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Lord Dunsany and the Dialogue between Past and Future - Lucy Hounsom on the Waterstones Blog

The conversation continues! Here’s Lucy’s original Fantasy Faction article, and my quick response (with followup in the comments).

Lucy’s latest basically nails the whole “how did fantasy end up as essentially conservative as it did” question:

[Edward, Lord] Dunsany’s storytelling is creepy, compelling and wildly imaginative. It also carries a recurring theme: condemnation of industry and the urban scene. A habitual trait in his characterisation is a desire to escape from what he terms “Business” – the new, workaholic lifestyle ushered in by the Industrial Revolution and the resulting growth of the middle class.

… this kind of medieval, alternate world fantasy offers a man a nobler set of occupations. Surely a knight pursuing a worthwhile quest is better than being a sales assistant in dreary, industrial London. Instead of serving a base king of money, one could find greater personal fulfilment at, say, Arthur’s Round Table.

This is a satisfying solution to the conundrum, for me, anyway. The ability to parse and play out responses and alternatives to the things we find dissatisfying about the world around us is one of the most exciting and essential aspects of writing and reading fiction. If you want to look at it dryly and from a distance, forgetting for a moment the idea of fiction (or all art) as noble or essential for its own sake, and looking at it a bit more functionally, fiction is important because it lets us demonstrate that other ways of doing things (other technologies, other societies, other systems, other structures, other modes of thought) are available and might be worthwhile and feasible - without having to tear down what we currently have and actually demonstrate the other ways in practice. Of course, this is also why fiction is sometimes considered dangerous - it’s a way of revolting without taking violent or even overt action against the status quo.

So, next question: if we’re reading Lord Dunsany’s fiction as his way of working through his dissatisfaction with the way things were going post-Industrial Revolution, how come his response was to retreat (to undo change, to return to old systems) and not to improve (to keep changing and progressing, finding fixes for the problems he saw with the new normal)?

If I was feeling uncharitable, I could try to blame a lack of imagination on Lord Dunsany’s part (I mean, it takes a lot of imagination to believe that people generally had a better quality of life in the Middle Ages than after the Industrial Revolution, but it takes another level of imaginative leap to dream up something completely new and unseen). But I think the answer is simply: he was a conservative sort of chap. This is the basic dividing line between the conservative and the progressive: both agree that what we’ve got isn’t working, but the conservative believes it’s not working because of too much change, and can be fixed by repealing the changes they see as being responsible; while the progressive believes it’s not working because of not enough change, and can be fixed (or at least iteratively improved) by introducing even more change.

Which, I think, is why fantasy is often associated with a conservative attitude and sf with a progressive one - when in fact, the archetypal fantasy story involves a peasant becoming a king (okay, usually still within the bounds of primogeniture, but it’s still essential a fantasy of social mobility), while the archetypal sf story might involve aliens who are inherently evil (and therefore a-okay to kill without remorse) just because they’re aliens, or might even explicitly warn against progress by painting new technological discoveries as being responsible for great destruction or injustice (as opposed to blaming the uses people put them to).

We still haven’t fixed a lot of the workaholic / commuter lifestyle issues Lord Dunsany was reacting against, but that doesn’t make me want to run away and live in Westeros; I’m ambitious and naive enough to think we can fix what’s wrong with the world while hanging on to our progress-and-technology-enabled perks.

Workye Shallo - from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, roasted by Notes, sold by Flat Cap, Borough Market - is my new brew

Part of ‘one farmer, one roaster’ project, this delicate coffee is a distinct, flavourful lot from Yirgacheffe producer Workye Shallo. Expect a light mouthfeel, jasmine and lavender aromas, a bergamot acidity and dried apricot sweetness.

The beans fight back against the grinder. The scent of the grounds is an assault, a warning. The extract thrashes in the mouth, claws at the throat, riots in the belly. It’s a war of attrition. Can you absorb enough energy from it to put it down, to keep it contained, before it batters down your interior walls?

Spoilers, sorta.

1. Every time they go into battle together, Gwen makes Peter cover her in several layers of webbing, like body armour. (web-kevlar? weblar?) Just because you can take on the super-scum of the earth wearing nothing but spandex, she says, don’t think I can too. I’m not afraid out there, but I’m not stupid, either.

