Gonzo Science Fiction

Taking a break from my NaNoWriMo work and preparing for an insane series of trips in the near future (by which I mean 3 hours from now) , I wanted to take a moment to roll an idea over, and see if I could get it to shine: Gonzo Science Fiction.

No, it does not involve this gentleman writing science fiction novels.

Which is a shame, because I think he’d write some amazingly out-there SF. And he also looks really sharp in this outfit.

No, what I mean is a type of SF that has more in common with Gonzo Journalism than one of my favorite Muppets.  Think of traditional SF and hard SF as traditional journalism. It relies on very strict adherence to specific tenets: use science as it exists now, focus on the idea first, ‘real science’ involves engineering and physics, etc. It’s the type of SF folks think about when they talk about the Trinity of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein.

But I think there’s an undercurrent to SF – a back channel which always reacted against this style. It crystallized into movements like New Wave and the cyberpunks, but you could see echoes of it in the old planetary romances of C.L. Moore and Leigh Bracket, or the short stories of Alfred Bester and Cordwainer Smith. It’s the part of SF that said, “Hey, let’s get a little crazy with this and see where it goes.”  The dearest example to me is Dune.  There is a deeply weird current to that book – as someone recently put it, everything revolves around sandworm waste which gives people precognitive powers and allows them to fold space without an AI’s predictive capacities.

That’s some weird shit.  And it goes in some weird places. Much like Gonzo journalism, this vein of SF doesn’t stay detached and stick to the facts. It goes someplace weird with it. It veers into satire, self-mockery and exaggeration. If there was ever a visual representation of what Gonzo SF means to me, it’s this picture by Phillipe Druillet:

les_six_voyages_de_lone_sloane_illus5Click on it to see the whole thing, but this is from his comic Lone Sloan. I first saw this in a book called Futuropolis, with text by Robert Sheckley. This is the border into the realm of a decadent and corrupt lord.  And, yes, those are small dying suns buried in the feet of those gargoyles. This was made by someone who said, “Yeah, we could just make a Dyson sphere with our nearly godlike technologies, but where’s the style in that?”

In this image there’s imagination, majesty, dread, terror and decadence. And I want more, and stranger. It can be on a grand scale, like this or any of Jodorowsky’s comics, or even in a small-scale like Tanith Lee’s amazing episode of Blake’s 7, Sarcophagus. It’s the fiction of ideas (which is what SF has always been in my view) but broken free of ‘But, only ideas you can cite and explain in a series of equations.’ (And rockets. Big, thick, powerful rockets thrusting skywards … you know what I mean).

What if you could rewrite yourself as if you were a program?

If we get so many medicines from fungi and animals, what if  you didn’t process the products, but the animals themselves to make the meds?

What if things got really weird from there?

It’s hard for me to find the literary equivalent of this image. I keep searching, though. Maybe one day I’ll be a decent enough writer to create a sliver of the wonder this engenders in me. But I’d love to see SF get away from the dudes with rocket ships everyone seems to love so much, and delve a bit more into bat country…




  1. Ever watch the movie “Fantastic Planet”? It’s a French film based on a novel in which giant humans come to Earth and treat the humans there as either pets or pests, based on the context.

    It is psychedelic to the max. There’s some man-in-rocket stuff to be sure, but the majority of it is focused on the bugged out landscapes and creatures.

    • I love “Fantastic Planet” – remember seeing it on a PAL bootleg when I was young. Very out there. I thought I saw an on-line translation of the original book somewhere. I’ll have to dig it up again.

  2. Keep writing, man…from what I’ve read, you’re conveying that “sliver of wonder” just fine. Admittedly, I’ve only read one of your stories, “Mirror Man” in SciFi Daily, but I thought it was the best one I’ve read on there so far. (Been reading SFD for about a year.) I wanted to leave a comment on their site, but I followed the link to yours instead, which is fine by me. What you’re saying on your post about Gonzo SF makes alot of sense, but don’t you think that that kind of SF today generally gets put into the Fantasy genre? Along with all the vampires and zombies and warlocks, oh please. Anyway, my taste doesn’t run so much to the dread and terror, but I’m always looking for imagination, majesty…even a little decadence can be fun. And characters. And settings. And interactions of all such. And I’m not above creating my own science, if I feel the mechanisms require explanation. (Yes, I do write, though I’ve never published any SF.) Anyway, loved your story,will be looking for more.

    • Thank you for the kind words and for the comment. I think the lines of genre are very mutable, and should remain so. It just depends on the mode you’re looking at for your story. Take a vampire tale: you can tell them in an SF mode (Peter Watts did so in Blindsight) or in a more fantastic mode. But there should be room for all of them.

      I guess, to simplify my views, there are a lot of flavors of ice cream out there. But I have a taste for a very peculiar pecan and mint chocolate blend which is hard to find. I’d love to see more of it. ^_^

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