What is "humanist science fiction"?

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il...@rcn.com

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Jun 30, 2008, 2:24:33 PM6/30/08
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Can someone explain what is "humanist science fiction" supposed to
be?
I did a Google search, and did not come up with anything coherent :)

Andrew Plotkin

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Jun 30, 2008, 2:43:37 PM6/30/08
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Here, il...@rcn.com wrote:
> Can someone explain what is "humanist science fiction" supposed to
> be?

Supposed by who? It's not a term I see in common use, so I figure it's
somebody's category of science fiction that is humanist. But that will
vary with the speaker's notion of what is humanist.

I'm in favor of humanism myself -- Wikipedia definition, "the search
for truth and morality through human means in support of human
interests". So I'd call "humanist science fiction" anything which
depicts a broader, more successful, happier human civilization based
on the consentual negotiation of human interests. Not a dystopia, not
ruled by incomprehensible aliens or computers, not exploited by a
minority for their own benefit.

(Don't imagine for a minute that this is an unbiased definition.)

From my point of view, Star Trek is the archetypical, albeit shallow,
humanist SF future. No, I am not going to get into an argument about
all the holes that show up in Trek if you look for fifteen seconds.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
"Bush has kept America safe from terrorism since 9/11." Too bad his
job was to keep America safe *on* 9/11.

Lawrence Watt-Evans

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Jun 30, 2008, 4:20:40 PM6/30/08
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On Mon, 30 Jun 2008 18:43:37 +0000 (UTC), Andrew Plotkin
<erky...@eblong.com> wrote:

>Here, il...@rcn.com wrote:
>> Can someone explain what is "humanist science fiction" supposed to
>> be?
>
>Supposed by who? It's not a term I see in common use, so I figure it's
>somebody's category of science fiction that is humanist. But that will
>vary with the speaker's notion of what is humanist.

It's from an essay that appeared in ASIMOV'S about, oh, twenty years
ago now, dividing the popular SF writers of the day up into two camps,
the cyberpunks and the humanists.

The idea was that cyberpunks focused on the nifty tech and fast-moving
adventures, while the humanists focused on ordinary people having to
deal with drastic changes in their world.

It was a rather dumb essay, grotesquely over-simplifying things, in my
opinion.

The humanists included Kim Stanley Robinson and George R.R. Martin; I
don't remember any other names off the top of my head.

If someone is trying to use the term "humanist SF" now in any
meaningful way, he's being a twit -- the division was contrived in
1988 (or whenever it was), and it's absurd now.


--
My webpage is at http://www.watt-evans.com
The eighth issue of Helix is now at http://www.helixsf.com

W. Citoan

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Jun 30, 2008, 8:06:56 PM6/30/08
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Lawrence Watt-Evans wrote:
>
> The humanists included Kim Stanley Robinson and George R.R. Martin; I
> don't remember any other names off the top of my head.

Queue recent thread started by James Nicoll (reference message
<g3jl8p$gmj$1...@reader2.panix.com>) and the potential inspiration
for the OP's question.

- W. Citoan
--
Remember that no man loses other life than that which he lives, or lives
any other life than that which he loses.
-- Marcus Aurelius

Joe Bernstein

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Jul 1, 2008, 2:38:11 AM7/1/08
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In article <1ofi641c5829odlda...@news.rcn.com>,
Lawrence Watt-Evans <l...@sff.net> wrote:

> >Here, il...@rcn.com wrote:

> >> Can someone explain what is "humanist science fiction" supposed to
> >> be?

> It's from an essay that appeared in ASIMOV'S about, oh, twenty years
> ago now, dividing the popular SF writers of the day up into two camps,
> the cyberpunks and the humanists.
>
> The idea was that cyberpunks focused on the nifty tech and fast-moving
> adventures, while the humanists focused on ordinary people having to
> deal with drastic changes in their world.
>
> It was a rather dumb essay, grotesquely over-simplifying things, in my
> opinion.

This doesn't accord with my recollection, but it's probably ten years
since I read the essay. That said, however, I want to note that it was
by Michael Swanwick, who wrote *two* really good essays about fantasy
(for all that I'd end up disagreeing with some of what he said), "In
the Tradition ..." and "A Farewell to Fantasy". So my bias is that he's
not an idiot, although I do remember not agreeing much with this
particular essay.



> The humanists included Kim Stanley Robinson and George R.R. Martin; I
> don't remember any other names off the top of my head.