2. Gwen and Peter are making out on top of the bridge supports again. So hey, says Gwen, playing idly with one of Peter’s web-shooters, so long as we’re making hanging out at dizzying heights a habit, you got the parts lying around to make another pair of these?

3. Following through on her investigation of Max Dillon, Gwen stumbles upon Oscorp’s Special Projects department. In the middle of hacking the security systems to allow her to steal the prototype Vulture flight-pack for herself without setting off any alarms, she remembers she was meant to be at that scholarship interview an hour ago. Damn it, thinks Gwen, are that guy’s weird priorities and awful timekeeping both rubbing off on me?

4. Gwen, says Peter, I finally figured it out! I shouldn’t feel responsible for putting you in danger, because it’s your choice. It’s not me putting you in danger, it’s you. Right?

5. No, Peter, says Gwen, though she’s hard to hear over the earthquake tread of her Rhino mechsuit (hey, while you’re there stealing stuff from the bad guys anyway, right?), you still got a lot to figure out yet.

‘Film Maker’ by The Cooper Temple Clause
This one goes out to Team @EmpathDigital and everyone else doing the Sci-Fi London 48-hour Film Challenge this weekend!

We can still produce enough food and stuff to feed and house and clothe everybody. We can still run a growth economy. But we don’t seem to know how to allocate resources to people for whom there are no jobs. There’s a pervasive cultural assumption that people who don’t work are shirkers or failures, rather than victims of technological change, and this is an enabler for populist politicians who campaign for support from the frightened (because embattled) working majority by punishing the unlucky, rather than admitting that the core assumption—that we must starve if we can’t find work—is simply invalid.

Adventures in coldbrew: second attempt #coffee

‘Queen Of The World’ by Ida Maria
Namechecked in the scene I’m writing this week

I mainlined David Bowie’s back catalogue on shuffle for 48 hours after finishing this antholozine-thingy. I specifically blame STARMEN by Liz Williams.

mjstarling:

Non-Fiction
Time to Come Back: Delia Derbyshire, Electronic Music Pioneer by David Butler
New Worlds Fair: Michael Moorcock, Musician by Jonathan Wright
Mick Farren: Still Raging Against the Machine by Sam Jordison
Clockwork Angels: Rush and Kevin J Anderson by Rob Williams
Bill Nelson: Jets at Dawn by David Quantick
But What Does George Clinton’s Mothership Mean? by Minister Faust
Roots And Antennae, Tongues And Flight: Boney M Aboard The Black Star Liner by Mark Sinker
Music for a Concrete Island: JG Ballard and the Prefabrication of Post-Punk by Jason Heller
Ladyhawke: Reclaiming a Soundtrack from its Historical Moment by Anne C Perry
Martin Millar: Urban Pioneer by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
The Orb: Behind the Ultraworld by Phil Meadley
King Rat Revisited: Talking Trash With China Miéville by Jonathan Wright
Digital Distribution in an Analogue World: MP3 Markets in Nouakchott, Mauritania by Christopher Kirkley
How Long ’Til Black Future Month? The Toxins of Speculative Fiction, and the Antidote that is Janelle Monáe by NK Jemisin
Phonogram: Sublimated Emotion by Jared Shurin
Possible Futures: 20 Mind-Expanding Ways to Start Your SF Album Collection

Fiction
Starmen by Liz Williams
Between the Notes by Lavie Tidhar
Blues for Ahab by Nir Yaniv
Musicians by Martin Millar
Flight Path Estate by Tim Maughan
One Door Closes and then Another Door Closes by Stanley Donwood

My album wishlist grew steadily as I worked my way through the essays and stories. Main things that are on that list now that weren’t before I picked up ADVENTURE ROCKETSHIP!:

  • Parliament, ‘Mothership Connection’ (blame Minister Faust) and ‘Funkentelechy Vs The Placebo Syndrome’ (blame Jason Heller, whose bit on post-punk also made it clear to me I need to read more Ballard, specifically THE CONCRETE ISLAND)
  • Janelle Monáe, ‘The Electric Lady’ (blame N. K. Jemisin)
  • Dr Octagon, ‘Dr Octagonecologyst’ (blame Phil Meadley)