Deconstructive Response to 'Uninformed Ideas for Sci-fi Novels in the Art World' by Pete Hindle

This is a response, by Pete Hindle (http://www.petehindle.com/) to an article that has just been published in the new issue of 'artartart'.

The original article can be found here.

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You know what? I love sci-fi. And therefore, fuck you Matt. Let's break down your article.


I don't read a lot of sci-fi.


You don't say. Really? I mean, I know a lot of people in a lot of different  areas, and they don't read sci-fi, and they don't read romance books. I read sci-fi and romance books, and I recently got in trouble for pointing out that a recommended sci-fi book was a thinly veiled romance book. Kind of like how every film and tv show that is successful at the minute is a riff of a sci-fi film crossed with a romance plot.

Probably because most of it is shit, but also because it doesn't ever reference the art world.


Oh yeah, because "Zima Blue" by Alastair Reynolds wasn't a reference. But what about the other way? I mean, you get artists referencing the world of sci-fi but I guess we can just chuck that out the window because that wouldn't fit in with the theme of the essay, so I'll just shut up about the Morrisons version of Foundation and Empire. Or the pole-dancing robot. Yeah, you heard, the pole dancing robot.

Being an artist and a writer, I only like to read about things that directly connect with my own tiny sphere of reality. Actually, I did  read a load of JG Ballard short stories, but reading old sci-fi is like watching yesterday's weather report.


Plus, his newer stuff is accepted as being proper literary device'd. We'll just not poke the whole 'tiny sphere of reality' idea as... you're a sarcastic bastard.

I have jotted down a few ideas for some sci-fi stories. They aren't very likely to get published, probably because I'll never get round to writing them.


Sci-fi Story #1
A young man wakes up one day, realising that he can see 12 seconds in to the past. His life consists of replying to throw away conversation that has just been forgotten about. His unique ability to reference the recent past makes him an art star. He critiques all of human activity, 12 seconds after it happens.
The almost instantaneous ironization of everything in the whole world ever makes people realize just how vacuous they are. Mass suicide ensues. The young man makes a triumphant final art work, by throwing himself from the rooftop of an artist led space in Kilburn, catching the mass suicide trend at it's peak, 12 seconds after it has begun. Everyone realises that suicide isn't even cool, and the art world is returned to normal.

Suicide as an art form can be seen in the two-volume book by Tanith Lee, sometimes refered to as "Drinking Saphire Wine" (it's original title, and therefore the one I know it under) where people can live near-infinite lives with replacement bodies. The protagonist is an artist who talks about his/her (you can change sex with bodies) actions as a type of actionist art.

Sci-fi Story #2
Anthony Gormley's sculptures become so popular that they become a fixture in every single town and village in Great Britain. One day they become self-conscious and begin killing and eating humans (when they poo, a little clay sculpture of a person comes out). The main character, a speculative realist, known only as J, realises that Gormley himself is controlling the actions of all the human-eating sculptures with some weird, ant-pheromone, mind control shit.
J goes to Gormley towers for an epic battle with the evil genius, whose feet are hooked up to a cheap-looking machine that sends his thoughts out to all the sculptures. J is surrounded by Gormley's minions, and they are about to turn him into a initially badly received, but suddenly and inexplicably revered piece of public art. Out of nowhere, the Head of Newcastle Gateshead Cultural Partnership crashes through a window. He rips Gormley's Birkenstocks from his feet, severing the mind connection between Gormley and his sculptures and just as J is about to be eaten, they lose their hideous powers and become inanimate once again.

Oh look, deus ex machina. This is nearly the plotline of Barberella.

Sci-fi Story #4
All the art critics die, and, like when bees become extinct, it turns out that without art criticism, food production comes to a halt. Farmers look out upon barren fields. Mothers look shamefully at their deflated teats as their babies cry for food. A man looks at an empty pot noodle, and then at his shrivelled, acorn like penis. It is, somehow, related.
With the ecology of the cultural sphere thrown out of kilter, the only seeming way to survive is to eat all the gallery assistants, who are living off of the out of date sandwiches in the unused caf├ęs of small galleries around the world. A wily assistant, called Chloe, is the only member of her visitor services team left. Using only two RGB projectors, an old slide carousel, and a box of organic fruit left over from the curator's office, she manages to re-establish the notion of subjective, authoritative experience. Art criticism is re-born, along with a new generation of informed, interesting art critics. The plants are pollinated, and crops are grown. Chloe is rewarded for saving the world, with an unpaid internship at a major contemporary space.

Sometimes you get so stuck into working within a milieu that you can't see anything but that area which the milieu is responsible for. See: capitalism. This is vaguely reminiscent of Douglas Adam's "shoe event horizon", from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series.

Sci-fi Story #5
The internet somehow gets turned off.