As the other thread noted, Connie Willis; but what I remember from
*before* I actually read the essay, when people actually talked in
terms like this at times, KSR was the only writer consistently ranked
as the antonym of cyberpunk.



> If someone is trying to use the term "humanist SF" now in any
> meaningful way, he's being a twit -- the division was contrived in
> 1988 (or whenever it was), and it's absurd now.

As another poster's already pointed out, though, this is the second
thread on this topic in not very long. Why on Earth is the question
arising now? Are we next going to get several threads asking for
definitions of phlogiston?

Joe Bernstein

--
Joe Bernstein, tax preparer, bookkeeper and writer j...@sfbooks.com
<http://www.panix.com/~josephb/>

hamilton

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Jul 1, 2008, 4:06:55 AM7/1/08
to
On Jul 1, 3:38 pm, Joe Bernstein <j...@sfbooks.com> wrote:
> In article <1ofi641c5829odlda8apkqs105lvkcm...@news.rcn.com>,
> Lawrence Watt-Evans  <l...@sff.net> wrote:

<SNIP>


>
> As another poster's already pointed out, though, this is the second
> thread on this topic in not very long.  Why on Earth is the question
> arising now?  Are we next going to get several threads asking for
> definitions of phlogiston?
>
> Joe Bernstein
>

First, without your background, I would have figured 'humanist'
referred to some analog of 'atheist' - it's a to-mae-to, to-ma-to
thing. I don't know what that would mean, aside from distancing the
product from CS Lewis' 'Silent Planet' trilogy which might not be
'real' science fiction.

On a related note, Author Scott Sigler (he does have words-on-paper
published) described himself as a 'sceptical fiction' author,
promising to stick as much as possible (my words) to hard science and
not include 'woo'. He said this on a Skepticality podcast so it may be
a sort of pandering but I'd like to know: Does anybody else use that
term?

Peter Huebner

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Jul 1, 2008, 5:22:18 AM7/1/08
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In article <13788aa9-f31a-477e-81b9-
9814b7...@p39g2000prm.googlegroups.com>,
kwando...@gmail.com says...

>
> First, without your background, I would have figured 'humanist'
> referred to some analog of 'atheist' - it's a to-mae-to, to-ma-to
> thing. I don't know what that would mean, aside from distancing the
> product from CS Lewis' 'Silent Planet' trilogy which might not be
> 'real' science fiction.
>

Humanism and atheism are in no way synonymous.

The word humanism is actually used in different meanings.

Classical Humanism is generally held to refer to a system of
education that includes classical studies (things ancient Roman
and Greek) as well as moral philosophy. Touches on grammar,
poetry, rethoric. It has a strong emphasis on scholarlyness.

The emergence of Humanism is held to define the Renaissance
period.

The general idea of Humanism is that if you immerse young
people in the Classics, teach them proper understanding,
thinking, speaking and moral philosophy, then that's going to
make them better people.

Sir Thomas More and Sir Thomas Elyot are considered classic
English humanists.

The modern meaning has taken on the aspect of 'studying the
humanities', in other words people who concern themselves with
psychology, sociology, philosophy, education, anthropology,
(history?).

There is also a literary meaning that I am not familiar with
per se, seeing as I never studied lit crit or any such. Which,
in fact, may have a bearing on the origin of the term "humanist
sf". Or may not.

There is no impediment to being a humanist and a deist/theist
at the same time. The headmaster at my highschool was a pious
university trained lutheran pastor, a humanist and classical
philologist - and those were the lines along which the school
was run. Incidentally, he also had no problems with the concept
of introducing us to the thoughts of Sartre, Camus and Marx
(not Groucho). That's scholarly. The antithesis to people who
run around trying to ban books from libraries because they
might 'pollute [impressionable] minds'.

-Peter

--
=========================================
firstname dot lastname at gmail fullstop com

Peter Knutsen

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Jul 1, 2008, 8:33:42 AM7/1/08
to
Joe Bernstein wrote:
> Lawrence Watt-Evans <l...@sff.net> wrote:
[...]

>>It was a rather dumb essay, grotesquely over-simplifying things, in my
>>opinion.
>
> This doesn't accord with my recollection, but it's probably ten years
> since I read the essay. That said, however, I want to note that it was
> by Michael Swanwick, who wrote *two* really good essays about fantasy
> (for all that I'd end up disagreeing with some of what he said), "In
> the Tradition ..." and "A Farewell to Fantasy". So my bias is that he's
> not an idiot, although I do remember not agreeing much with this
> particular essay.

