Sub-genre of the Week: Mundane SF
Last week I discussed High Fantasy. This week, I’ll be doing a bit of a 180 and investigating a new sub-genre of SF. Not only is it lacking in the fantastic as found in High Fantasy and its SF counterpart: Space Opera, but it’s an artificially created genre, formed by a cabal of writers in response to the recent popularity of Spacer Opera in the mainstream. And while it strives to be as realistic as possible and eschews some of the flashier trappings of speculative fiction, I still enjoy it, both for its strict adherence to its own rules, and for the creative space it opens up in genre literature.
Mundane SF is a sub-genre of science fiction characterized by a belief in the implausibility of FTL travel and alien contact. It avoids alternate realities, and treats the future as solar-system-centric and focused on humanity and its future on earth. It strives for a lack of escapism absent from almost any other speculative genre. It could be considered a sub-genre of Hard SF.
Mundane SF was founded in 2002 by a group of writers including Geoff Ryman. In 2007, it had grown enough for INterzone magazine to devote an issue to it, and it continues to grow as new writers adopt the ethos, and old writers come into the middle of their careers.
Common Tropes and Conventions
Mundane SF is characterized by a solar-system-focused future. It lacks such common and unlikely tropes as FTL and universal translation. It lacks tropes of extra-terrestrial life and alien encounters.
Mundane SF, by virtue of its limits, rarely crosses genre boundaries. It could be argued to cross-over with Hard SF, assuming you view it as a separate genre. It does also have some cross-over with near-future SF.
As new as it is, there have been few examples of Mundane SF in non-print media. It could be argued that the anime Planetes falls under the Mundane SF umbrella, but it could just as easily be bog-standard near-future SF.
No doubt Mundane SF will continue to grow, albeit slowly, as SF writers become aware of it, and some few of its readers become writers. I don’t see any omens of fantastic growth of a glutted market any time soon.
I’m afraid I can’t give you an recs for this one, as there aren’t really any 100% clearly Mundane SF novels. The goodreads page is mostly books re-classified as Mundane SF that were written before the publishing the of Manifesto that sparked the movement. Do check out Interzone #216 for some short story examples, though.
Next time: Sword and Sorcery