In my new non-fiction book The Smart Core Manifesto, released this month, I define (for the first time!) plausible science fiction in the universe we perceive. It’s not hard. It’s not mundane. It’s smart core!
This book, probably the most significant of my life, was a long time coming. I first started to formulate it in 2010, shortly after I had written my second novel Biome which I had to describe as a thriller when I published it since there was no definition of science fiction that I was comfortable with.
It is a thriller. It is also the prototype of smart core.
After I had begun my formulation, I stopped writing science fiction except for a couple of the stories I included in my collection Born From Ash. I wrote only smart core.
So now the barrel’s rolled out in the center of the warehouse, and the Kool-Aid’s good and stirred. Now’s the time to put my agenda on the line.
In The Smart Core Manifesto, which is available to buy as an ebook or as a large-size paperback (to the same dimensions as the ones I use to publish music journalism under the name Scott Meze), I lay out the problems with the term “science fiction” which were so great I had to reject it for my own work. I then talk about how a seam of what I term “smart core” has already run through speculative fiction, and is in fact what aficionados call the core of the genre while the majority of fans consider it the fringe.
In the real world, we turn magic into science. Science fiction turns science into magic. Smart core argues for a fiction based on plausible real world science in the universe we perceive.
Here, from the book, is how I rationalize the two words of the term “smart core”:
Smart is perceptive. Smart is aware. Smart is vigorous and alive. Smart is in touch with at least the rudiments of the real world science it describes, and is capable of making an intelligent distinction between what is plausible and what is fantastic. Smart moves fast. Smart is a pin-point in the center of the map. Small is well-dressed, or at least pretends to have ironed all its creases.
Smart can be painful, but it can also be rewarding.
Smart is the word of our age: the word of smart bombs and smart phones and smart cards and smart machines. Though the “smart” in “smart core” is not primarily intended to suggest “clever” in the way that “hard” does in “hard science fiction,” I acknowledge the inference with good humor. It’s a word that wants to have fun at its own expense.
Core is the center of all things, the bubble we blow in the muck and mess of the universe to clear a space for the things we believe in. Core is the very heart of speculative fiction, and the place from which science fiction elaborates outwards. Core is the germination of great things. Core is the essential. Core is the conduit in which energy flows.
Core is the word of our age: memory core, reactor core, planetary core. Core is hardcore, but it is also the seed in the fruit—the one part you should never throw away.
In The Smart Core Manifesto, I define the term “smart core” in detail and lay out its ten values.
I show that smart core and science fiction are not the same thing, partly because science fiction is uncurated—and likely uncuratable—and partly because science fiction is so nebulous a concept that not even its staunchest supporters can agree on what the term means. The science fiction enjoyed by fans of Hal Clement is not the same as that enjoyed by fans of cosplay.
Then I show how smart core threads through the history of the genre.
Finally, I devote space to all the tropes of science fiction, from androids to hive minds, and show how they fit into smart core (or not!).
Each person that interacts with science fiction carves out their own space to separate the material they’re willing to accept from the material they’re not. Consequently the genre already has more sub-genres than dance music.
There’s golden age and new wave and space opera and military science fiction and hard science fiction and soft science fiction and utopian science fiction and dystopian science fiction and post-apocalyptic science fiction and postmodern science fiction and mundane science fiction and absurdist science fiction and science fantasy and equipoise and scientific romance and planetary romance and cyberpunk and steampunk and space-suit drama and technofantasy and slipstream and magic reality—to name just a few.
This manifesto is a certain space I carve out of the genre. It is not meant to define the genre as a whole, nor to define “true” science fiction with the implication that everything else is false.
Smart core is not better than the rest. Smart core is not more worthy than the rest. It is simply a subset based on rules and restrictions that guarantee a certain kind of story.
Smart core is not applied per author. It is applied per work.
For many consumers of science fiction, smart core likely moves a little further out of the genre than you’re used to or maybe even comfortable with. It encompasses other forms of speculative fiction that rely on science or technology—techno-thrillers, for example, and some kinds of horror fiction. It also omits some science fiction that you might think is central to the genre, such as stories about time travel. It is not a prescription you have to reject, except personally.
We show we care about something by imposing limits on it. I define science fiction by saying that it is not everything. I define smart core by saying that it is also not everything.
For some of the spaces we carve for ourselves, it’s easier to list the inclusions than the exclusions. All vampire fiction, for example, includes vampires. No vampire, it’s not vampire fiction. All spy fiction includes spies. No spy, it’s not spy fiction.
With smart core it’s easier to list the exclusions than the inclusions. Science is a malleable thing, a thing of infinite possibility. It’s hard to say that I believe in all these things of science when I don’t know what they are. But I can exclude things that don’t fit into my scientific universe, the things that lack rational plausibility for me.
You are not compelled to agree with me on anything in this manifesto, so long as we both hook pinkies and swear to keep off the undeniably fantastic.