Mundane science fiction

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Mundane science fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction, similar to hard science fiction, which is characterized by its setting on Earth or within the solar system, and a lack of interstellar travel or contact with aliens.

The Mundane SF movement, inspired by an idea of Julian Todd, was founded in 2002 during the Clarion workshop by novelist Geoff Ryman among others.[1] It focuses on stories set on or near the Earth, with a believable use of technology and science as it exists at the time the story is written.

The central ideas are:

  • That interstellar travel remains unlikely; that warp drives, worm holes, and other forms of faster-than-light travel are wish fulfillment scientific fantasies rather than serious speculation about a possible future.
    • That unfounded speculation about interstellar travel can lead to an illusion of a universe abundant with worlds as hospitable to life as this Earth. This is also viewed as unlikely.
    • That this dream of abundance can encourage a wasteful attitude to the abundance that is here on Earth.
    • That there is no evidence whatsoever of intelligences elsewhere in the universe. Although absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, it is considered unlikely that alien intelligences will overcome the physical constraints on interstellar travel any better than we can.
    • That interstellar trade (and colonization, war, federations, etc.) is therefore highly unlikely.
  • That communication with alien intelligences over such vast distances will be vexed by: the enormous time lag in exchange of messages and the likelihood of enormous and probably currently unimaginable differences between us and aliens.
  • That there is no present evidence whatsoever that quantum uncertainty has any effect at the macro level and that therefore it is highly unlikely that there are whole alternative universes to be visited.
  • That therefore our most likely future is on this planet and within this solar system, and that it is highly unlikely that intelligent life survives elsewhere in this solar system. Any contact with aliens is likely to be tenuous, and unprofitable.
  • That the most likely future is one in which we only have ourselves and this planet.

Geoff Ryman has contrasted mundane science fiction with regular science fiction through the desire of teenagers to leave their parents' homes.[2] Ryman sees too much of regular science fiction being based on an "adolescent desire to run away from our world." However, Ryman notes that humans are not truly considered grown-up until they "create a new home of their own," which is what mundane science fiction aims to do.[2]

In 2007 the magazine Interzone devoted an issue to the genre.[3]

The 2009 short story collection When It Changed: Science Into Fiction, edited by Ryman, is a collection of mundane science fiction stories, each written by a science fiction author with advice from a scientist, and with an endnote by that scientist explaining the plausibility of the story.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Geoff Ryman: The Mundane Fantastic: Interview excerpts". Locus. January 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-23. 
  2. ^ a b "Take the Third Star on the Left and on til Morning" by Geoff Ryman, New York Review of Science Fiction, June 2007.
  3. ^ "Interzone Goes Mundane!". TTA Press. 26 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-23. 
  4. ^ Material World, BBC Radio 4, 28 Oct 2009

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