Where can his second fantasy essay be read? I once got a thin library
book that collected the first fantasy essay, and the cyberpunk/humanist
essay, but I've never read "A Farewell to Fantasy". Is it available
online somewhere?

--
Peter Knutsen
sagatafl.org

James Nicoll

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Jul 1, 2008, 11:24:37 AM7/1/08
to
In article <g4cjci$had$1...@reader2.panix.com>,

Joe Bernstein <j...@sfbooks.com> wrote:
>
>As another poster's already pointed out, though, this is the second
>thread on this topic in not very long. Why on Earth is the question
>arising now? Are we next going to get several threads asking for
>definitions of phlogiston?
>
I have a book in my to read stack whose title refers to them.
--
http://www.livejournal.com/users/james_nicoll
http://www.cafepress.com/jdnicoll (For all your "The problem with
defending the English language [...]" T-shirt, cup and tote-bag needs)

JimboCat

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Jul 1, 2008, 11:53:23 AM7/1/08
to
On Jul 1, 11:24 am, jdnic...@panix.com (James Nicoll) wrote:
> In article <g4cjci$ha...@reader2.panix.com>,

> Joe Bernstein  <j...@sfbooks.com> wrote:
>
> >As another poster's already pointed out, though, this is the second
> >thread on this topic in not very long.  Why on Earth is the question
> >arising now?  Are we next going to get several threads asking for
> >definitions of phlogiston?
>
>         I have a book in my to read stack whose title refers to them.

The title of this book refers to definitions of phlogiston? I'm trying
to imagine. . .

"The Real Truth behind Phlogiston"
"Phlogiston's Endnotes"
"The Phlogistons Look Up"

Nope: I just don't get it.

Jim Deutch (JimboCat)
--
>>George Zebrowski, CAVE OF STARS.
>Thats it! Thank you! How did you find it??
I had the misfortune of reading it. -- James Nicoll

Lawrence Watt-Evans

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Jul 1, 2008, 1:22:21 PM7/1/08
to
On Tue, 1 Jul 2008 06:38:11 +0000 (UTC), Joe Bernstein
<j...@sfbooks.com> wrote:

>In article <1ofi641c5829odlda...@news.rcn.com>,
>Lawrence Watt-Evans <l...@sff.net> wrote:
>
>> >Here, il...@rcn.com wrote:
>
>> >> Can someone explain what is "humanist science fiction" supposed to
>> >> be?
>
>> It's from an essay that appeared in ASIMOV'S about, oh, twenty years
>> ago now, dividing the popular SF writers of the day up into two camps,
>> the cyberpunks and the humanists.
>>
>> The idea was that cyberpunks focused on the nifty tech and fast-moving
>> adventures, while the humanists focused on ordinary people having to
>> deal with drastic changes in their world.
>>
>> It was a rather dumb essay, grotesquely over-simplifying things, in my
>> opinion.
>
>This doesn't accord with my recollection, but it's probably ten years
>since I read the essay.

Been longer for me, so my memory may be even less accurate than yours.

> That said, however, I want to note that it was
>by Michael Swanwick, who wrote *two* really good essays about fantasy
>(for all that I'd end up disagreeing with some of what he said), "In
>the Tradition ..." and "A Farewell to Fantasy". So my bias is that he's
>not an idiot, although I do remember not agreeing much with this
>particular essay.

Swanwick is not by any means an idiot; he's a smart man. This does
not mean he won't occasionally go haring off down some unfortunate
path.



>> The humanists included Kim Stanley Robinson and George R.R. Martin; I
>> don't remember any other names off the top of my head.
>
>As the other thread noted, Connie Willis; but what I remember from
>*before* I actually read the essay, when people actually talked in
>terms like this at times, KSR was the only writer consistently ranked
>as the antonym of cyberpunk.
>
>> If someone is trying to use the term "humanist SF" now in any
>> meaningful way, he's being a twit -- the division was contrived in
>> 1988 (or whenever it was), and it's absurd now.
>
>As another poster's already pointed out, though, this is the second
>thread on this topic in not very long. Why on Earth is the question
>arising now? Are we next going to get several threads asking for
>definitions of phlogiston?

One never knows.

