Mundane SF 101

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Calvin, Ritch. "Mundane SF 101," in Feature: 101. SFRA Review #289 (Summer 2009): pp. 13-16.[1]

Discussion of "The Mundane Manifesto" (rpt. New York Review of Science Fiction #226), and the incipient literary movement therein called for. Calvin opens his discussion with, "Much like cyberpunk, mundane science fiction is a form or subgenre of science fiction that is practiced by a small — though growing — number of science fiction writers. Just as the origins of (or codification of) cyberpunk can be placed with the publication the Mirrorshades anthology by Bruce Sterling, wherein he sets out the tenets or characteristics of cyberpunk and argues for the validity of the genre, the origins of (or codification of) mundane science fiction rests with Geoff Ryman, who 'founded a small group of writers called the Mundanes'" (Calvin p. 13, quoting NYRSF p. 1).

The mundanes hold that faster-than-light travel, hospitable planets, intelligent aliens, interstellar trade, communication with alien species, and alternate universes all remain too far-fetched, too unrealistic to be of interest. Furthermore, the belief in, advocacy of, and employment of these devices lead us to turn away from — to escape from — the importance and immediacy of crises here on planet Earth. As they conclude, “the most likely future is one in which we only have ourselves and this planet” (Calvin p. 13, quoting "The Mundane Manifesto," p. 4). 

Much of cyberpunk would overlap with "mundane" SF, as would many stories following the sort of One Big Lie approach that Isaac Asimov discussed in his important analysis of "Social Science Fiction" (anthologized Dick Allen, editor, Science Fiction: The Future, 1st and 2nd editions, and elsewhere):[2] i.e., stories set in a society much like that of the audience, where the society is faced with a technological change — and, therefore a number of works relevant for "the human/machine interface."

(Side note: Calvin mentions some earlier works which would qualify as pre-existent "Mundane SF"; we'll add as a kind of most rigorous example the 1951 Ealing comedy, THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT,[3] which would be classic mundane SF/Social Science Fiction but blatantly lacks "the look and feel" of any SF.)

RDE, finishing, 17Feb21