No News is Good News?

Dec 3, 03:49 by IROSF
Comment on the article here.

Article is here.
Dec 3, 06:25 by Denny Nelson
A thought on journalism in a Science Fiction setting.

Unless it directly pertains to a linear plot, it is at best a distraction. I have no problem with the concept, and it could improve a novel, or a mini-series with the time to deal with such a concept. A series, (A Star Trek series, Battlestar Galactica, any of the Stargate spin-offs) or a two hour theatrical production with a stand alone format, can not afford the time for a deviation from storyline unless it is incorporated into the plot as part of the story being told. They are extremely limited with actual plot time.

The journalism vs politics card would have to be worked up very carefully into a single episode plot. With the time constraints, I doubt a meaningful plot could be planned. Also along the same lines it would be tough to weave into the overall plot line with out a considerable explanation buildup.

As it stands, this is only my opinion, but I would think that almost any producer or director of the type of show I'm talking about would back me up on this. Along with this, most people watch a series, or go to a Movie for entertainment, not to watch the very thing we watch on the news every night.

Entertainment (particularly Science Fiction) is escapism plain and simple, and I, for one, am very glad of it.
Dec 3, 12:55 by Walt Gottesman
Maybe one reason there are few reporter characters in science fiction is because many authors in the genre live and write in relatively free countries where they take the role of the press for granted.

It may also be that, what with editorial guidelines, in-house stylebooks, financial constraints, publishers interests, targetted demographic categories, the rising cost of newsprint, the crucial importance of advertisers, the iron blue-pencil wielded by some editors, space limitations in print, and on-air sound bites, among other factors, the curiosity of journalists gets channeled into doing what is expected of them. The idea of a free press is noble and necessary but the press we have is not as free as it could or should be so it may not be inspiring for writers to dramatize it. Just some thoughts.

Also, though the empire metaphor may apply to much of SF, what about the discussion that characterizes SF as libertarian lit? Just another passing thought.
Dec 3, 15:17 by Amy Sisson
Interesting article!

I offer a few more examples, not as counter or support to your theories, but merely in case you want to pursue the question further.

The new Battlestar Galactica incorporates journalists regularly, and in a significant way. In one pivotal episode, a journalist goes aboard the Galactica, much to the annoyance of Adama, to offer the civilians in the fleet a look at what it's like "on the front lines." There are also journalists regularly questioning the President's and the Quorom's decisions. They do fill precisely the function that you describe: "Their natural inclination is to ask pointed questions about government affairs, to look for signs of incompetence or corruption in everything that political leaders and bureaucrats are doing."

(Incidentally, in the book version of the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica, Serena (the Jane Seymour character) was a journalist.)

It has been several years since I read it, but I believe the main character of Wil McCarthy's Bloom is a journalist, or at least an amateur journalist, who serves as a mission correspondent on an important journey.

Also, there's a journalist main character in Peter F. Hamilton's duology that includes Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained. Alas, she sleeps with anyone to get information and is extremely off-putting -- her variety of "journalist" is really more like Entertainment Tonight pseudo-celebrity.

Again, thanks for the interesting article.
Dec 3, 15:20 by Eric Gregory
Thoughtful and thought-provoking article, but I don't quite buy the premise that SF (in any general sense) has a journalism problem. I thought immediately of China Miéville's Bas-Lag novels, Le Guin's "The Dispossessed," and perhaps most importantly, Battlestar Galactica.

Miéville and Le Guin are very politically conscious writers, of course, but I suspect that's the rub. Herbert and Lucas are more mystic-philosophically inclined; politics figure large in their work, but often as almost mythical, archetypal wouldn't want to call Lucas a political thinker. ST:TNG, like you said, is fundamentally utopian. This suggests to me that journalism is less likely to figure into certain kinds of SF.

I think BSG looms large over this discussion, though; it's one of our major contemporary SF touchstones, and among its most distinguishing features is its strong political awareness. BSG explicitly addresses the issues you wanted to raise in ST:TNG -- the tension between unilateral military command and democratic government, political disenfranchisement, the role of the fourth estate. And this is SF that a range of people are currently participating in, both as creators and viewers. (Serenity's Mr. Universe probably qualifies as a sort of New New Media journalist, as well.) If SF was once dominated by a sort of totalitarian disposition (and I'm not at all persuaded of that), it's tough to argue the same thing today.
Dec 3, 15:24 by Amy Sisson
(Note to IROSF: the "reply" function in this forum does not seem to work properly.)

