BookFilter: Noir and postmodern fiction in sci-fi clothing. Find me
I'm reading late-period Strugatsky novels where their themes of the limits of knowledge, the flawed nature of man, and the impossibility of utopia come to the fore. At the same time, I'm realizing that in plot structure and dramatic conceit, the Strugatskys' novels resemble noir mysteries much more than they resemble the Westerns and adventure novels that are the prototypes for their US analogs.
Basically, there are uncanny similarities between the Strugatsky novels I've read and The Big Sleep
or other "defective detective" Bogart noir flicks. The hero is posed with a problem or mystery, about which he only has fragmentary or misleading information. The hero sets out to solve the mystery, but suffers setbacks at every turn and is forced to revise his hypothesis again and again. He finally arrives at a final hypothesis, or else despairs in finding an adequate hypothesis, and tries to confront the problem head on. Then something happens
, unpredictably or inexplicably, that removes the source of conflict, but not in the way the hero intended or anticipated. This resolution may be unsatisfying and may even represent a kind of failure or defeat on the hero's part, but most importantly it disregards the hero's previous actions, or shows that they were, in fact, counterproductive.
This stands in contrast to stereotypical English-language scifi where the universe is either known or knowable, but definitely in the process of becoming more known, and the conflicts are primarily human, rather than pitting humans against an illogical, impersonal, and possibly hostile world. What we have is modernism and even naïve Hegelianism on one side, and postmodernism on the other.
Things that might be of interest:
- "big dumb object" books, but not ones with pat explanations at the end (more Rendezvous with Rama, less Rama sequels)
- books that take place in medias res, or have unreliable or uninformed narrators (i.e., the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead of sci-fi)
- sci-fi tragedies and Kafkaesque phantasmagoria
Things that are definitely not of interest:
- "merely" depressing SF&F (viz. Peter Watts)
- SF&F-themed noir pastiche (e.g., Lethem's Gun With Occasional Music, Ford's The Last Hot Time)
- "slipstream" and metafiction, especially of the hallucinatory or dream-like variety (e.g., Kelly Link)
- Lovecraftian horror, which does feature an alien and malign universe, but not existential dread or weltschmerz
Note: I've read a lot of Lem and PKD. Something like Crowley's Engine Summer
would be appropriate. I know about China Miéville.