The New Cacophony is Old Again

Dumping this here for later reference.Because I seem to have wandered into that haunted house and want to think more about why the mirror turn the way they do, what flavor of smoke is being used.

(Link via Bruce Sterling) trend spotting in sci-fi:

in this same anthology (Jonathan Strahan’s Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy) was a story by Eileen Gunn and Michael Swanwick called “Zeppelin City,” which at first looks like a simple exercise in steampunk, featuring characters with names like Radio Jones and Amelia Spindizzy, but is also a classic screwball comedy and includes mad disembodied brains, Heinleinian moving sidewalks, and a complete alternate-world Marx Brothers version of Chaplin’s Modern Times.

The chaos and cacophony of a Marx Brothers movie seemed like a good signature for this new trend in gonzo fiction which seems not to fit neatly into any particular subgenre, but to simply borrow anything it damn well pleases from anywhere-near-future SF, alternate history, steampunk, space opera, pulp adventure, hard SF, film, mainstream fiction, surrealism, fantasy, horror, etc. Paul di Filippo’s “Yes, We Have No Bananas” from last year’s Eclipse Three is another example that came to mind, but there are many more.

At the end of that review of “Zeppelin City” I wrote that Swanwick has “always been one of the ringmasters of the new cacophony,” so the New Cacophony is the name I’m choosing for my movement-not fiction in the interstices, not slipstreamy cross-pollinations with the mainstream, not reinventions of old subgenres, but all of the above and more. If I wanted to come up with a more academic sounding name, it might be something like genre dissonance, but New Cacophony is more fun. It’s using any toy in the sandbox, plus any more you want to bring up from the basement. The only rule is that they have to somehow work together in the story.

There are ancestors of this movement going back decades-Philip José Farmer is among the most notable. But the reason I chose Swanwick as an example can be found in The Iron Dragon’s Daughter and especially The Dragons of Babel, in which nearly every marker that seems to give you genre bearings is undercut by another that seems wildly out of place-not just those famous afterburner-assisted mechanical dragons, but a Babylon with Frank Lloyd Wright lounges in which palace courtiers check their Blackberries, saloons decorated with pictures of Muhammad Ali, Kawasaki motorcycles and Mercedes and BMW cars, Pepsis, subways, Grand Central Station, McDonalds, Marlboros, Zippos, Duke Ellington songs, brownstones, Hermes bags (for carrying runes), Hard Rock Café t-shirts, Givenchy gowns, living stone lions who read Faulkner and wise women who quote Mary McCarthy.