--
My webpage is at http://www.watt-evans.com

The ninth issue of Helix is now at http://www.helixsf.com

Lawrence Watt-Evans

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Jul 1, 2008, 1:23:41 PM7/1/08
to
On Tue, 1 Jul 2008 15:24:37 +0000 (UTC), jdni...@panix.com (James
Nicoll) wrote:

>In article <g4cjci$had$1...@reader2.panix.com>,
>Joe Bernstein <j...@sfbooks.com> wrote:
>>
>>As another poster's already pointed out, though, this is the second
>>thread on this topic in not very long. Why on Earth is the question
>>arising now? Are we next going to get several threads asking for
>>definitions of phlogiston?
>>
> I have a book in my to read stack whose title refers to them.

How unfortunate.


--
My webpage is at http://www.watt-evans.com

The ninth issue of Helix is now at http://www.helixsf.com

hamilton

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Jul 1, 2008, 3:49:21 PM7/1/08
to
On Jul 1, 6:22 pm, Peter Huebner <no....@this.address> wrote:
> In article <13788aa9-f31a-477e-81b9-
> 9814b7fc1...@p39g2000prm.googlegroups.com>,
> kwandongbr...@gmail.com says...

I've learned something. Thanks.

Still, if I cherrypick definitions a little, I can find:

(at http://tinyurl.com/9plos )
"# S: (adj) humanist, humanistic (of or pertaining to a philosophy
asserting human dignity and man's capacity for fulfillment through
reason and scientific method and often rejecting religion) "the
humanist belief in continuous emergent evolution"- Wendell Thomas"

Again, I admit I only picked the definition that agreed with my
statement and there were many others listed. As I see it, humanist
does not have to be synonymous with atheist but it could be.

Joe Bernstein

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Jul 1, 2008, 9:51:06 PM7/1/08
to
In article <486a241e$0$90264$1472...@news.sunsite.dk>, Peter Knutsen
<pe...@sagatafl.invalid> wrote:

> Joe Bernstein wrote:

> > Michael Swanwick ... wrote *two* really good essays about fantasy


> > (for all that I'd end up disagreeing with some of what he said), "In
> > the Tradition ..." and "A Farewell to Fantasy". So my bias is that he's
> > not an idiot, although I do remember not agreeing much with this
> > particular essay.

> Where can his second fantasy essay be read? I once got a thin library
> book that collected the first fantasy essay, and the cyberpunk/humanist
> essay, but I've never read "A Farewell to Fantasy". Is it available
> online somewhere?

Not as best I can tell. It comes from the September 1993 issue of
<Asimov's>, and you can find at least a dozen really bizarrely
formatted lists of that issue's contents online, but not the essay
itself. It isn't collected, I conclude from the fact that it *isn't*
listed at <http://www.michaelswanwick.com/nonfic/biblio.html>. So I
have no evidence it's *ever* been reprinted.

In a nutshell, Swanwick's thesis in that essay is that fantasy is
now a strong enough field on its own (commercially and artistically)
that writers who aspire to write fantasy are no longer likely to
end up writing science fiction instead. He instances Ursula Le Guin
as someone who's explicitly told us she wrote sf because she wanted
to write fantasy, and I *think* he also talks about Cordwainer Smith
and Poul Anderson, but I'm not sure - it's been a while. (I may not
have *read* this essay since it first appeared, though I'm pretty
sure I own the issue.) So he basically argues that In The Future,
science fiction and fantasy may not seem as self-evidently linked as
they do now (then).

Speaking as a student of fantasy who thinks it's taken over *too much*
of the commercial and aesthetic excitement within spec-fic, I'm not
sure whether I agree or not. Seems like writers still frequently
move from sf to fantasy, and occasionally in the other direction;
but I don't read enough self-identified newish sf to know how
seriously to take those self-identifications.

So I'm sorry I couldn't get you to the original essay, but I hope
the summary helps, or at least provokes corrections from people
whose old <Asimov's> collections aren't in storage in faraway places.
Others may be interested to know that the other two essays referenced
*are* available in other places. The chapbook you mentioned is
<The Postmodern Archipelago>, but Swanwick has a longer collection
called <Moon Dogs> that also includes both; "In the Tradition ..."
was reprinted in the eighth Datlow/Windling <Year's Best Fantasy
and Horror>; and Swanwick's site links to a page with *quotes*
from "A User's Guide to the Postmoderns", the essay that actually
has to do with this thread's subject line.

<http://www.sfrevu.com/ISSUES/2003/0309/The%20User's%20Guide%20to%20the%20Postmoderns/Review.htm>

(However, the quotes in question turn out not even to contain the
word "humanist", let alone name names or identifying traits.)

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