Random Strangeness

Hunting through my ill-organized library of books last week, looking for something I wanted to re-read, my dangerously idle mind was pondering the limitations of genre and the shortcomings of genre names in fiction as description. Specifically, I was thinking about the grey area between “traditional” science fiction and “traditional” fantasy – an area of work which struggles under a variety of unwieldy labels, such as (depending on the book) “steampunk” or “urban fantasy”. This weekend, I had another thought on the subject – why is it that certain tired cliches of the fantasy genre never seem to make it over to the science-fiction side?

I should warn you, what follows is probably kind of geeky…

In fantasy, one of the biggest cliches is anthropomorphic animals – and of the anthropomorphic animals, nothing is a bigger cliche than cats. A couple of times, cats have shown up in “urban fantasy” or “contemporary fantasy” novels or stories, but that’s about it for them. I’m, obviously, discounting cat-people, a longtime staple of really bad space operas. To be fair, it’s probably fairly hard to conquer the known galaxy when you sleep eighteen hours a day – but, then again, that’s what minions are for, right?

And then, really, it hit me: What if Brian Jacques, prolific author of socialist fables involving woodland creatures, and Harry Harrison, prolific author of a whole bunch of stuff, had been mind-melded in some freak cold-war nuclear accident? He/they/it could have single(?)-handedly created the Ratpunk genre of speculative fiction! Just think – all of Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat novels could have been about an actual, you know, rat

I think the problem with this idea is that it’s relatively believable today, but wouldn’t have been back in the ’70s and ’80s. So you’re a rat, and you want to jack into the ‘net? No problem – just use a Blackberry, or one of those do-everything cellphones with tiny (rat-sized) keyboard. Want to talk on the phone? Paws-free headset, baby! Back in the 1980s, who would have believed humans would make rodent-sized keyboards? Suspension of disbelief, my ass…

That, of course, is the great thing about technology – it’s eminently unpredictable. Oh, after the fact, you can see perfectly clearly how one development led naturally to another, which led to another, and so on. But predicting all those developments? A whole lot less clear.

Nonetheless, I do kind of wish someone would do a cyberpunk novel involving anthropomorphic rats. Disregard the coolness factor for a moment, if you would, and consider the potential marketing hype: Neal Stephenson meets Beverly Cleary. I mean, come on, who could resist such a claim? “One man must save the remains of civilization from certain destruction; only he can stop the glossalia-speaking hordes of a cult bent on world domination. Will this mild-mannered pizza-deliverycreature succeed? It won’t be easy – he’s only twelve inches tall…”

Published in: Geekiness, General | on May 5th, 2008| Comments Off on Random Strangeness

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