Reply to "bililoquy": I hadn't thought of Serenity's Mr. Universe, but that's an interesting example!
Dec 3, 16:48 by Peter Smith
Another SF journalist is the central character in Greg Egan's Distress.
Dec 3, 17:24 by Bluejack
Thanks, Amy! It sure doesn't!!! I'll fix that asap!
Dec 3, 20:05 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
Don't forget Gregory MacAllister et al in McDevitt's Academy Series and even the Alex Benedict novels. There are often chapter epigrams, direct "quotations" and quite frequently characters who either appear, report, or produce journalistic programs. MacAllister himself is a prominent and important character in almost all of the Academy novels. And from reading the other examples of "journalists" in science fiction, I am not convinced that S/F somehow ignores them.

Additionally, I would disagree with the author's second point about journalists being rare because S/F is concerned with Galactic Empires. Specifically where the author argues that there is a derth of democratic functions in future societies. While this may be somewhat true (since there is always good drama to be had with Empires and despots), I would point to the works of authors such as Ken McLeod (in particular his Fall Revolution Series and Learning the World, Alastair Reynolds (in particular his Revelation Space, specifically The Prefect) and Ian Banks'Culture novels. Not only are these works concerned with the future of democracy, in many cases (like MacLeod and Reynolds) special attention is paid to democatic institutions, personal liberty vs. collective government and what it means to be enfranchised. I will admit, though, not one of them has specific mention of journalists in their worlds. (I never resist the opportunity to plug these guys, forgive me!)

In the end, I would advance that it is not so much that journalists are 'missing' from S/F worlds, but rather that A: journalists might not be as exciting as starship captains, and B: without specific mention (or world creation) that there are no journalists we must presume that they are a profession assumed to be there and unless the author has a specific reason to mention one, why would one be mentioned?

Mr. Westfahl does raise some interesting material, and it would be interesting to see some S/F works with journalist protagonists ("From the End of Eternity, this is Mildred Pierce reporting!"). Thanks, Gary, for a thought (and discussion) provoking article!
Dec 4, 21:44 by Nader Elhefnawy
I think errant371 has it pretty much right, but I do have a few points to add.

One is that we generally see little of media in these fictional worlds, and I think that's only partly because we're so often looking at space-based versions of feudalism, despotism and other such kinds of tyranny. We're also following these stories because the characters in them are people who have other things to do besides watch TV (or its futuristic equivalent) all day, who are in the middle of the action themselves rather than treating the current events of their day as a spectator sport, so that less thought is given to that sort of thing.

And of course, there is the whole problem of the physics of media in an interstellar empire. It's pretty easy to picture a world in which news isn't instant (the problem is actually explicitly discussed by the characters in Babylon 5, while the heroes are in the process of setting up their own, alternative news service), and so much of its interest lost.

It may also be that in other kinds of fiction, we do not see too little of journalists, but perhaps too much-and indeed, of writers in general. How many atrocious independent films and awful TV shows are there about writers who can't write, for instance? I've also heard it said that while critics (writers themselves) often love shows about journalists, more general audiences don't find the subject as appealing.

Incidentally, I would also point out that where the Star Trek universe is concerned, we not only have the existence of such media confirmed, but actually see a main character become a journalist in Deep Space Nine. (Jake Sisko-yet another aspiring writer-becomes a correspondent for the news service during the Dominion War.)
Dec 5, 16:48 by Michael Andre-Driussi
I don't know if the following novel was covered in the Greenwood Encyc. entry, but FWIW, H. Beam Piper's FOUR-DAY PLANET (1961) has a journalistic family: the hero is a cub reporter checking out some unsavory politico-economic activity, and his father is newspaper editor (publisher?).
Dec 9, 03:39 by Adrian Simmons
I'm pretty sure that Captain Kirk had to deal with a gaggle of reporters in Star Trek IV.

I tend to agree with Denahue-- really, unless you want to make the story about a reporter or the role of the press, I think that giving the press too much attention in the story would cause the focus to wander a bit.

Dec 9, 15:57 by Bluejack
I think in general the everyday life of the future is overlooked in science fiction. Who builds all these spaceships? What's their life like? Who works the restaurants? Where are the musicians doing part time work at the call center to get by? Every now and then someone will dive into some of the slightly more gritty professions for some color (I've seen a bike courier story or two), but for the most part "common man" stories hit the stock material like grunt soldiers, bar tenders, petty thieves, and so forth. The full panoply of society is a barely discernible backdrop, shadowy, poorly conceived, rarely seen. An endless supply of red shirts and innocent bystanders, people to run from heavy cannon fire. It's all a sloppy handwave on the part of authors who just aren't that interested in day-to-day life to suggest that maybe there are people in this interstellar empire, maybe there's an economy. But if there are plumbers, electricians, computer repair men, kids working their way up through the crime beat in the local paper (will there really be a local paper? will there be journalism at all? I guarantee you there will be plumbers), we don't see much of it.
Dec 10, 18:10 by Nader Elhefnawy
In that SF isn't much different from most other fiction, at any given moment in history. Media in general avoids "common man" stories, the vast majority of people always invisible. (We may not like to think about class, but that's how it has always been, something we have only fairly recently even begun to grow our way out of.)

