So I caught some kind of upper respiratory thing — could be allergies, but husband has it too, so unlikely — which of course has the effect of sending my ADD through the roof.
This means I fall down some truly bizarre rabbit holes. And one of the rabbit holes I fell down (because I had to look up the actual text one is read when being “mirandized” and I got a strange link) was Carmen Miranda.
Half the readers just shouted “Is haunting Space Station 3!” Well done you. Our meander does in fact go there.But not yet. I mean I did read the anthology at some point. If I’m not completely wrong, I read it when I was living in South Carolina for a year, alone in the house with a one year old, and going slowly out of my mind, as I didn’t drive, and my husband worked 18+hour days. (He wasn’t doing all that well either, which is why first time we were both awake enough, we made a plan and eventually decamped to Colorado, where things got better.) But it could be anywhere in the next two years, because those years are a blur.
Whichever way, I remember it was decent, but didn’t set my world on fire. A couple of the stories made me want to throw the book against the wall. Like the one that thought that Carmen Miranda was a South American revolutionary of some sort. (Guys, she was born a few villages over from Great great grandma. And– oh, never mind.) But it was okay, and a few of the stories were fun. The fact I don’t remember it is no reflection on it, at all, just on the fact that over the last ten years, with illness and such, I lost a bunch of things that weren’t purposely stored in memory. (On the good side, this means I can re-read a lot of books for the first time in my life, without having the slightest clue what comes next.) I will probably re-read it sometime in the next month, when I mosey down to the library, where it occupies the shelf for “anthologies” along with a lot of others, in no particular order.
But of course, when I stumbled on Carmen Miranda, I had to check if the anthology was available in e-format (it isn’t) since reading on paper is harder on the eyes these days, and then stumbled on Leslie Fish’s album.
It needs a sound editor. But (shrug) I have the partially-deaf’s tendency to evaluate songs for their lyrics first.
And when you get to the album the lyrics caught me.
Look, guys, they’re schlock. They’re the sort of schlock that’s been part of humanity’s tales forever: the ghost ship that fights gallantly, the very strange crew of misfits that nonetheless functions, the brilliant fuck up who gets one last chance at redemption, only in space.
I know, I know. You’re groaning. “Are we not sophisticated people?” you’ll say. “Are we not past that kind of nonsense?”
Meh. You might be, but I’m not.
Look, guys, I grew up in between times, in many ways, and sometimes without knowing what belonged when due to the vagaries of both Portuguese translation whim and when I discovered the books in a very weird market. Which means I read about brilliant scientists who went out to explore the universe in a match-head, and the post-modern it’s wrong to colonize so all colonizers are defeated by themselves books in the same week. Sometimes in the same day.
There are good, functional examples of both the pulpish, heroic brilliant man solves everything and “humanity is a plague upon the Earth, so I’ll counsel suicide but without killing myself.” There are good books based on the noble explorer and on the noble savage (though those of us who have studied history get a little queasy at the noble savage.)
It’s just that over the last 40 years or so, everything we’ve got is the attempt at puncturing an establishment which hasn’t been extant for 40 or 50 years. (Or more.) It’s been an attempt to shock the great grandparents who were dead since long before the story was written. Dahlings, there’s NOTHING you can say or do that would shock someone from Carmen Miranda’s Hollywood, and she was born two years after my grandmother who would be over 100 years old were she still alive.
Sure, the brave explorer sans peur et sans reproche got tedious. I hear you. But so do the enfants terribles tearing at the walls, smearing themselves with excrement, or self flagellating because of the imagined privilege of their ancestors. And dear Lord have we been bombarded with the later to the point of nausea.
That album hit me precisely because it reminded me of discovering science fiction. What attracted me was, sure, the idea of going to space (look, mini-geeks are mini-geeks, and at 11 I was a mini-geek.) But there was more to it. By the time I hit science fiction, at 11, I’d read a lot of adventure and exploration stories, the real, the false and the completely insane, all together in a big lump. And I’d read stories of colonization, and yes, stories of noble savages. I recognized the themes.
But those themes were given variations that can only be given by the vastness of space, by weird technology we do not have. And yes, it’s all made more exciting because of the idea that the future is still HUMAN. The idea that going to space is a continuation of the human story. That in space there will be stories of haunted spaceships, and ghost ships, and pirates who repent, and–
It’s the idea that we’re just a link in an eternal chain (or eternal as far as we care) of humanity moving through time and space that makes the stories humbling and amazing, forward-reaching and soothing. It’s like going through the dinosaur exhibit at the DMNS. It makes me feel both incredibly unimportant and incredibly important. Sure, in the vastness of time I am nothing, but look at the pedigree of life, and here I am, alive!
If you prefer, it is like the feeling of walking by the vast and indifferent ocean, but also being thrilled by the force and adventure of it.
…. Which means….
Which means sooner or later there will be a lot of very schlocky space operas written. Because I want to write them. And read them.
“But Sarah,” You’ll say. “Don’t you want to write good literature, full of transcendence?”
Schlocky science fiction themes and settings can be good literature, full of transcendence.
It’s not the vessel, it’s how you fill it. It’s not the form, it’s how you execute it. And it’s not for you to judge if you produced good literature, but for the future. By definition, good literature is what survives.
And I bet you fun, interesting, HUMAN fantasy will.
Because it’s the stories we’ve been telling since we’ve been humans.
And in eternity, if we remember this bet, I aim to collect.