Pathophysiology is about things going wrong. Every day I focus on things going wrong, from the moment I open feedly and scan my articles to the last student assessment I put down on my desk to the next doctor’s appointment I keep. It leaks into every aspect of my life; as I read literary criticism this morning, coming across the word ‘subversion’ in every second paragraph, I realized that pathophysiology is essentially about subversion, and that my attitude toward subversion in pathophysiology probably explains a lot about my attitude towards it in literature.
I think subversion is cool, I must admit. My response to a new disease mechanism is always “Cool! I mean, I’m so sorry that happened to you, that really sucks, but — cool!”
The problem with liking subversion for its own sake, as an intellectual exercise and a frisson, even when it’s killing somebody … well, as soon as you add that last clause, the problem is obvious, isn’t it? Subversion is an amoral concept. The thrill of intellectual challenge has no correlation with whether that challenge helped you solve a problem, cause one, or just sit on the sidelines eating popcorn. Subverting a noble cause is just as big a thrill as subverting a horrific cause. We subversion junkies are nobody’s allies.
So, literature. Subversion of conservative tropes has been the flavor of the week since I was a pup, and that’s a long time for the flavor not to change. Culver’s has gone through every conceivable ice cream flavor three times in that period and finally resorted to chocolate strawberry walleye, or so Facebook tells me. Evolution is changing faster than literature is; bacteria do new stuff every week, brand new diseases have risen, killed, and moved on, but literary critics are still applauding people for ‘subverting’ tropes from the 1950s.
This simply cannot meet my need for constant thrills. I want books that will subvert CURRENT pieties, challenge TODAY’S conventional wisdom. When my authors’ group does writing exercises, I’m the one asking for stories in which the rebel is wrong, or the traditional approach turns out to be grounded in fact, or the [insert under-represented group] character is actually the villain. It’s not because I disagree with current morals or hate diversity; it’s because I am BORED BORED BORED with the literary consensus of the day.
I am bored with the fact that there IS a literary consensus of the day. For heavens’ sake, there are people out there voting for Donald Trump! There are people who never heard the word subversion, people who don’t read, people who raise bees and carry out honor killings and build machine guns. What business do writers have forming a consensus, when the world hasn’t?
I feel so alone in SFF. Everything in the political scene of current SFF is against the subversion junkie. On the one hand we have a huge group of people trying to redefine subversion as ‘criticism of 1950s tropes,’ to keep the cutting edge from slipping out from under them. On the other hand, we have a bunch of people trying to dodge the whole question of subversion and celebrate good ol’-fashioned blood and thunder.
It’s a sad, sad situation when I can find more subversion in IFL Science than in speculative fiction. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe I need to subvert my assumptions about speculative fiction. After all, has it ever done more than follow where science leads?