Summer 2020: The State of Speculative Fiction

It is more a question of taste than of truth how far back in time we may legitimately trace the origins of SF. Whatever the antiquity we assign it, by the mid twentieth century it had emerged, fully formed, and neatly classified into the major genres Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction, each as distinct and sovereign within its bounds as a TV dinner — the frozen entree, two sides, and dessert that Swanson began offering in aluminum foil trays in 1953. Since that pristine initial period, when a space-age family could enjoy a meal at home in front of the Tube, à l’astronaut, from a gleaming compartmental tray, the definition of such dining has morphed and diffused. With the advent of the microwave oven, a truly science fictional appliance, virtually anything, from stale Oreos to unwanted plastic soldiers, could be served up hot. Thus it fell out with the literary mode under discussion. But without the Oreos.

Are we only talking about little melted soldiers, dribbling in in liquefied green fatigues where they oughtn’t to be?


Or are we really alluding to the unholy combinations of set, setting, and characters, assembled higgeldy-piggeldy, till something arises that can only be expressed in a thirteen part series? Monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens . . .“Horrid, monstrous, enormous and formless,” to borrow a line from the first of the great SF hacks, Virgil. Is that what we’re getting at?


Yes, genre splicing, which cannot but put us in mind of the Veg-O-Matic, the kitchen miracle saturation-advertized in the mid sixties, when our eight-year-old selves were watching Lost in Space and wolfing down TV dinners. “It slices, it dices!” crowed the manic, proud announcer. Would we be splicing genes and genres today with the same wild abandon had we never been vouchsafed the vision of the Veg-O? Would it be unduly audacious to trace the present trend for for recombining to that which inspired Jonathan Richman’s “Dodge Veg-O-Matic?”

Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

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