Wait: is this bit actually written by Elton John?

Without the ability to google the spelling of words, look up obscure philosophical schools on Wikipedia, or access even the most basic of pornography, the art press falls apart. Without any reviewers going to openings, thousands of litres of cheap, warm red wine go to waste on fold out tables in galleries around the world. This booze-lake upsets the hydro-cycle and huge tsunamis are triggered around the world. Everyone dies, apart from a small band of artists, living in a commune in Vienna. They have to re-populate the world and there are some overwritten and quite grim sex scenes.

Sci-fi sex scenes are always weird. Also, I used to read loads of Stephen King when I was a kid and his sex scenes were really odd. I remember one guy being tugged off by someone with a sponge-glove. I still don't think I really understand the concept of a sponge glove.

Whereas regular literary expression has just fine and dandy sex scenes, with the Literary Review's "Just Fine And Dandy Sex Scenes of The Year". 

Sci-fi Story #6
A young artist working in laboratory stumbles in to a room containing top secret military equipment. He falls in to a cupboard, which turns out to be a time machine. He appears in late 1950s New York, makes friends with Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Clement Greenberg and obtains a dependence on alcohol and morphine. He sleeps with loads of peoples wives, and occasionally beats up Greenberg. But that's ok because Greenberg gets really annoying sometimes. Everyone smokes an incredible amount of cigarettes, but in a cool, 1950s way, not a modern, coping with psychosis way.
The young artist realises that to get back to his own time, he must stop Rothko committing suicide, and to do this he must make sure that Rothko's wife never leaves him. The young artist realises that 2008 is shit, and actually, he prefers 1950s New York. Also he figures that he can just move away before Rothko kills himself in 1970, and avoid having to deal with that. Instead of making sure that Rothko's wife never leaves him, the young artist just sleeps with her on and off for several years.

Actually, this sounds like the sort of book that I keep getting given every time I express dissatisfaction with the genre of "books with space ships on the cover". The last book I read that wasn't in that genre was Flannery O'Connor, from which I deduced that books without space ships on the cover are a massive bummer to read. So, presumably, there will be a huge portion of this story that reads like a depressing relationship taken on too long, and then the end will be some sort of denumant about the end of a period, and how we can all learn, but a poigant period of time must first pass. Blah blah fucking blah, because that's what Richard and Judy keep picking for their book club, so we know that's what people really want to read.


Evaluating and Moralising
Sci-fi is about the act of looking forward to bring a new perspective on the present. By looking forward I mean imagining the possible, rather than predicting a future reality. Often this means that when you read sci-fi, it is wildly optimistic about the possibilities of technology, or involves lots of people (women) wearing skin tight clothes.

Whereas regular literary fiction just means that people are wildly optimistic about the ability of emotions to mean something to other people, and they often include lots of people having sex. Except it's meaningful, so that's okay.

When sci-fi is really successful, it focuses on the reality of the people inhabiting a world, so that any situation, no matter how unreal, is recognisable as our world.

Does it? If you've not really read a lot of sci-fi, how do you know? Anyway, you should skip the whole sci-fi genre and head straight for sf, aka speculative fiction. Go watch that video I linked to there, because I travelled for most of a day to watch that talk in person, and it was shit hot.

Sci-fi constantly attempts to align itself to the future. Art is in a state of constant return to the recent past. It picks apart its own faecal matter in the gonzo-porn repetition of art market finality. With the art market on its arse, maybe that critical eye could be turned outwards, and like sci-fi in reverse, could criticise the present, to forge a possible future.

Actually, sf - aka speculative fiction - has been forging possible futures for a while now. That's why Bruce Sterling, ex-wunderkind of the SF community circa the 1990s is living a life of riley teaching design students what spimes are. You can read his state of the world address for 2009 here - http://www.well.com/conf/inkwell.vue/topics/343/Bruce-Sterling-State-of-the-Worl-page01.html - but I expect you'd be better served doing some research into his idea of things that have identifing tags on them.

Y'know, like the oyster card. And those other things that art doesn't talk about.

Postscript
Most people like to believe that they will witness the apocalypse.

Wtf?

Once the reality of a total nihilism has been established, it is hard to see anything that happens in your life as important, apart from the possibility that the world will end while you are alive. My fantasy apocalypse involves our ability to record our existence catching up with our actions; a feedback loop of total simulation. This would historicize all action as it happens, causing human activity to come to a standstill. Our existence could be defined as two post-pubescent, wispily moustachioed men in flannel shirts, vomiting in to each others mouths, for eternity.
Still from Orson Welles 'The Trial' (1962),  written by Franz Kafka

wtf? Anyway, watching old stuff on tv is like watching yesterday's weather report from somewhere you no longer live.

Pete

PS: Top SF recommendation: Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson.