Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Consensus Future

Posted by frankh at 1:06 PM
Here's some great denial-breaking mundane sf thought from a Gary Westfahl essay just published on Locus Online:

It need not be said that science fiction today, more so than ever before, perceives itself to be in desperate straits; concerned reports of plummeting sales, shrinking income, and cancelled contracts are all too common. While many explanations can be advanced for these sad developments, I see the central problem as the genre's ongoing overreliance upon an exhausted, and clearly invalidated, "consensus future."

This consensus future was probably best articulated in Donald A. Wollheim's The Universe Makers: Science Fiction Today (1971), and has been most vigorously promoted by various incarnations of Star Trek — so much so that one might describe it today as the "Star Trek future." It's what I've been talking about all along — the idea that humanity will, in relatively little time and with relatively little effort, expand first throughout the solar system and then throughout the cosmos to inhabit thousands of worlds, bond with generally humanoid alien species, build a Galactic Empire or a Federation of Planets, and keep advancing toward an ultimate encounter with God Himself. Now, as I can confess from personal experience, it is very easy to grow tired of stories set within this overly familiar sort of future, and the events of the last fifty years, as I have discussed, certainly provide more than enough reasons for questioning its accuracy as a prediction of humanity's future.

In sum, as I mentioned in my essay on The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, this "consensus future" of science fiction is actually nothing more than a fantasy. And, if readers are going to be spending their time with fantasy, why shouldn't they go for the real thing, instead of ersatz fantasy masquerading as a prediction of humanity's future? Might this be the reason why fantasy is booming, and science fiction is floundering?

Nothing more than a fantasy.

9 Comments:

Blogger Bob said...

I read Mr. Westfahl's article in full, and at first, it seemed that he was presenting things in a new light. But then holes in his argument began to appear. For instance, the shuttle was developed not because the design was suggested by the cover a pulp magazine, but because a "reusable" vehicle would gain acceptance by Congress. NASA was fighting for its continued existence once Apollo was cancelled. So it wasn't SF that determined the shuttle's design. It was marketing and politics. No doubt, the shuttle is a bad idea, and always was. It's a technological dead end. And it's sad to see that, 40 years after the last human being walked the moon, the best we can do today is reach low-earth orbit. But just because our childhood dreams have been, thus far, thwarted, is no reason to storm out of the room in a tantrum, shouting, "Well, I never wanted it anyway! It's stupid!" We'll get there, eventually. I tell my kids, You will walk on the moon one day. And I believe it. We need to believe, to look toward the future.

3/19/2008 09:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For instance, the shuttle was developed not because the design was suggested by the cover a pulp magazine, but because a "reusable" vehicle would gain acceptance by Congress.

Um, non-reusable launchers could also gain acceptance by Congress. Indeed, many did. They were unmanned, of course, but then saying that manned spaceflight (or NASA) was necessary is just begging the question.

Westfahl is entirely correct in blaming science fiction for being at least part of the zeitgeist in which manned spaceflight and heroic expansion out into the solar system could be seen as the default future.

3/22/2008 02:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's what we need in SF. A purity movement! Your story is impure, it is not SF enough. It is fantasy. Outcast! Unclean!

3/25/2008 06:11:00 AM  
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