Think about TV's one-hour dramas: everyone's a lawyer or a doctor, or in law enforcement (the only blue-collar types represented), and even then doing only the rarest, most unusual, most exciting type of work seen in those fields. Doctors are always surgeons, the only exception I can think of being FOX's House, which has its own implausibilities; lawyers are usually dealing with murder cases and other similarly sensationalist stuff, and yelling "Objection!" every other minute, an image that two minutes of Court TV should be enough to cure. Cops use their guns much more on TV than in real life. And so on and so forth.

SF of course has its romantic dimension, and like romantic fiction in general, it focuses on the most extreme and colorful, and tends to emphasize the experiences of certain groups of people. Think of the tales of medieval chivalry: was everyone in Western Europe a knight? Of course not-far from it; the serfs and peasants just weren't a significant part of the fictional world, just as they were economically, politically and culturally at the bottom of the social ladder. Likewise in SF, there are few people who aren't either adventurers or scientists/engineers. (I often think of SF as a sort of "science chivalry," especially given that its depiction of how science and engineering are done in the real world is ninety-nine percent nonsense, to use a politer term than the one I actually have in mind. I feel sorry for the kid who decides on a career in science based on what they see in a show like the Sci-Fi Channel's Eureka.)

Still, sometimes we do get a reminder that there is a regular, boring, workaday world in these future and other universes, and frankly, I think that's all that can fairly be expected, since the draw here and elsewhere is the exciting stuff that regular people don't get to do. (Even though its focus is on the highest levels of feudal/imperial politics, I think the original Dune novels did a pretty good job of this, and on television Babylon 5 did quite well at this too, to give only two examples. Both were particularly impressive examples of world-building, and I think that's part of the reason for their attention to such details.) And since if we're just telling stories that could easily take place in our own world, why bother with the speculative trappings at all?
Dec 29, 21:22 by Sue Lange
For the record, Newscasting plays a pivotal role in Timmi Duchamp's Mara'ssan Cycle.

But in general, I'd say that Bluejack is absolutely right and because science fiction and the fans of science fiction are mostly concerned with the fantastical elements, the genre will remain out of the mainstream. A lot of people complain that science fiction is not given respect by mainstream audiences, but right there is the reason. Unless genre stories concern common people and common circumstances, i.e. encompass universal themes, the genre will continue to viewed as valuable for escapism only. Sad, it can be so much more.

Dec 29, 23:07 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
The argument about S/F breaking into the mainstream aside (I for one, don't want it to, most mainstream novels are exciting as dirt, well written dirt, but dirt nonetheless), I would disagree that S/F does not encompass universal themes. In particular, S/F since the New Wave has been fairly good about addressing politics, society and religion. Genre fiction in general, and S/F in particular can make the sorts of comments on our world issues that mainstream literature cannot, precisely because it is genre. Genre fiction has been getting more critical attention in the last 10-15 years than it ever has, and alot of that criticism is positive. While the greatest amount of S/F novels on the bookshelves (at least in the big chain stores) remains little more than Lowest Common Denominator entertainment, the good stuff, as always, gets the accolades.

I don't think that writing about common people is a pre-requisite for universality. Herbert's Paul Atreides was anything but common and his story encompassed so many significant themes that it can (and sometimes should) be considered mythological. Your stay at home, Oprah watching house wife may not put Life of Pi down in favour of Dune, but that reader is not looking to be challenged in their views of politics, religion or society. Those kinds of readers want something that re-enforces their world view. Mainstream literature helps to do just that.

In my opinion, too much is made of "literature" and it's supposedly inherent superiority to genre fiction. Hell, some of the most influential novels of the past few centuries can be read as genre (granted many of the examples I would cite were written before such literary theories as genre were invented).

I truly believe that S/F is much more than most people, fans and non-fans alike, perceive it to be.
Dec 30, 17:49 by Nader Elhefnawy
Surprisingly, I was just talking about this in a radio appearance the other day. (I'd been invited to discuss the subject of "space in literature.")

My two cents here: good science fiction has been written about anything and everything, and with as much skill as any other genre. We are far, far, far past the point where whether it can be or will be or should be was an issue. (I'd say that by the time Dune came along, the issue had been clearly settled in SF's favor.) In fact, I would say that genre fiction has done a better job as "literature" in recent decades than the stuff ordinarily carrying the label.

As I've said before, we've got a mainstream (and for that matter, a critical elite) still bogged down in nineteenth century realism, when it isn't getting starry-eyed over flaky postmodernism, as is certainly the case with the Oprah-watchers. (And yes, I agree the stuff that's selling in quantity is rarely the good stuff.)

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