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This is what everyone thinks about SF fans, right?
He was talking about the Hugo Awards, the annual prize for science fiction writing.

I wasn't happy about attending, to say the least, as it was a Saturday night, on the long weekend, and I could think of a trillion things I'd rather be doing -- like absolutely nothing -- than hanging out with a bunch of sci-fi geeks. (It's OK to call them geeks because they call themselves geeks. This year's Hugo winner, Canadian Robert J. Sawyer, even described himself that night as a "fat, bald geek who knows way too much Star Trek trivia.")
As soon as we walked into the convention centre -- half an hour before the awards were to begin -- I realized we had entered a different universe.

Apparently not. Here's another, and much more interesting take on the latest Worldcon:
Science fiction isn't just head-in-the-stars stuff any more. And while it still carries with it the patina of geekdom, it is the same kind of geekdom one feels at, say, a film festival or a gallery opening; that is, collections of people insulated from reality by their collective assurance that their particular pursuit matters as an art form way more than it really does.
Today, it is hard to imagine science fiction shaping or challenging social conventions, particularly when its core fans seem increasingly ritualistic and intent on celebrating aging giants whose best work is decades behind them. So where does all this leave science fiction? Its fans seem to revel in their geek-outsider status, even as the genre increases in respectability and popular appeal to the detriment of its potential as a venue for edgy social commentary.
If the weird and dangerous ideas are out there, I couldn't find them amid the earnest, gentle, middle-class fans bustling through the convention in search of their pals.

The flipside of respectability; it sucks to grow up. As SF achieves acceptance, so it loses relevance? I'm not sure that's true, if only because the parts of a subculture achieving mainstream acceptance are hardly ever the relevant ones - almost by definition. Still, it made me stop and think for a minute.
I don't see why mainstream has to mean lack of relevence. In fact, that whole idea has no logic to it. Surely, the more it appeals to people, the more relevance it has?
It depends what you're looking to be relevant to. Michael Crichton, for instance, is popular, but I wouldn't say he's as relevant to the modern world as someone like (picks name out of a hat) Vernor Vinge. Mainstream acceptance usually means forfeiting (sp?) your place on the cutting edge, and often is an indication that you were never on the edge in the first place. I said 'by definition' because the edge is not a place that appeals to the mass market; that's one of its inherent properties.
I don't really see that being on the cutting edge has anything to do with relevance. The terms certainly aren't interchangeable.

Mainstream acceptance usually means forfeiting your place on the cutting edge

Or perhaps it can mean that what was once on the cutting edge is now relevant. To me the term 'cutting edge' implies a certain amount of experimentation and research - trying out new ideas. But until those ideas gain a certain amount of acceptance (not necessarily 'mainstream', but certainly extending well beyond those coming up with the ideas), you can't really know which, if any, are relevant. And by the time that happens, chances are the cutting edge will have moved on to the next new idea.
And by the time that happens, chances are the cutting edge will have moved on to the next new idea.

OK. Leaving aside all mention of the word 'relevant', then:

The author's argument is that SF is no longer part of that cutting edge. My suggestion is essentially as you say: SF appears to not be on the cutting edge only because what was the cutting edge has moved off and become visible. That doesn't mean the socially relevant (whoops) novels aren't being written, only that they're probably only identifiable after the fact.
Surely each and every published writer is relevant in some way, shape or form? I mean, biographers aren't particularly relevant to me, because I don't read many biographies. But I daresay that their work would be described by some as being highly relevant.

Relevancy, surely, is a matter of degree. And the more you increase that degree, the more people feel that your work is relevant, the more relevant you are. The people on the cutting edge are the least relevant, simply because - by their very nature - they aren't relevant to a mass market, only to a specialised grouping.

What this means is that Coronation Street is more relevant than, say, Andromeda. I pick those two because they have little-to-no relevance for me whatsoever. But in terms of relevancy to modern society, the most popular one is the most relevant. Coronation Street deals with stuff that most people experience in everyday life - affairs, in-fights with neighbours, petty feuds and rivalries at work. It also does daft stuff with serial killers, mind you, but for the most part it's mundanity makes it relevant to what most people will experience, in some form or other, during the course of their existence. It's more relevant than something about cloning dinosaurs. It's more relevant than what some bloke with an alliterative name might have to say, so far as I'm concerned, because I've never heard of him.

'Relevancy' is an intensely subjective topic. A lot of what's relevant to you ain't gonna be relevant to me, and vice versa. So the bit about mainstream acceptance negating relevancy? Nonsense. Mainstream acceptance is, in the main, proof positive of relevancy.

In addition to which, the original author isn't talking about relevancy. They're talking about challenging social convention - which I wouldn't class as relevancy as all, it's being iconoclastic. This whole thing boils down to a semantic disagreement. If you'd used the term 'iconoclastic' instead of 'relevant', I'd be happy.

