Saturday, March 02, 2002

Future Schlock?

We have a field that is increasingly fearful of the present, looking ever more wistfully toward the past. Meanwhile the thoughtful future dealing with fresh themes is becoming rare--even endangered. --- from Science Fiction Without the Future by Judith Berman

I’ve been a fan of futuristic fiction as long as I can remember. I began fantasizing back in the 1940s, when I was a young kid who spent a lot of time in bed with severe asthma and read fairy tales and listened to Let’s Pretend, Inner Sanctum, and the Green Hornet on the radio. As a young teenager, I discovered C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra, the only legitimate sci-fi book in my Catholic high school’s library. I say “legitimate” because there also was a novel Moscow: 1984, which gave an odd Catholic twist to a variation on the original 1984, which I had no idea existed until I started going to the public library. I haven’t been able to find any trace of that book on any search engine, believe me, that’s a good thing.

Since then, I have devoured hundreds – maybe thousands --of science fiction novels, mostly “social science fiction," which deal with how human and non-human societies might live in the future. As a kid, reading about these possible futures, both distopian and utopian, fueled my idealism and determination to work toward a positive future. It’s one of the reasons that I became a teacher. I wanted to encourage kids to keep wondering “what if” and to project themselves into situations where they have to grapple with what it means to be human. Social science fiction provides a great a jumping off point for those wonderings.

And that’s why Judith Berman’s article caught my attention, because she suggests that much of today’s sci-fi no longer projects out into the future; rather it spends its pages re-inventing the past and present. And her assessment made me realize why I have almost stopped reading sci-fi. She says:

How to be human is a universal problem in any time and space. It’s not the same issue as quarreling with the present. Quarreling with the present is the territory of the Luddites, and William Morris inveighing against industrialization, and the origins of today’s pastoral, pseudo-medieval genre fantasies. Quarreling with the present is a hair's-breadth from being reactionary. Are we going to use the great speculative toolbox of sf to de-imagine the present? Is sf becoming anti-sf?

After reading her essay, I started thinking about the sf novels I’ve read that stick in my memory – apart from the usual and prime suspects: Farenheit 451, Brave New World, Childhood’s End, 1984 etc. etc.

Oddly enough, one of the first sf books I think of is one I used with my eight graders back in the early 70s – The Chilekings by Jessamyn West. The kids loved it because the premise was that one morning the world woke up and all of the adults where the physical size of children and the children were the physical size of adults. Think about the implications of physical size as a major component of power. We spent weeks on that book!

I love the way women write sf: Octavia Butler and her Lilith’s Brood (of course the mythological Lilith is my hero anyway. If she were real, she’d be a Blogsister.); Doris Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor and Ursula LeGuin’s The Left hand of Darkness and Anne McCaffrey’s The Rowan and Connie Willis’ Bellewether ….and…..

I also have my list of oddball favorites that feature female kick-ass protagonists and/or really bizarre plots. Here are a few examples, because I wish I could find someone else who has read any of these: the Jade Darcy series; the Killashandra series; Friday; He, She It; Crygender; The City Not Long After. And then there’s my favorite non-fiction pseudo-science trip for the 70s: Rhythms of Vision.

Toward the end of her essay, Berman says:
Science fiction’s most important contribution to the culture, it seems to me, is not to predict the future but to imagine it. To help us get our minds around the headlong-into-the-future-without-brakes nature of current times, to ponder how to remain/be/become human amidst this profound technological and cultural change that’s under no one’s control.

Amen I say to that. And by the time I finish reading – as I promised Chris Locke that I would --
The Bombast Transcripts: Rants and Screeds of Rageboy and The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, mabye by then there will be some new sf out that appeals to me.
The Lemma Dilemma
So, when is a fucknozzle not a fucknozzle. If a fucknozzle goes off in a forest and nobody wants to see it, does it cease to exist? I am hereby inventing a definition for fucknozzling: it's when someone speaks the truth and then fudges in fear.

Fear not the fucknozzle. We have nothing to fuck but the fucknozzle itself. Lemme at that fucknozzle! Fuck the fudgenozzle. Long live b!X.
An Unclassified Ad
Marek! Come back. We miss you. You've been gone a week. Your soapbox is waiting. We're all waiting. We need you.
The End of Work?
The following post on b!X got me thinking and linking:
Bruce Sterling (he who referred to me as part of the "two punk kids" who stayed in his guest room after his post-CFP party) on the state of things Internet: "Okay, so the Net has proved toxic to business and nobody's making any money there. That stopped the profiteering, except for the spammers of course ... hucksters who are methodically bringing net.commerce into such putrid disrepute that it may well never recover...."

So I linked to Bruce Sterling's article , read the rest of it, and was struck with how what's happening is what Jeremy Rifkin predicted in his End of Work book, which I read several years ago. It made me nervous then, and Sterling's article surely reinforces that nervousness. As does my awareness of all of the bloggers I read who are looking for jobs. There are no jobs. Is anyone as scared as I am? (I know that I haven't read RageBoy's books yet, and they might offer a solution. But is there any solution comprehensive enough?) Good thing I've got practical skills to barter when the economic revolution comes.