An Observation on the State of Science Fiction in the Third Millennium

In my youth, with a few rare exceptions, there was a clear demarcation between science fiction and the muggle world of the literary establishment. The difference was startling:

The science fiction stories were constructed according to sound and true principles of story telling. Establishment works were pretentious. artsy, experimental, elliptical, unreadable.

The science fiction story held recognizable characters, often larger than life, doing recognizable things. The establishment stories were about smaller than life characters, dipsomaniacs and coprophagics, doing meaningless actions in a meaningless universe.

Science fiction stories were oriented toward the future, to far horizons, to great adventures, and were set in worlds were no man has gone before. Establishment stories were set in back yard or some foul place, a waste dump, concentration camp or abattoir, requiring no imagination to describe or envision.

Science fiction stories were about something. Establishment stories were about nothing.

The science fiction stories were imaginative, the readership was imaginative, and no idea was too dangerous to contemplate. Science fiction readers were bold.

Establishment stories were parochial, never looked outside their narrow range of approved, conformist, herd-animal views, regarded all challenges to those views not merely as uncouth and unreasonable, but as heresy.
Their ideas were so fragile that the contrary opinion could not even be discussed.Establishment muggles were cowards.

My whole life, I dreamed of being a science fiction writer. I wanted to be in the same circles as the imaginative and bold, where the trembling, mole-eyed muggles dared not go.

Of all the things I could have foreseen in my youth, the last was what did happen:

I joined SFWA just as it was dying, and was nominated for Nebula, and then Hugo Awards, just as these awards died. In all three cases, the once-great institution died of the same cause. Each contracted the Thought Police disease, which is always fatal to the mind.

And, lo and behold, now the science fiction world conform to all the Establishment canons.

The stories are given awards not for being sound storytelling, but for being politically correct, or the author politically connected.

Sound story telling is ignoring in favor of stylistic eccentricities, such as dropping the male pronoun or writing in the second person.

The characters are smaller than life: a neurotic widow daydreaming about dino-revenge in stream-of-consciousness ‘Give a Mouse a Cookie’ prose;  pathetic losers without redeeming quality whose world is turned upside down when his faithless paramour leaves him; sexual perverts in Thailand, and sexual perverts splashed with water from nowhere.

The setting of the latest short story winner for the Hugo this year is an example that will serve for all to many others. The alleged science fiction story takes place in the computer on which the author was no doubt typing her stories. It is about Google coming to life. It speaks in predictable politically correct platitudes.

I suppose this is more imaginative than a story about the author’s cat talking to her, or her coffee cup coming to life, and uttering in predictable politically correct platitudes, but as a substitute for alien worlds and distant aeons, it is parochial. It is pathetic.

This was not some story folded into a small run of some mimeographed fanzine which pays the author in courtesy copies. This was the award winner for this year.

This and tales like it cannot be called fantasy, if by this we mean stories like those of William Morris, Lord Dunsany, E.R. Eddison or Robert E Howard. Nor can they be called science fiction if by that we mean stories like those of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Abraham Merritt, E.E. Doc Smith, Robert Heinlein, A.E. van Vogt, Cordwainer Smith, Ursula K LeGuin, Roger Zelazny, Jerry Pournelle, Greg Bear or Stephen Baxter, indeed, if we mean stories with even the slightest trace of science fiction in them.

Perhaps one can call them magical realism, but only is neither the magic is magical nor the realism realistic.

They are bland, experimental literary works of the type only read by other bland, experimental literary authors. It is muggle work.

To be sure, from time to time a science fiction idea, such as that of an artificial intelligence or a third human sex that is neither male nor female finds it way into these modern muggle tales. These tropes are between half a century to a century old, appearing in Mary Shelly or David Lindsay. They have the same degree of science fictional imagination and speculation as one might see in an average episode of LOST IN SPACE.

Imaginative? It is all padded, bubble-wrapped, childproofed, tamed. straitjacketed, de-clawed, gelded, and narcotized. No SF trope that has not been safely shopworn and threadbare for over four decades need apply.

Ironically, these semi-illiterate poseurs and poetasters pretend to be the old guard of SF, and dismiss all real fans and writers as invaders intruding on their private club.

So now the Thought Police have descended on what was once the free and robust frontier town of science fiction and turned it into a prison camp. The establishment dictum is clear: any disagreement on any point of Leftwing politics is motivated either by insanity or hatred; no discussion allowed; no thought allowed; your betters know better than you what thoughts are safe and what are dangerous; Nanny will tell you what to think.

And Nanny is craven. Imagination requires at least a modicum of intellectual courage. Nanny lacks that.

So Nanny has ruled that any literature redolent to Christian or Conservative or American values, virtues or worldview must be expelled in the name of the nursery for the good of the nursery. Otherwise, the children scream will hold their breath until blue.

The idea that the muse only visits poets of one’s own political views is exclusively a Leftwingnut idea. No Rightwinger in history ever said such a thing, and I would extend the comment to prehistory also.

Leftwingery is ideologuery. An ideologue cannot stand the concept that anything is outside the orbit of his ideology. Conservatives have religion or philosophy or real life or something outside ideology. So they at least have the possibility of admitting that a pagan like Homer or a republican like Virgil, a monarchist like Milton or a Guelphs like Dante might be a skilled poet.

A Guelph who only read Guelphs finds his reading list, and his mind, narrow.

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