What else is any fiction?

14 October 2011

Ursula le Guin was recently interviewed in Vice Magazine. It’s an interesting interview – an interview at times a little on the back foot, but honest in their reactions to the responses, which deserves much credit.

But really, it’s all about le Guin’s responses, which are wonderful. And in particular, this response, when asked about the “immense scale” of the many worlds she’s made, and whether or not she really had, in fact, created so many worlds and cultures:

No, no, thank you for saying so, Steve, but if I really had, I would admire myself tremendously. I would be in awe of my own staggeringly great mind. What I did was give the illusion of there being all those different worlds. That’s called art, or fiction, or something. The rule is, you only invent what you have to. And that’s pretty much what’s right in front of the reader. Let’s say it’s an ansible. I do not, in fact, invent the ansible. I do not explain how it works. I cannot, but shhh. I simply present the device as working, and as coming from a society which is far in advance of ours in science and technology, having spaceships that can travel nearly as fast as light, et cetera. And this background or context creates expectation and softens up the readers’ credulity so that they’re willing to “believe in” the ansible—inside the covers of the book. After the ansible had been around for a while, I invented the man who invented it, Shevek, in The Dispossessed. And he and I played around with some pretty neat speculations about time and interval and stuff, which lent more plausibility to the gimmick itself. But all I really invented was a) the idea of an instantaneous transmitter and b) a name for it. The reader does the rest. If you give them enough background/context, they can fill in the gaps. It isn’t just smoke and mirrors. There has to be a coherent vision of how things hang together in that society/culture/world. All the details have to fit together and be thought through as to their implications. But, well… it’s mostly smoke and mirrors. What else is any fiction?

Well, indeed. She has a wonderful, wonderful grasp on the nature of fiction and sf; it’s a great interview.

  • "It’s hard to believe that there was a time when any of these weren’t conventional wisdom, but there was such a time. Unix combines more obvious-in-retrospect engineering design choices than anything else I’ve seen or am likely to see in my lifetime.

    It is impossible — absolutely impossible — to overstate the debt my profession owes to Dennis Ritchie. I’ve been living in a world he helped invent for over thirty years."

  • List of all 58 fonts now in iOS, mainly for reference. (Although, eesh, Zapfino AND Papyrus? Really?)
  • Critical, critical, to the world we live in today.
  • "And all this time I can’t help thinking that this was because I’m working with games. If I was a fimmaker, this is issue would never crop up. But games have to constantly defend their status as a way of creative expression. When creating games, you are by default suspected of either selling out or producing nothing of value what so ever. Or both." Seriously, Vimeo need to sort this out: it's embarrassing, and contrary to the messages they send out.
  • "I wanted to talk about the Occupy $CITY movement here (in fact, that’s where this post started); a protest movement that is not about the event, or the movement through the city, or even the disruption per se. It is protest as part of the fabric of the city; a constant questioning and reassessment of a conversation with both the fabric of the city physically, economically and politically; taking the concept of Wall St and Main St and making it suddenly concrete, forcing a conversation to take place."
  • "If this doesn’t seem like a big issue imagine the state of cinema if film students were only able to study films made in the last two decades? Or if English Literature students no longer have the ability to examine the works of Shakespeare or Twain? What might be lost?" Seriously, companies: stop turning servers off. Processor power is cheap.
  • "Q: I don't imagine that a design meeting with Takahashi is a typical PowerPoint affair.

    A: He has singlehandedly invented the animated GIF as the design spec. It's fucking hilarious." Animated GIF as design spec. Superb. (And: nice interview with Stuart Butterfield about Glitch).