Not for Connectivists Guide to the Galaxy (I)

Next-Fest is the name Sandro Battisti, Gabriele Calarco and myself have chosen, not without a certain ambition to break with our past conventions, for the first “connectivist” (connettivista) gathering hosted in our Capital.
The “connectivists” arise primarily as authors: they are writers, poets, artists, sometimes filmmakers, strong of their experience on the network. The first form of aggregation has historically been represented by blogging, then came the movement, conceived as a natural extension of the ​​experimentation area found in the immediacy of the Web 2.0: connectivism was born here and can be interpreted in a straightforward way as an incubator. Of ideas, visions, methods and models. It is useless, or rather “sickly”, claiming to want to talk about it without ever having bothered to read even half a story. And it would be better anyway to read stories till the end, because history teaches us that sometimes they can reserve a twist in the end.

But going deeper in details to explain to newbies and uninitiated, what do “connectivists” do? In principle, and inevitably simplifying the argument, we can say that we strive to develop a possible interpretation of the world, that extends from the contingent reality to a more general reflection on human condition, from a perspective that is the key to everything, since it allows to “historicize” the present: the future. For this reason too, the “connectivists” are first of all sci-fi fans. From science fiction we have borrowed the key of transfiguration as well as that of extrapolation, and in science fiction we find a congenial form of synthesis between scientific culture, technology and the humanistic field that distinguishes us.

In these interventions, that will be released on the blog Strano Attrattore, I will try to outline my point of view on what we want to do and we wanted to give visibility in the scheduled program of the NeXT-Fest convention. It is not the only direction in which we are heading, but one of the possible. And, I believe, also very promising.

Science-fiction literature has a number of characteristics that differentiate it from its film counterpart. Indeed, even if the two media – literature and film – exchange each other lymph in a continuous transfusion of ideas and esthetic styles (as shown by the emblematic case of cyberpunk), from my point of view the two areas retain peculiarities enough marked to preserve their distance.

 

A science-fiction movie (less than a TV series, that on average has more time to develop the context in which the characters act) reflects the need to enhance its inherent characteristics of immediacy: due to its fruition and the need to reach out for broad masses as a result of the economic return of its producers, which are, first of all, investors. A literary work of fiction, in a gestation phase, is affected by many fewer creative constraints. First of all, it is rarely the case that all the different requests by the production members are to be satisfied at the same time. The writer is alone. He can afford more freedom and part of this freedom translates into the ability to refer to a consolidated imaginary. Each science-fiction novel or short story is “boosted” by the dialectical relation with the background of the genre, consisting of all the works and literary strands that have preceded it.

For science-fiction literature this form of feedback, this continuous interaction with the history of the genre, is a fundamental requirement: being the fantastic the only kind of narrative for which the reader has not a context ready and already known in which to orient himself, but must deal with the worldbuilding of the author, to share with the reader a minimum amount of references (for example, agreement on such narrative devices that don’t find an exact parallel in reality, as can be time travel, an alternative history, a FTL spaceship, or – say – a chronosynclastic infundibulum) is essential for the success of the work.

On the contrary, films can allow a greater autonomy from the history of genre. Tino Franco (Italian genre director) was right to point out that the film works on different channels than the book ones. I might add that these channels are even more numerous than the narrative ones, where the only channel is given by the “empathic connection” that the author manages to establish with the reader, I mean the ability to suspend the disbelief that the first is capable to negotiate with the second to tell his story mediated by a sheet of paper (or cellulose or electrons). Movies can play with vision and listening, experiences much more immediate than the (not so) simple text processing that is required by literature, which requires the “user” much more patience, attention, active participation in the processing of meaning.

We can see a certain familiarity, at times very strong, between different films, but the gravitational field that holds together science-fiction movies to me is a few orders of magnitude weaker than the one holding together the authors of novels and short stories, even very far away from each other and maybe even distant in time and space. Moreover, due to its clear attitude to contamination, science fiction is incline to manipulate other genres, so it is natural that so much on paper as much in the movies futuristic visions often end up crossing the borders of neighboring genres, from horror to detective, passing through noir, romance, adventure, war & spy stories. From such easiness to interface, combined with the breadth of SF imagination that can range from space opera to inner space, from simulated worlds to the alternative history and dystopia, comes the natural wealth of the genre. But the more you move away from the capital of the Empire, the more the provinces stagger under the weight of external pressure. At the cinema, in particular, where the needs of the budget are stronger than any artistic purpose (and the more it costs to translate a vision into a film, the greater the public it has to arrive in order to be repaid), the lesser internal cohesion of the genre reinforces the “spin attraction” towards neighboring territories.

Here are some examples, not to remain in the field of pure speculation: Blade Runner and Strange Days to noir, Alien to horror, Minority Report to police, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind toward the romance. In Avatar, for example, under the surface shaped by the aesthetic taste of Roger Dean, war film like Apocalypse Now and western mythology (from Pocahontas to Dances with Wolves) play in the economy of the plot a much stronger influence than an entire century of science-fiction cinema. There is, of course, an horizontal interchange, but not always: Donnie Darko, for example, seems to be an alien body in the context of any genre overview. In any case, the current flowing from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Inception doesn’t seem to be stronger than the one flowing towards Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece from Michael Mann’s Heat or James Bond’s movies. And this particular example leads me to risk on a land even more treacherous and dangerous: often, there are more points of contact between a science-fiction movie and a SF novel coming from a different medium (such as perhaps may be a book), rather that between the same movie and all the other sci-fi movies that preceded it. Inception, even with its many references to a fictional genre already consolidated in the cinema, doesn’t seems more like William Gibson’s Neuromancer than Blade Runner? Aren’t there more common traits with Zelazny, Dick and Galouye than with Matrix, eXistenZ and Dark City?

Genre movies masterpieces – 2001, Blade Runner, Inception, to name but three emblematic titles, sufficiently far apart from each other to represent the touchstones for their respective generations – can afford to “break” with the past, and re-establish an entire imaginary. In written SF, it doesn’t work like that: without the social SF, Alfred Bester and Fritz Leiber, we wouldn’t have had new wave authors; without new wave we wouldn’t have had Neuromancer and everything that came later; without new wave and cyberpunk we wouldn’t have had Accelerando; here the path proceeds at an incremental pace, not a selective one. And we find this pattern replicated, to a similar extent, in the works of the second, third, nth series, either.
A science-fiction movie is first and foremost a film, that can do without a label. A science-fiction book, on the contrary, however you put it, is science-fiction, whether the label is there or not.

If a genre is recognized first by its authors, the group of authors that can be universally recognized as authors of genre in the movie field is extremely tight, if not evanescent as a concept. In literature, the group is much more nourished, more easily identifiable, and even when a SF author writes other genres (thriller, fantasy), more often than not he continues to be recognized nevertheless as a science-fiction writer (as long as is name is not George R.R. Martin). Probably, also because of the different orders of magnitude in terms of catchment area, unlike the empire of the senses represented by the movies, science fiction literature is quite like a small republic, strong by its own intrinsic cohesion, subject to centripetal forces.
I might be wrong, but these are the dominant trends that I can perceive in any review of titles, authors and strands you want to look at.

(one to follow)

English version by Francesco Verso

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