Thursday, August 09, 2007

KSRobinson:"the feel of the future."

(the politics of sci-fi, cont.)

(from interview with KSR):

LJ: "Do possibilities that are addressed in SF fiction subconsciously influence and shape the way in which our reality evolves? If we can imagine it, will it inadvertently strengthen the possibility of becoming real?"

KSRobinson: "Or on purpose. Shelley said, "Anything that can be conceived can be executed." I'm not sure that is true, but certainly SF serves as a kind of modeling or climate forecasting; its scenarios tend to have a group similarity, or a majority report, that invokes a certain kind of future which everyone then assumes will come true in some form or other. SF has been doing well enough with the general tenor of its predictions to make people confident that it is doing pretty well at capturing the feel of the future, in some senses. Ironically, this may account for the decrease of interest in SF lately (if there is one, as often reported)—people don't want to know. The future is scary, and people think it can only get worse, so they read something else. No one likes dystopias as a steady diet. This was one of the worst aspects of cyberpunk; to the extent it succeeded (particularly in its implication that this dire future would be fun and that canny people could get by surfing the badness) the vision of a better future tended to fail. Dystopias need to be warnings, not invitations to cope, and give up on change."

Well stated, Mr. Robinson. But quite a few questionable assertions are contained therein (as questionable as the eloquent futility of that early sci-fi scribe Shelley (of course Shelleyan verse like a blowtorch compared to the little candles of, like, about any American writer ever). Futurism is not in itself good, and the visions of much utopian sci-fi obviously often do not "pan out". Additionally, dystopias are not simply pessimism, but more like warnings. Brave New World and 1984 are warnings, and there are more than a few humans who do live sort of Winston Smith-like lives, whether in so-called democracies or some communist regime. KSR seems a bit over-optimistic; like many writers of speculative fiction, his visions of some efficient, orderly utopian future often come at the expense of overlooking the Kafka-like nightmares of the past. Wm. Gibson at least has no such delusions: Count Zero in a sense effectively illustrated a not-so-fun "dire future" where a few "canny people could get by surfing the badness." Funny those canny people that Gibson portrays (like Bobby Newmark in CZ) don't at all resemble the typically overly-sensitive, hysterical PC types (or Osiris forbid, mormons or biblethumpers) found on most "liberal" blogs....ave DysLit.

But really even the cool cyber-noir of Gibson doesn't deal with contemporary political and economic problems. Futurists, whether u. or dys., take potshots at grand targets, and generally miss. Authentic political discussions generally reduce to reiterations of the Keynes vs. Karl Marx bout (or is it just dealing with the implications of David Ricardo's economic ideas). To redistribute, or not to redistribute! To entitle or not to entitle! Visions aren't arguments, KSR.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of visions, note that no New Worlds Visionaries bothered discussing OS Card's Mormonism, his anti-abortionism, his support of Romney (see Card's own blog), his virulent "homophobism." Why is that? secular readers might ask. Here's why: OS Card represents the sort of conservative moderate (i.e. a safe, phamily-friendly, xtian republican) that many suburban-liberals really are "deep down", apart from their few PC sentimentalities or KOS like pep rally slogans. Now, Marx vs Ricardo: that might produce some useful political discussion--of course even mentioning MARX (or pointing out his errors) scares the phuck out of most Dempublicans.

J said...

McFlipFlop Worlds! It's Dawkins, and the separation of church and state one day, and extreme mormon theocracy the next. Or shall we say McAccomodator.

Anonymous said...

The alternative-history fetishes are rather curious as well. Unfortunately, the alt.history fans generally don't know squat about the, uh, non-alternative history (any hepcats at care to explain the causes of WWI?), and thus are unable to recognize when and where their VisionMeisters have taken, like, extreme liberties with the facts.

The currect alt. history fetish thus may be read as typical "possible worlds" escapism (one dares call it bourgeois--tho' Shakespearean bourgeois lit. rather more sophisticated than KS Robinson's), and even Berty Russell objected to it (as did traditional economic-materialists, whether marxist or not).

J said...

Again Bierce comes to mind: "Slang--"the grunt of the human hog." Few goombas online grunt as loudly or as incessantly as Bunkonius. But the greatest farce is that Bunkonius fancies himself a writer, and has for what, 25 years? No one would publish his Billy Sunday meets Manson psycho-speak. It's not Sci-Fi; it's Schitz-Fi. In fact it's unlikely his drivel du jour could make it in some HS journalism class, or even past some letters-editor at one of the Bee rags.

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