. For the brief time before the title becomes available elsewhere, we'll be selling it at a reduced price through our website.
If you haven't read Gwyneth's nonfiction, let me just give you a taste of it here. This is an excerpt from the opening essay, "What Is Science Fiction":
Prometheus Unbound [is] a revolutionary narrative all about Man (and Woman too, as I’m sure the poet would have agreed) breaking free from the tyranny of outworn patriarchal creeds and restraints. But the illustrations Shelley chooses for this mighty theme are taken from the thrilling and disturbing scientific discoveries of his time, specifically, here, the fossil discoveries, made by people like the extraordinary Mary Anning on the south coast of England: the dinosaur bones that were opening up, as never before in Anglo-Saxon culture, the vistas of geological time. These days, when we hear a news item that adds or subtracts a few billion years from the age of the universe (the cosmologists and astrophysicists do that, occasionally, don’t they), it does not raise a shudder. It’s hard to get hold of what geological time meant to people who were convinced the world had been made specially for Adam and that the whole thing was around seven and a half thousand years old (give or take a week). It’s hard to grasp the shock of that inhuman leap in scale…but Shelley tries. With a special-effects budget that restricts him to words and meter, he does his best to create some huge, gosh-wow George Lucas special effects. This is the feeling that we call “sense of wonder” in modern sf. I’ve never found that expression adequate; it sounds like a child meeting a Christmas tree; it sounds far too harmless. But sublime, yes. Now that’s what it’s about.
Unfortunately for Percy Shelley, epic poetry was about to go out of style, whereas the novel was to remain popular, so it was Mary’s Frankenstein and his reanimated patchwork corpse who survived to reach Hollywood, and the real mass market. If it had been the other way round, who knows, maybe he’d be getting called the Founding Father of hard science fiction… But encounters with the sublime, although there will always be room for more waltzing spaceships and exploding Death Stars, can sometimes be insidiously intimate. The most disturbing, thrilling discoveries of our day are not happening on the scale of geological time or galactic space (those vastnesses now seem empty of threat). They are happening in neuroscience, where the staggering technology of the digital age is enabling us to investigate our own consciousness: the place where the picture we have of the universe really lives, the self that thinks and feels. And for those still trying to believe that human beings are the Crown of Creation, it’s not good news…
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Times change, and also, although I enjoy Star Wars’ special effects on the big screen, I’m not a huge fan as a writer... But I think I’m still trying to do the same as Shelley (which is something different from the moral fable of Mary’s Frankenstein). This is the twenty-first century, where the street finds its own uses for the technology, and William Gibson’s children are never going to be impressed by the infinite spaces between the stars. It’s important for my contemporary style that I use the workshop, lab-science jargon rather than poetic language; and it’s important that the shock and awe encounter with the sublime is given a disrespectful reception (as the Zen Self techie reels off the details that destroy the possibility of human free will and self-conscious action, “Oh” says Fiorinda). But I’m still reacting, aesthetically, to the cutting edge of knowledge and responding to the naked, elemental beauty of a universe that keeps on making human beings feel smaller, and smaller, and smaller… but, paradoxically, can’t diminish us. Maybe we don’t have the control we thought we had, but we’re still the ones doing the talking!
You can purchase Imagination/Space here.
PS Gwyneth's blog, Bold as Love, has a new URL. I've just updated it the sidebar.