Thursday, January 31, 2008

15 things I actually did know about sf, and a Neal Stephenson question

This list of 20 things some people might not already know about sf (at Discovery Magazine) had caused a somewhat silly discussion at io9.

There were no surprises, there are only five things on the list I could not have mentioned myself. ("Even the biggest geeks can't know everything"!) Among them, I was surprised to read about Neal Stephenson's influence:

13 Neal Stephenson’s acclaimed 1992 novel Snow Crash has inspired two major online creations: Second Life (derived from Stephenson’s virtual Metaverse) and Google Earth (from the panoptic Earth application).

I had to find out, and after googling a while I have to say that it doesn't look like this is entirely true. I haven't found any evidence that Second Life is derived from Stephenson's Metaverse -- maybe he inspired people, but I haven't been able to find any official acknowledgement of this. The closest is this article, but it doesn't state that the people behind SL were directly inspired by Snow Crash.

With Google Earth it seems that Stephenson might have been a source of inspiration for one of the co-founders, but it's not a clear-cut answer.

Conclusion: good story, but I don't think the statement #13 in the list is exactly correct.

And as you might notice, I support the use of "sf" rather than "sci-fi" (the io9 rant therefore places me among old men with beards -- ha!). There might not be any real arguments for making the distinction, but it's a real cultural difference -- it's a case of how groups and tribes form and distinguish themselves also within a subculture if you will. People who write and publish science fiction say esseff, and therefore most people who are primarily interested in reading use sf rather than sci-fi. Sci-fi seems to have been adopted by the "media" people (those who approach the genre from the tv and movie side), who might be seen as newcomers who don't care about the jargon that is established in the core of the people who think and write about sf. Silly, but that's how people are. Stupid thing to argue about. Nowadays I don't really care, but I consistently say and write sf (not even SF, but sf) -- that's just a convention I have adopted, and I see no reason to change it. (I sort of liked the argument that sf is better because it covers speculative fiction, a larger cathegory than science fiction. Fair enough -- let's now rationalize our use in this way!)

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