I should probably read comments of this length back to myself before posting, but I'm having a severe case of CBA.
It's more relevant than what some bloke with an alliterative name might have to say, so far as I'm concerned, because I've never heard of him.

Are you denying the cutting edge gamma research of Bruce Banner?
Or the equally vital research of Reed Richards?
And the startling photojournalism of P. Parker? (stopping now)
stopping now

Must I therefore mention the pro bono work of lawyer Matt Murdock? And the Pulitzer winning stories of Clark Kent and Lois Lane? The financial acumen of Lex Luthor (and his daughter Lena)? The excellent teaching of Scott Summers? The, uh, awesome fury of Donald Duck?
You forgot Lana Lang, Lewis Lang, Lucy Lane, Lori Lemaris, Luma Lynai, Lyla Lerrol, Linda Lee, Lah La (well, Lahla), L Loru (Lloru), Liza Landis, Lightning Lord, Lesla Lar, Lord Lucifer, Lady Luck, Linda Lavin and Lydia Long.

To say nothing of even more dubious double-Ls...
*suspects someone has found a list....*
Well, yes. I only got about half a dozen of those without looking it up.
Surely each and every published writer is relevant in some way, shape or form?

I believe I covered that when I said it was a matter of what you're being relevant to.

Mainstream acceptance is, in the main, proof positive of relevancy.

No, it isn't. It's proof that lots of people like it. It's not proof that it's important, or vital, or good. You're right that this is only semantics, but you're wrong that 'iconoclastic' is the appropriate substitution - I'm not talking about revolution, I'm talking about progression. I'm talking about the idea that an art form is important to society in the sense of 'necessary' or 'informative' rather than 'loved.'

Something can have a limited distribution and still be intensely relevant to society. Look at Buffy. That's what I'm talking about, and the idea that as SF becomes part of the cultural milieu it loses whatever vitality it may have had. My counterargument is that the most vital parts won't be assimilated simply because they're not amenable to it, in the same way the Buffy is never going to have the viewing figures of Eastenders. But it doesn't mean the niche market isn't relevant.

Like you said: Semantics.
Late to the party as always - just a quickie (oh hush):

Progress and importance are never going to be high on the populist agenda as far as entertainment is concerned. If you look at what's popular, it is mostly, IMO, trash. Occasionally something good like Buffy makes it out of the dark corners because it can satisfy the populist demands and a niche market, but that's just happy fate (or maybe very shrewd writing). I think this is also true of other arts genres.
As SF achieves acceptance, so it loses relevance?

I don't think so. The risk, as far as 'edgy social commentary' is concerned, is that as the 'genre' matures and gains in mainstream acceptance, it will increasingly be seen as exploitable. First commercially, then politically (I can foresee the day when fandom will be percepived as significant enough a minority voting segment that a politician will wise up and crack fandom jokes at a rally) ... and in both instances, the 'edgy social commentary' function rapidly rushes towards nil.

So I guess I'm saying I don't think there's a direct relationship, but there is a maturation road of perdition. ;-)

Oh, and commercially-speaking ...

I would hold the Star Trek monstrosity as a perfect example of cloning-unto-blandness.

A fantabulous business model that has only really begun to show its age in the past 4 years.


As for Buffy, I probably shouldn't comment, since I caught no vampiric bug. I was already tired of the whole vampire and highschool drama concept by the time I watched the first season (on DVD).
It always had seemed to me that SF was a nifty little way to get really out-there ideas into the mainstream, like a syringe into the veins of the mundane and mediocre world in which we reside most of the time.

Problem is, SF fans, from my own personal experience, are merely human, and get the whole finger mixed up with the sky it's pointing at. They munch on the paper menu, hoping it'll taste like Turkish Delight. They pack up their belongings and try to move into the map, which only represents the territory.

It's easy to do. We all want some sort of acknowledgment, and the SF community gives that in spades to the 'unloved' and 'geeky', especially if they spend precious time dressing up like hobbits or having Star Trek weddings. It's easy to get distracted by all that... it's even fun.

Perhaps my gafiation gave me a bitter outlook on the whole convention scene, but I found it increasingly less likely to meet anyone who actually wanted to bring about some of the better ideas in SF as opposed to dressing up, drinking, and partying. But to hate that is to hate what makes us human, so... I guess I just abide.

I find that the most idealistic people I've ever known were in the SF fan community... but there's not very much follow through. Then again, that's a tall damn order to expect from anything outside of one's self.

I don't know if any of this made sense.

There is still radical thinking in SF, but what most SF readers, even (particularly?) most fans, want is more of the same, and consequently, that's what's visible at cons. That's how it's always been. It's Sturgeon's law.

-- Tom