Thursday, April 4, 2013

Magic Realism? Where is my Science Realism? It's been here for ages

Yeah. March was a rough month. Extra shifts at work, moving and trying to stay on top of my novel re-edits. But moving on ...

In the last few years, there's been a phrase, magical realism, that's been bandied and recent blockbusters, like Life of Pi and Hugo, has been touted as a cinema magical realism. 

What I want to know is where is my Science Realism ... and is that even a thing?

To recap, most magical realism shares certain elements. (There are always exceptions of course.)

  • The setting is either Contemporary, Historical or bounces between both via flashbacks: No near or far flung futures need apply
  • Impoverished socioeconomics: The further from middle class suburbia, the better. Quite a few of these stories happen in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • The story involves the mythology of the culture, such as brouhas, the Dream Time or Vodun: These elements are usually subtle, but accepted by the characters as the natural order. If  the reader has trouble accepting that conceit then ....
  • The supernatural is suspect: Did you really see any magic? Circumstances let readers wonder if those mystical elements were actually dreams, delusions or hallucinations. I call this the Skeptic's Safe House.
As an aside, both Urban Fantasy genre and Magical Realism share these elements and depending on who you talk to, one is seen as more commercial than the other. I'll leave that chat for another time.

So where does that leave Science Realism?

As I ruminated on that idea, I narrowed down the themes that would take shape in a such story:

  • While it could be set in the future, it might be also set in the now.
  • Impoverished socioeconomics: This isn't about dystopias and cyberpunk. Well, it could be, but this is the near future that happens to (or passes by), the people who can't buy zombie-killing machetes and mirror shades.
  • The story involves culture: Whether we allow technology to homogenize or isolate us, there will be more than a suburban viewpoint of how that happens.
At that point I remembered several things. Or several someones to be more precise.

Octavia  Butler (Wild Seed, Kindred, Parable of the Sower, and many, many others)
Nalo Hopkins (Midnight Robber)
Walter Mosley (Blue Light)
Gerald Vizenor (Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles)

These are writers who have added desperately needed voices and viewpoints to speculative fiction field for decades.  You won't find bizarre laser tomahawks and Zulu force shields in these stories, but you will find the tough questions about religion, responsibility and the legacies we leave behind with our technology.

Looking at that list again, I realized that I've asking the wrong question.

The question is not when will people get to read Science Realism stories, but why haven't more people read them already?

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