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Sci-Fi Doesn't Have to Be Dominated by Horny Bro Wizards

In a genre where supposedly Anything Goes, where the boundaries of narrative and potential reality are not only immaterial, but also intended to be shattered with pure acts of what-the-fuck, I’ve always been baffled by how 90 percent of science fiction...

The author. Image by Jordan Rein

In a genre where supposedly Anything Goes, where the boundaries of narrative and potential reality are not only immaterial, but also intended to be shattered with pure acts of what-the-fuck, I’ve always been baffled by how 90 percent of science fiction works seem exactly the same—a glorified romance novel, unnecessarily set in a world where, like, computers can erase minds.

A LIST OF THINGS I NEVER UNDERSTOOD OR LIKED ABOUT SCIENCE FICTION

Dialogue

Why so much goddamn talking? The Earth is being pressed upon by black magnets piloted by a race of people made of lasers from the eyes of God, and here’s a four-page scene featuring two dudes having a conversation about who stole who’s Space Lamborghini. Dialogue is fucking stupid 90 percent of the time in the first place, but when written by someone with Asperger’s it becomes instant skimming material. Please stop.

Having a Premise

The worst thing about most science fiction is how the author gets an idea they like, and then that’s the book. Like, there’s an underwater city ruled by a blue cube that holds its citizens in eternal fear threatening to explode the glass walls that contain them if they don’t work tirelessly on building a machine gun powerful enough to kill the moon, but then people just run around trying to figure out a way to stop the cube’s cruel reign, and nothing interesting happens besides the idea on the back of the book. Call me a dick, but I don’t want one fun idea, I want 500.

Generally Shitty Writing

I imagine the thinking behind a lot of science fiction is that the ideas and conceits are so fantastic that it doesn’t matter how plain the writing is. I guess the crudity is supposed to be part of the appeal, but sometimes it’s nice to not feel like I could read one out of every 18 sentences and still get the same feel out of the book. Why can’t the language be as weird as the ideas?

Everything Human

It’s really dumb how every character, no matter how insane or unusual in concept, ends up communicating exactly the same as a human would. Here’s a toaster with a death wish who learned how to sexually reproduce with lizards! By the way, he sounds exactly like your cousin Richard! Getting away from humans is the reason I started reading in the first place.

HOW GARY J. SHIPLEY DEFIES THE THINGS ABOVE

Gary J. Shipley’s new book, Dreams of Amputation, is a novel overflowing not only with ideas, but a different type of speech. From the first sentence you know you are walking into a world where you will not be led by the hand, and where even the characters will not be sure exactly what or where they are: “He wakes in a container, head like a sawn circuit, throat rattling like a battery cage, Dock Code Report flashing tortured symbols from the wall screen: the amp’s back.”

So begins what in essence serves as a story brought on in full barrage, equipped with mazes, tunnels, replicant people, goat heads, paranoia, riots, brain manipulation, new disease… Shipley moves fluidly between scenes of various styles, grafting Tarkovsky-like passages of exploration with damaged circuits of putridity and fear, sometimes not far from the clipped feel of Burroughs’s Nova Express. Where so many other books would get caught in one mode or another, Shipley keeps the eye inside the mind alive, spitting other eyes out of the eye itself.

I’m not sure how to tell you what this book’s about—or even what exactly happens—but that doesn’t really matter because it’s less about plot and more about amassment and shape. There are characters and recurring set pieces, but much of the pleasure comes from Shipley’s great array of authorial control. The plot’s trajectory alters over and over, even in mid-stream, providing the reader with more of an experience than a narration, and one designed to pull up a hidden layer of the world, shedding wicked light not on who we are, but what is right underneath us.

An Excerpt from Dreams of Amputation

I know how we got here. I know how once social beings became solitary animals unable to function in direct contact with others. I see the blood-splattered boots clumping down the hallway and up the stairs; I hear the murmuring of a thousand internal voices panicking in silence, getting their last words in, processing the information before the information processes them.

