Paraxis Introduction

FOR FAR TOO MANY YEARS, as human consciousness modified to process the products of its own restless invention, there have been arguments in academia and elsewhere about what to call certain developments in modern fiction.   Karl Marx proposed that in the future we would all be reading what he called ‘contemporary fairy tales’, produced to pass the time for people who no longer looked to fiction for anything but insubstantial entertainment.  I think he suggested that we wouldn’t need realists like  Balzac, Dickens, Flaubert,  Tolstoy, Zola or others to look into human society or the hearts of  individuals and  would prefer to be entertained by what Hugo Gernsback, I think, called the ‘marvel tale’: a sort of roller-coaster ride of the mind.
I think Marx was thinking about the kind of fantasy fiction which has managed to develop almost completely without content of any kind and which these days crowds our media, more from board games and later e-games as it does from individual imagination.  Much of the science fiction, which merely seeks to suspend disbelief and enable an individual to achieve maximum escape, is found in the deeply nostalgic form of steampunk, a form deriving to some degree from the earlier ‘cyberpunk’ which looked at the impact of computers, in particular, on the human psyche. Steampunk, which began as a way of examining and sometimes challenging interpretations of root cultures and historical events, acted as a kind of intervention into the beliefs of early 20th century speculative writers. Its continuing influence on our social and historical interpretations of the world, can still produce the odd novel of great merit and skill, but generally reveals itself as being on a par with the least robust forms of commercial entertainment.  It produces that which is the most insidiously wretched kind of popular fiction, essentially pretending to tackle serious subjects while actually falsifying experience in order to support a sense that somehow a simplified past, reduced to a superficial style, and its inventions offer a valid interpretation of our intellectual influences more valid than contemporary experience and that the reader’s primitive analysis has its finger on the pulse of reality.  This sort of fiction is a form of anti-art in which, rather than examine apparent truth in order to separate it from reality, the author creates methods of verifying the often complex lies we are told by those who would manipulate us for their own profit and power.  Nostalgia for a vanished innocence is one of the chief tools used in such a manipulation and is employed  commonly by political movements from the Taliban to the US Tea Party People, from neoliberals to right libertarians, pretty much in all human societies.  This yearning for a vanished Eden, while it can be satisfied easily with faux-history and the like, is probably at near-saturation in the multi-volumed xeroxes I once referred to as phat phantasy and has substance almost in direct contrast to the width of its spines.
There seems to me to be even less good fantasy and science fiction than there was when Ballard and I, for instance, took our inspiration from the form.  In those days the likes of Bradbury, Pohl/Kornbluth, Dick, Bester and Sheckley filled the pages of GALAXY magazine with speculation about mainly cultural developments in a world whose economies and strategies were becoming increasingly alarming.  We are now living in the world they identified with an extraordinary clarity of vision. Largely they understood themselves to be writing about their present – the abandonment of the inner cities, the building of protected suburbs, the psychopathology of a species increasingly deprived of direct experience or access to verifiable information.   Of course, that wasn’t all they wrote about, sometimes understanding that they were speaking in languages as thoroughly coded as those used by their Soviet contemporaries.  In the 1950s we had to be afraid of McCarthy as well as Stalin and Kruschev.  But that was why so many of us around the world, rejecting the generic literary fiction of our day, looked towards science fiction (as magic realists looked to myth and folklore) as the most authentic fiction available.  I have spoken to two Nobel laureates who drew their inspiration from the SF/fantasy of the 1960s and 70s, whose admiration for its writers was as enthusiastic and sincere as for any modernist in the canon.  I know one friend who envies my early pulp paperbacks as I envy his Pulitzer. I am by no means the only contemporary writer to have both literary and genre awards. Literary visionary fiction is now the form of fiction best positioned to take us into the next decades of the century.  As in the rest of the world, we are at a threshold when we can determine which way we, as readers and writers, go.
Perhaps because we no longer work in ciphers but can write pretty much as freely as possible there has been what seems to me far too much ‘softening’ of younger writers’ approach to their subject matter while anger at perceived injustice seems to be lacking, or  sentimental or unfocussed.   A fiction which was once attractive precisely because it responded rapidly to events as they were happening now frequently seems to have inherited the worst aspects of literary fiction, perhaps because it has imitated the methods of the ‘mainstream’ so thoroughly it has become what it was initially perceived as being the antidote for!  That is why, I think, we need as many short fiction platforms as possible, to rediscover the attraction of imaginative fiction and why it offered such a robust alternative to the majority of other kinds of fiction – why Sartre and Vian, De Beauvoir and Algren, DeLillo, Vonnegut, Pynchon and Chabon, among others – read it and liked it, why William Burroughs, one of the great innovative talents of his age, chose to borrow most extensively from what he read in GALAXY and NEW WORLDS.
Happily, a revival seems to be in the offing with editors like Massey and Hedgecock encouraging authors to move away from what was in danger to becoming a kind of third rate modernism and returning the human imagination to the apex of the arts.
The stories collected here should show some of the directions in which imaginative fiction can go as we begin again to search out some good ways of meeting reality squarely head on.  There are some great names here, some known, some pretty new to me, and I hope you’ll find fiction more than worthy of your expectations.
Michael Moorcock
April 2011

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