Thursday, September 2, 2010


First there was the New Wave, and I was not part of that because I was still struggling to learn how to write, and hence unpublishable.

Then came Cyberpunk, and I was not part of that because Chairman Bruce said so.

Then came the Humanists, and I was not part of that because I'm the one who defined the movement and I very carefully kept myself out of it.

Then came Slipstream, and I was not part of that because I was too heart-of-genre.

Then came Mannerpunk, and I was not part of that because I was too unmannerly.

Then came the New Space Opera, and I was not part of that because I was not British.

Then came Interstitial Arts and I was not part of that because I was not interstitial enough.

Then came the New Weird and I was not part of that because I wasn't weird enough.

Then came Mundane SF and I was not part of that because I was too unworldly.

And there may have been more.  All this is off the top of my head.  I've been in this field for thirty years and it's been my proud boast that I managed to duck every single movement that came along.

Until now.

Over at SF Signal, there is a recurrent feature called "Mind Meld," in which a variety of luminaries are asked a provocative question.  The current one being: If you could pick the Next Big Trend/Movement in sf or fantasy literature, what would it be and why? 

Gary K. Wolfe -- who stands very high in my esteem because he is that rarest of creatures, a respectable academic who writes about science fiction, fantasy, and horror simply because he believes those genres are of literary interest --  identified what he called a "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."

The leader of this new movement, according to him, is . . . is . . .  Oh, I can't say it.  So I'll let Wolfe do the deed:

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.
Now, there's still hope.  The New Cacophany may not catch on, in which case my record may well extend itself into future decades.  But if it does catch on, I've got only one thing to say:

Wouldn't it be just my luck that when I'm finally identified with a movement, it would be one that sounds like it contains the word "caca" in it?

You can find Wolfe's essay by clicking here and scrolling down a bit.



Victoria Janssen said...


It sounds cool except for the caca part....

David Stone said...

Better than Swanpunk I guess. If this NC thing takes off, I imagine your and John Kessel's names will appear together in the same sentence more often.

GordonVG said...

Quick, Michael, send a letter to LOCUS and say, "Don't you think this whole fad of naming everything " -punk" has got to end? Or why don't you just go and call me and Waldrop "Magpiepunks."

That's what K. W. Jeter did 23 years ago. . . . and look where "steampunk" is now.

---Gordon V.G.

Anonymous said...

I would have thought that Steampunk at least deserved a mention, although maybe it's encompassed by one of these other "movements."

I do notice, however, what seems to be an increasing number of writers devoting their energies to the near term fragmentation of the nation state, particularly the US. This isn't necessarily new, of course--there just seems to be more of it these days. The New Fracture?

Michael Swanwick said...

Whoops. Completely forgot Steampunk, probably the single SF movement that's been the most benign in its influence on the culture By the time I got around to writing something steampunk, it had been around for decades.

The fragmentation of the nation-state thing is only a trend or a tendency right now, although I agree that it's a strong one. You can't have a movement without somebody declaring it one. And it's got to be a writer. So the New Cacophany isn't real until somebody stands up and says, "Ich bin ein . . ."

(Not me. Movements eat up an enormous amount of time, and I've got more things to write than I have time to write 'em in.)