“These stories not only show Bester’s writable approach in the making but also reveal that his aesthetic had its roots in bricolage, or the practice of drawing on heterogeneous sources and writing styles to create unexpected narrative tensions and unities. Bricolage works by a logic of excess and encompasses more local strategies such as extra-coding, pastiche, intertextuality, and allusion. By definition, it re-orders reading protocols, requiring the reader to switch codes and synthetize incongruities.”
In “Alfred Bester” by Jad Smith
Alfred Bester was the first postmodernist SF writer. I won’t dwell on it again. If you’re interested, you can find additional information here.
I haven't been an adolescent for quite some time, but I still remember sitting in stone stairs in the side yard of my mother’s rural home in Alfaiates. I had just seen Star Wars and so my eyes were devouring a twilight sky waiting for the stars and planets to appear. This was my gateway to the imagination. In my unsophisticated mind, once so consumed by simple mysteries written by adults about girls not much older than myself, something unfurled. I began to see a world so much bigger than my own, and not just the universe laid open before me. SF made me think beyond myself, perhaps for the first time, and I became alive with ideas, possibilities. In this world, I could spiral deep into my own psyche or travel out to infinity. It was a spark of light in the night and I followed it.
I used to read a lot of it when I was younger. But now I find it deeply embarrassing to stand in a FNAC bookshop (for instance) surrounded by silly, trite fantasy, endless Star Wars novelisations and comic books. Sure, there's some great SF out there dealing with the human condition the same any good fiction is, but it's drowned under a sea of pre-pubescent dross. It's devoid of ideas. In fact, the last time I tried to pick up a novel by Ian McEwan, it was full of ridiculously named characters and convoluted plots. Therefore, I for one can't be bothered with it.
So much 'normal' fiction is literary masturbation (the 'oh so bloody fantastic' “The Road” being a classic example). I guess critics don't like stuff they must read and understand? :-) Plus, SF offers a wide spectrum to pick from, from the 'brain dump' stuff to lighter fast-paced space opera (Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds, Iain Banks, etc.) to the downright weird and beautiful, e.g. China Mieville (although his work is more dystopian fantasy than SF).
Consider as well Vonnegut's “Slaughterhouse 5”, Le Guin’s “Left Hand of Darkness”, Atwood's “Handmaids Tale”, Bester’s “The Stars My Destination” or any of Iain Banks output. There are simply no finer writers in the English language and just look at the questions they raise about perception, sexuality, morality or entrapment. Consider Nivens or Heinlein musing on different societies. Sparser prose and less "literary" but no worse than Hemingway. Critics are by nature critical and veer between seeking shock value and taking comfort in the style of the classics, and SF rarely fits those bills. I for one will continue to read SF along with other modern works.
This leads us to Bester. Jad Smith shows us he had a very pronounced tendency to pepper his stories with verbal motifs that repeated with slight variations, which always reminded me of old Irish fairy tales. As Jad states:
“His fiction of the fifties is re-readable not merely because of its inventiveness but also because of this complex patterning, which over-determines the reader’s experience, even the second or third time around. Bester produced this sense of excess through bricolage and pastiche that mixed up and hybridized reading protocols, and through various types of extra-coding – allusion, nonstandard orthography, language confusion, synesthesia, and mixed-viewpoint narration, to name just a few of his narrative strategies – but the reader-centered, writable patterns he created mattered more than any of these ‘pyrotechnics’ alone, as his later career demonstrates.”
Jad’s analysis of Bester’s two major novel-length works (“The Demolished Man” and “The Stars my Destination”) is one of the best I’ve ever read. Too bad Bester was then offered a lucrative job writing journalism for Holiday magazine, and he took it because he saw SF as just another job (and a badly paying one at that). He didn't return to SF until Holiday magazine folded, 25 years later, but that was way too late. The inner fire had extinguished and what he did produce later was just crap…
SF = Speculative Fiction.