Saturday, May 14, 2011

Yo Ho!

I'll be spending the better part of today playing Thousand Suns with my gaming group and, since the PCs are currently in the employ of the interstellar criminal syndicate, La Malavara Entrepreno, my mind has been thinking about space pirates. And whenever I think about space pirates, I immediately think about this guy --
I can't recall its name, but I used to have this big, copiously illustrated book about the history of science fiction. One of the images it included was the one above, from the cover of the February 1959 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Rather than the traditional dagger of his 18th century forebears, this space pirate clenches a slide rule between his teeth.

I absolutely adore this picture, because it nicely illustrates a central truth about science fiction: as genre, it's not really about the future so much as the present. Once I realized and accepted that, I ceased caring about whether a sci-fi setting was an "accurate" depiction of the future. Of course it's not! No science fiction setting accurately depicts the future and expecting it to do so is both a recipe for disappointment and beside the point. For me, there are no "outdated" SF settings, no matter what the year, so long as they're well conceived and presented.

18 comments:

  1. The book was 'The Science in Science Fiction' by Peter Nicholls (p. 209 for the pirate). I got the book for my 16th birthday and it remains today one of my favourite reads.

    http://www.amazon.com/Science-Fiction-Peter-Nicholls/dp/0394713648/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1305347059&sr=1-1

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  2. I'm good with the laser pistol and I love the slide rule in his mouth, but what's up with that green smock?

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  3. I like how the slide rule's shadow gives him a Salvador Dali air.

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  4. "...what's up with that green smock?"--Russ

    It looks thick, stiff and heavy to me -- like the lead aprons x-ray technicians wear. Maybe it's a deathray-proof vest.

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  5. Maybe it was this book?

    http://www.amazon.com/Visual-Encyclopedia-Science-Fiction/dp/0517531755

    I remember it well, including a bunch of Virgil Finlay illustrations inside. Although I bought it after Star Wars came out, it really connected me to the history of SF, giving it a perspective that I think a lot of people (especially those whippersnappers under 30) may not appreciate.

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  6. "Space Pirates" for me will always conjure up that unfortunate issue of the Gold Key Star Trek comic.

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  7. The slide rule reminds me of a moment in a H. Beam Piper story (or from more than one) when a navigator pulls out a slide rule to calculate a maneuver their spaceship needs to make. For some reason, that just makes me smile. :)

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  8. Oh geez, that picture's brilliant.

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  9. If he's one of the pirates of ersatz, are there also pirates - or legitimate spacefarers - of authentic? Is this an early shot in the postmodernism wars?

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  10. Good point--and speaking of H. Beam Piper, current SF author John Scalzi, who wrote a reboot of Piper's Little Fuzzy, said something similar about how the original work was sort of jarring, with its mustache-sporting, pipe-smoking protagonist, and noted that science fiction authors write about the future, but write in the present:

    http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/john-scalzi-the-mercury-interview/Content?oid=3919931

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  11. "I absolutely adore this picture, because it nicely illustrates a central truth about science fiction: as genre, it's not really about the future so much as the present. "

    Darko Suvin has some interesting things to say about sci-fi that are along these lines. I don't know if I agree with all of what he says, but he has had a lot to do with sci-fi becoming a more "legitimate" - for whatever that's worth.

    http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/14/suvin14art.htm

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  12. The very essence of Classic Traveller. !

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  13. @Doc

    Don't be silly - Traveller computers weren't as powerful as a sliderule.

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  14. My god. That picture is...it's magnificent.

    (captcha: MARNF, the sound that guy makes as he climbs with his mouth full of slide rule)

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  15. Heh... I rather enjoyed the sort of retro-future that shows up in Heinlein and Piper books of a certain era.

    Speaking of, James, how's "Fuzzy Nation"?

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  16. Speaking of, James, how's "Fuzzy Nation"?

    I'll be talking about that when I've finished reading it.

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  17. And if you want to read the story looks like it is available at

    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24035

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  18. The human protagonist of Little Fuzzy is supposed to be an eccentric loner living on a frontier-ish world. So even if we lived in a time without facial hair (we don't) or smoke-delivered substance use (we don't), how would the guy's mustache and pipe be jarring?

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