I’m taking a science fiction literature class in college right now and recently we read a short story, Everywhere, by Geoff Ryman. It is not one of my favorites, but it isn’t bad, either. It’s categorized as utopian science fiction and was published in 1999.
In class today, a student spoke to us about Ryman and what is called The Mundane Manifesto.
In 2004, Ryman and several others signed The Mundane Manifesto – guidelines, or, rather, a rulebook, for sci-fi writers. Ryman and other writers were concerned with the logistics entailed in sci-fi writing and therefore wanted to make a document that explicitly laid out the rules. In other words, they aimed to dictate what sci-fi writers should and should not write about.
I understand where they’re coming from: my classmate has told me how he sometimes gets distracted when reading a sci-fi book because he’s thinking about how the book’s events could ever be possible in the real world, scientifically speaking. Because he is learned in all things science-y, he recognizes those inconsistencies in sci-fi works even though they are fictitious.
Upon reading The Mundane Manifesto, I couldn’t help but feel that Ryman and the others were limiting creativity. It states that interstellar travel remains unlikely, as well as interstellar trade, and that it is highly unlikely that there are alternative universes to be visited, as well as several other “Stupidities.”
(Note that most of these “Stupidities” have to do with space, space travel, aliens, and the like. There is nothing in the manifesto that dictates the rules/guidelines for fantasy, horror, mythology, or any other sub-genre of science fiction.)
The mundane science fiction movement began in 2004 with The Mundane Manifesto and still exists today. The Martian by Andy Weir is a prime example of recent mundane sci-fi. While I have neither read the book nor seen the film, I hear countless times that the movie was scientifically accurate and that its events are plausible in today’s world. That is the heart of mundane sci-fi: to create a story set in the real world, right now, in the time it was written. To me, however, I see that categorized better as realistic fiction than science fiction.
When I think of science fiction, I think of fiction first, and science second. I am a lover of fiction: I write and read it all the time. Fiction isn’t meant to be real; that’s why it’s fiction. It is in fiction that magic schools exist and trees speak Latin. It exists to give humanity reprieve from our every day lives. It gives us a chance to experience something other than ourselves, to live a thousand other lives a thousand times over. That is the purpose of literature, I think: to share and learn about the human condition from one another.
While a story may not be scientifically accurate, it may teach lessons of friendship, of humility, of selflessness, of love. It may have a message that is greater than its scientific aspects – much like Nancy Kress’s short story, Out of All Them Bright Stars.
Keeping a story scientifically accurate will make many readers happy, just as the opposite will have the same effect. In any event, The Mundane Manifesto’s rules have been broken time and time again and will continue to be broken as long as there is creativity in the world.