Damon Knight and Mundane SF

By coincidence, I had just been commenting about Damon Knight myself: I am a bit disgruntled with the fellow because of his somewhat condescending and unpleasant opposition to the favorite space opera author of my childhood, A.E. van Vogt.

I was chided for being too harsh when (too me) my comment seemed mild and not at all disrespectful to Mr. Knight. I was told that one ought not to speak ill of he dead: I admit I had no idea ya’ll Yankees were as delicate and precise in your sense of honor as we thin-skinned Southern Gentlemen, or that Mr. Knight was beyond even mild rebuke.

I admit I would perhaps have been harsher had I read this essay by Jordan S. Bassior, which I fully recommend.

http://fantasticworlds-jordan179.blogspot.com/2011/05/damon-knight-and-conceptual-ancestry-of.html

[The] Mundane movement, far from being rooted in “hard science,” operates by ignoring those aspects of “hard science” which would render the limitations they propose on the human future to be silly, short-sighted and absurdly parochial in a vast Universe.

Recently, I discovered a forty-year old article, “Goodbye, Henry J. Kostkos, Goodbye,” by Damon Knight  (1922-2002), in Clarion II (1972), which demonstrated even older roots to this attitude, way back in the American branch of the late New Wave.  Knight shows in this essay both a greater grasp of science than the modern Mundanes (though he makes a major error in his understanding of cultural evolution) but also more nakedly displays the hatred of humanity which lies at the core of the Mundaniacs, and for this reason the article is highly interesting.

As the founding member of the New Space Princess Movement of literary speculative fiction, I also have my reservations about the literary and philosophical value of the Mundane Science Fiction movement, even if my reservations are not as strong as those expressed above.

I have read classics of the genre, perfectly enjoyable, which take place on Earth, or in futures with relatively modest speculations about space colonization or travel: George Orwell or Aldous Huxley come to mind, or even near-future fiction by Mike Flynn, who wrote FIRESTAR and WRECK OF RIVER OF STARS — positing very little by way of space-operatic supertechnology.

So I do not think necessarily the case that a book that fits the deliberately limited settings and times and themes of Mundane SF is a bad book.

I also have rather grave doubts about the feasibility of space colonization, or star travel, given that we live in a universe where, as best we can tell, faster than light drive is starkly impossible, and travel at near-light-speeds absurdly expensive and absurdly dangerous, and travel at Newtonian speeds taking absurdly long timespans, far greater than the life of earthmen or of earthly civilizations, with no obvious short term reward to repay the outlay.

On the other hand, I prefer classical models for literature. Homer and Virgil and Milton and Dante and Ariosto and Tennyson and Keats wrote any number of works that involved rather fantastical elements, no matter how realistic their realistic elements might be.

To the degree that Mundane SF falls into the temptation to make a political statement, particularly a statement favoring the policies of the political and cultural Left (who are — I will avoid partisan hyperbole and speak in mildest understatement — servants of Lord Sauron the Great, and must be slain with fire to preserve human civilization) it compromises its artistic merit, and devolves into mere pretension.

I very, very scrupulously avoid any and all political statements in my own work, or anything that hints of such matters, lest my sterling artistic integrity be compromised, or my readers be put off by the intrusion of unwanted elements.

By the way, my next book is called TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTROMOTIVE DEBT DEMONETIZER VOTE FOR SARAH PALIN AS SHOULD YOU.

It is a prequel to my prior book VOTE CONSERVATIVE OR ASLAN WILL MAUL A BIG-EYED PUPPY.

The story involves two time traveling economists, Keynes and Hayek, who burst into song at unexpected intervals. I happen to have a video right here:

 

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