From China Mieville’s interview in the November Locus:
“As I go on, I have an increasing sense of the speed at which history moves. Whether you thought all the discussion of New Weird and blah blah blah was ridiculous or useful, one of the reasons I stopped talking about it was that history had moved on. Whatever the movement was, it was in my opinion related to the cultural efflorescence that happened after the protests in Seattle in ’99, when there was an enormous sense of potentiality in the field (and elsewhere) — which to me was about expressing a sense of potentiality in the social and psychic life. The much-vaunted British Boom was from 2001 to 2003, and basically now I suspect it’s on a dying fall. When the mainstream notices something, it’s dead.”
10 thoughts on “Your Friday-Afternoon Topic For Discussion”
“…when there was an enormous sense of potentiality in the field (and elsewhere) — which to me was about expressing a sense of potentiality in the social and psychic life…”
I’d discuss it if I thought it meant anything. I guess the translation is “a group of us thought we were pretty hot.”
The bit I’m interested in is the penultimate sentence: “The much-vaunted British Boom was from 2001 to 2003, and basically now I suspect it’s on a dying fall.” I included the preamble because, yeah, on one level there’s a clear sense that his personal politics and circumstances are informing his view of the field. But on another level I’m not sure he’s wrong. I wouldn’t limit the boom to just those three years, and I don’t know that I’d describe the current situation in such strong terms but — look at the number of British writers being published in Interzone (almost none); look at the number of British sf debuts of note in the past few years (which is going to depend on how you define “sf”, “debut” and “of note”, but is not a very large number however you slice the pie). I’m not saying there isn’t still a significant amount of good sf being published by British writers, because clearly there is. But it feels more like an establishment, and less like something new.
I think the British Boom, if we’re going to call it that, was not a unitary phenomenon, and so categorical statements about it should be resisted. (Hence Andrew Butler’s multiple ways of looking at it in his SFS essay – which SFS then rather messed up by creating a theme BB issue overwhelmingly devoted to China Mieville.) But it’ll take a lot to convice me that there wasn’t already a lot going on by 1990, principally in the pages of Interzone. CM and I may therefore disagree about the scope of the boom, but I agree that whatever “it” was, its moment has passed and there are now just a bunch of writers doing their thing – admittedly with a higher profile than they might have had before.
Back in the early 80s it seemed like British SF was depressed, bleak novels like the early works of Garry Kilworth, Christopher Evans and Robert Holdstock were as new as it got. People read Ballard for light relief from all of this. The one bright light appeared to be Mary Gentle with Golden Witchbreed/Ancient Light.
Eventually Interzone (and the other magazines such as BBR) began to publish a range of interesting new young British writers. For a while it seemed every other issue of Interzone had an Eric Brown story, a Keith Brooke story or a new Stephen Baxter. Charles Stross sold his first story to Interzone in 1988. Simon Ings followed soon after, so too Peter Hamilton, Nick Royle and Michael Marshall Smith. Ian McDonald, Paul McAuley, Gwyneth Jones and Geoff Ryman started to get serious critical attention. Mavericks such as M John Harrison and Josephine Saxton re-emerged. New fantasy writers such as Storm Constantine, Gill Alderman, Jenny Jones and Neil Gaiman appeared. At the same time older or longer established authors such as Holdstock published their most iteresting work. There were anthologies such as Other Edens around, and another relaunched New Worlds.
But there was no real talk of a British Boom as I remember it.
And then it faded away for a year or two, until Stross finally got a novel published, China Mieville appeared on the scene, Gwyneth Jones published a very british novel called Bold As Love and the likes of Liz Williams arrived.
Suddenly there was a ‘boom’ but what made it different to the previous ‘boom’ (or the one before that?) I would like to suggest it came to be viewed as a boom not so much because of these authors, but because all of a sudden there were some highly articulate critics who bridged fandom and academia, Andrew Butler, Farah Mendlessohn etc. Articles appeared, publications appeared. This was a boom I had not seen before. Books about Chris Priest, Terry Pratchett, M JOhn Harrison from serious writers, articles in SFS.
And with the evidence of Niall’s early Vectors, blogs like this and the debate they provoke, and Graham Sleight taking on Foundation and forthcoming books by Farah, by Paul Kincaid and others, it seems THAT boom, the real boom, is far from over.
I wonder to what extent it was a boom or just an apparent one given the slump in US Sci-fi output. The giants of 90’s US Sci-fi have mostly been incredibly quiet over the last 2-3 years. Many of them have been working in other genres, many have just not been producing books (*cough* Brin *cough*). That was one of the funny things about Vinge’s Rainbow’s End appearing this summer. It even got a plug on Boing Boing, not because it’s awe inspiring, but simply because here was a big name in US Sci-fi actually producing something.
Turning it around a different way, I look at British Sci-fi and I see people being really productive and, thanks to the net, there’s a real sense of there being a community and of people talking to each other with something approaching a shared frame of reference. HOWEVER, seeing as he works in fantasy and hasn’t had a novel out for a while… I actually wonder whether China Mieville is a part of that community.
Graham: basically, yes.
Kev: I couldn’t go so far as to say that’s the “real” boom; everything we do is a secondary activity, after all. So to the extent that I agree that there does seem to have been a more lively British critical community in recent years (and I don’t know for certain that there has been; that’s my perception, but I haven’t been around for long, after all) I would have to see it as a consequence of the fact that there was more good writing to talk about. I’m pretty sure AMB talks about this in his article, actually.
Jonathan: I would have to say that CM is definitely part of the British sf community, at least from where I’m standing. To your point about US sf, though, the interesting thing to me is that it looks a lot like (I perceive) British sf looked in the late eighties — a lot of interesting writers putting out short fiction and just starting to put out novels and collections. A book like Twenty Epics gives you a pretty good snapshot. There are other factors as well, of course, but I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next few years.
Kev: Yes, I think the Vectors which Niall and Geneva have produced so far have been terrific, but then as a contributor I’m biased. Whether there’ll ever be dancing in the streets and book promotions over a boom in British sf *criticism*, I don’t know…
The problem with Mieville’s weird fiction boom is that it was largely just himsefl, so no wonder it looks played out now.
Apart from that, yeah, there has not been a British sf boom as much as there has been a sustained process of new writers entering the field since at least the mid-eighties with Banks and Baxter, partially sustained by Interzone as an outlet for starting writers.
So might the trouble Interzone has been in for a while spell trouble for the continuation of this process?
Most things go in cycles. There are fewer new(ish) British SF and fantasy novelists being published today than say, five or six years ago, but so what? What goes around comes around. And, of course, writers begin to write books that will make dosh rather than books that will please the critics. Hopefully they want to do both, but they have livings to make. More young radicals will turn up, be they from the US, the UK, Canada or Australia.
So I’m a cynic. So sue me.
And I still think that there’s a lot of pretentious crap in that paragraph!
I have a lot to say about this but none of it is complimentary, so…hm. What is “weird” fiction, exactly? I suppose Susanna Clarke is not “weird” enough to fit this criteria?
To me, Mieville was played out after “Perdido.” (Admittedly that isn’t complimentary, but it’s nicer than other remarks that came to mind.)