Around the Common Room: August 17, 2012

It’s that time again–not just for a Common Room linkfest, but for the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest Results, where, in honor of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s “It was a dark and stormy ni

ght”, judges have chosen and proclaimed this year’s winning attempts to write the worst possible opening line for a novel.

Much imagination goes into this contest every year. As a big fan of really bad puns, I probably laughed hardest over this one:

Professor Lemieux had anticipated that his latest paper would be received with skepticism within the small, fractious circle of professional cosmologists, few of whom were prepared to accept his hypothesis that our universe had been created in a marijuana-induced industrial accident by insectoid aliens; nevertheless, he was stung when Hawking airily dismissed it as the Bug Bong Theory. — Alan Follett, Hercules, CA

But there are many more to enjoy, all of them works of positively awful brilliance. Have fun.

In other news of literature and imagination:

From, How Star Trek Liberated Television. This piece contains some interesting thought that may appeal in particular to pub readers used to the marginalization of fantasy and speculative fiction in general:

Mainstream media such as the New York Times confine most reviews of science fiction to columns on page thirty-eight or the equivalent in which three or four novels are accorded a paragraph or two each of review—almost literally on the margins. This may in fact help science fiction, by keeping it suppressed and edgy, but it misses how science fiction is the quintessential storytelling of our time, uniquely capturing the human connection to the cosmos: our capacity to first know it and then reshape it to our own specifications. (Not only does science fiction get short shrift in the New York Times. So does mystery. And romance novels are not reviewed there at all. The genres are apparently too popular to merit the Times’ attention. If it’s not about a dysfunctional Southern family, the “newspaper of record” has little interest in reviewing it. But that’s a story for another time.)

It’s interesting that author Paul Levinson calls sci-fi “the quintessential storytelling of our time”. Do you agree? Disagree? Where do you think fantasy, which boasts of similar popularity, subculture, and life applications, falls in relation to that?

While we’re talking Star Trek, Nerds Defy Shakespeare with ‘Star Trek in the Park’. I so want to see this.

And finally, all in one bulleted list because it’s a short week:

Lastly but not leastly, Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them are now available in Pottermore’s ebook shop!

2 thoughts on “Around the Common Room: August 17, 2012

  1. Thanks, Jenna, for another great Common Room linkfest! I love the Levinson article on how Star Trek liberated television. It’s an understatement to say that I LOVE Star Trek. Just about as much as I love Star Wars, and that’s saying a lot!

    Your question prompt could lead to a very long academic article, so I’ll spare you all that. :o) Sci-fi does seem to be the “quintessential storytelling of our time.” I think that one of Levinson’s sentences captures the heart of the matter: “At its best, science fiction shows human rationality struggling with and triumphing over a chaotic, hostile, dangerous universe.” Human reason of course is a double-edged sword, since one can use one’s mental faculties for good or ill. However, since it’s the faculty by which we comprehend our universe, it will be our best hope for addressing the ills that technology (and its consequences) can lead to.

    Like it or not, the powers unleashed since the creation of the atomic bomb and the arms race of the Cold War and the creation of biological/chemical weapons (etc.) have created a world where we must draw on the best of our minds and hearts for our future’s hope. This is just where the best sci-fi (like Star Trek–and I’m partial to The Next Generation) enters the picture. It created (and still creates) hope for a humane future that frontally addresses the science-y stuff that has especially marked at least the previous seventy years.

    Fantasy and mythic lit can serve just as well the general function of hope in the face of darkness, but it’s been with us since as long as folks have been writing and communicating. There’s something especially modern, though, and prescient about the best sci-fi that makes it fit our time. For example, I can’t see someone walking around using an ipod (and not noticing the rest of the world) without thinking of Fahrenheit 451.

  2. Carrie-Ann, I’ve just started watching Star Trek: Next Generation. I’d never seen but a couple of episodes of any Star Trek before, though I always liked Star Wars. So far, I love Captain Picard, am alternately respectful of and baffled by Lt. Yar and Commander Riker, and am rooting hard for Wesley. Oh, and I get a kick out of Data. 🙂

    You’re right about fantasy having been around for ages while sci-fi is new and forward-thinking. I’m curious whether the scientific and forward-thinking focus is still quite as universal, though. It might be me misunderstanding, but I feel as if our time is more savage than it was even a decade ago, less interested in reason and more in individual experience, less concerned with the respect for sentient beings generally shown by Picard and crew and more prone to thoughtless dehumanization of every dissenter.

    I’d like very much to be argued out of that feeling. 🙂 If nothing else, now and again a rational, reasonable voice pops up…

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