It is not a narrative of decline or of progress, although having the two sides was no small comfort to most. If it is to be viewed as a tale of our ascendance, then it should be compared to the enchanted climb of the cordyceps-infested ant, as alone in the canopy we sit, our bodies little more than roots to a deranging idea still in hibernation. The bony growth will one day erupt through my skin and discharge its poisonous spores aloft with me attached to them; I will ride my way out of here on the back of a toxin puff, each of its spores wearing my smile forever.

21st Century Cunt Factory—built with its doors open—churned out legions of sincere insurgents, those that mutinied against the utility of deception, mutinied against what had made them clever. They herded like stinking, bow-legged cattle and lauded the retard for his glass-skulled honesty – as if he’d overcome the ability to hide it. (“Dare’s not an ance a falseness inim. E is what e is.” You could be barbecuing your neighbors’ pets, fucking their toddlers through their soiled nappies and pissing up their front doors, but as long as you weren’t trying to hide it – well shit, that’s alright then. “The man carn elp what e is. E never tried ta be uver’n what e woz. E woz a right lazy cunt, mind.”…)

Logic wasn’t their strong point, but luckily for them it was hideously out of fashion, stooped in the inglenook, head bowed, talking to itself, enraptured with neglect, diseased by the shit it ate.

Rat-eyed, thin-lipped parents self-tutored (sometimes there is no decent substitute for proper schooling) in controlled blubbing began killing their children in elaborate ways, ways specifically designed to baffle authorities and garner sympathy for themselves. What a glorious stage while it lasted: endless spin-off deals, 24-hour coverage, newspapers stained with their tearless resolve, their feigned gullibility. The innovators had it easy, but it wasn’t long before everyone tired of the spectacle, and then it wasn’t about truth or guilt, it was about whether or not they were playing the game. Do we like them? Are they trying to be liked? Can they give us the performance we demand of them? “Not a fucking tear. Who’s she trying to kid? Why doesn’t she cry for us? Doesn’t she care what we think? People like that deserve everything they get; bring it on themselves – no other way to see it.”

It was the performance that mattered, and the rules were firmly established: these are the prescribed dramatic equations of grief, sincerity, intelligence, talent, sanity, happiness… The self-loathing of the masses escalated exponentially as the heroes came to resemble the worshippers. Within a few years we had the first wave of drive-by self-abusers: daft, middle-aged housewives fattened on the dream of youth opened their veins on unsuspecting pedestrians, showering them with warm gummy blood and putting the blame on them. Self-styled vagrants popping up everywhere from city centers to the smallest village market place. They emptied their bowels into their trousers, and decorated their faces with the excrement – blacked them up like minstrels, brown and crispy-coated like racist confectionery.

The streets were crowded out with over-realized objects.

Long-decayed sharks flaunted their gray skins to the pinks, and smiled the soil of a thousand half-eaten dinners…

As a boy I saw footage of the now legendary Marvin the Magnificent, who’d attracted little attention at the time, but has since come to be regarded as something of a trailblazer among my select circle. His act was simple but brilliant: he ate himself. His show was called ‘Marvin the Marvin Eater,’ and attracted fairly good ratings to begin with, but before long (a pair of legs and nine fingers down) poor viewing figures meant that his first attempt ended prematurely. A month later he decided to continue, viewers or no viewers. A small network took him up and he set about completing his meal. Despite obvious pressure to get on with it, he took his time: he was a craftsman. He was, however, forced to rush the final stages for two reasons: (1) the ever-present threat of incapacity, and (2) the network threatening to cut him off. His elaborate system of plug-ins meant that his head could be sustained by tubes attached to synthesized organs stored in an adjoining room. This allowed him to consume all but his head, esophagus and stomach (by this point tearing under the strain), pause for a minute or two, and then, with some assistance, tuck into what remained. Inevitably, it all ended up as undigested slop dripping through the back of his ribcage onto the floor. He managed to eat the lips off his face before the show came to an end.

Now there was a parasite that took host-sickness to the next level.

@blakebutler