Bewildering Stories Editorial

by Jerry Wright

Failure of Imagination?

I just got finished reading Litany Of The Long Sun an SFBC compilation of the first two of Gene Wolfe's "Long Sun" novels about Patera Silk. I remember trying to read the first book Nightside The Long Sun years ago, and being unable to finish it. This time? I was riveted, and need to find the next two books. We change (and perhaps grow?) as readers.

Howsomever, the point of this screed is actually quite tangential. Or perhaps tangenital. What? An off-color remark? Yep. That's what this is all about. After reading a while in the first of the novels, I noticed that the lower-class people around Silk swear like crazy. Only, it didn't irritate me, or take me out of the novel as the massive influx of profanity and obscenity in much of today's fiction does.

Wolfe created and used future swearing in his books. They fit. They made sense. And they showed imagination. Somehow, I can't see someone 500 years from now using the same old tired obscenities we hear today. In fact, I would imagine that a few decades from now they will be so tiresome that they will be retired and replaced with something else. The constant barrage of not just bad, but stupid, language devalues much around us, but is no longer "shocking", it is just "dumb."

One of the things I loved about the TV show Farscape was that the characters were not afraid to use strong language, but it was strong language that was intrinsic to their situation. "Frell" became a favorite word. Does it have to do with sexual congress? Well, sure, sometimes. But not all or even most of the time. Imagination. I love it.

So why do today's SF writers utilize obscenity as much as they do? "A weak mind trying to express itself forcefully." I heard once. "Yeah, but people talk like that." Yeah, certain classes of people DO talk like that. But everyone? And far into the future? I don't think so. A failure of imagination.

Copyright © 2005 by Jerry Wright for Bewildering Stories

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