April 17th, 2008
For those unaware of the distinction between hard and soft sci-fi, the former spends its time postulating imaginary futures that unfold out of pre-existing science/theory, whereas the latter jettisons notions of the possible, concerning itself with the imaginary part of the equation. In its most basic form, it deals with the psychological and sociolological impact of tomorrow – the soft sciences – but at its logical extremes it details societies, internal states and/or technologies beyond comprehension, whose function and form defy simple explanation. It’s the really far-out stuff that we’ll be focusing on today. Think Phillip K Dick or Slaughterhouse 5. Just when you think you’ve modeled the universe successfully, Dick gives you the finger and you’re unsure whether Valis is a satellite broadcasting psychic signals from behind the moon, a program hard-wired into the human genome designed to free us all, God, the ramblings of a psychotic mind or all of the above. The surfaces of things becomes slippery and the gravitational core breaks down. At its most exciting, soft sci-fi displays an anarchic disregard for reductive, straightforward readings and, resultingly, often ditches conventional prose altogether, segueing into deeply subjective, experimental and non-linear writing styles, a la Jeff Noon or Steve Aylett. The emphasis in these books centers around technology as pure aesthetic. The designer drugs of Noon’s cybernetic Manchester frustrate the boundaries between the inner and outer worlds. The psychic environments described by his fiction allow for a free exchange between fantasy and reality –– creatures are wrenched out of trips, the main drug of choice, the Vurt feather, is itself discovered in virtual reality and at points the characters themselves seem to collapse into pure text…..
And all of this is well and good, but what has it got to do with Man-Ape, you might ask?