Sf is occasionally predictive and a driving force toward a future.
Believing it major force is a vanity authors and publishers like to engage in. It does sometimes ‘make straight the way’ by preparing the public to accept concepts that were simply outside their Overton window before (the idea of space travel, for example). But… well, viewed dispassionately, 99% of sf (or fantasy or murder mysteries) are more of a reflection of their society, than society is a reflection of them.
Yes, most of it is just entertainment. I know this is a bit lowering if you had delusions of grandeur, a belief in your sacred mission to make the future gender-fluid or whatever, but at least entertainment generally pays.
The interesting part – for the working writer trying to make a living out of this is that looking at the world and its interests can give you a remarkably good idea what could well be popular into the future. When the space program / moon-race was hot and front and center, the popular and well-selling sf had a hard-engineering interplanetary ‘realistic’ feel to it. For the last few years when manned space programs were far back on the US Admin’s agenda, which also slipped away. SF generally actually became more ‘space opera’ (in the sense that space/space ships/ other worlds was merely a convenient setting for the story – which really didn’t have space etc as a core plot requirement. There is nothing wrong with this, just as there is nothing wrong with Brazilian as compared to Kenyan coffee. It’s just the not same and to different people’s tastes.)
With President Trump now supporting and endorsing ideas like manned flights to Mars, I’m guessing the “THE MARTIAN” might be one of those books that paved the way – but we may have a lot more that follow that way. There was always a market, it may just be a bigger one.
Of course that’s not the way everyone sees it. I was fascinated to see a combination of sneers ‘He just wants to sell Martian Real Estate (and variations on this theme) from people I thought were sf fans eager for space travel, and ‘We should solve all the problems on earth first’.
I wonder if these people will stay non-customers, and just how many of them there are?
I wonder if the latter group have any idea how much of scientific progress we owe to that space race, and how vastly that impacted on all of our lives in so many ways from Teflon to GPS navigation, and a few million stops between, that just couldn’t have come out of ‘solving all the problems on earth first.’? And a great many of them made solving those problems a lot more plausible. Not completely plausible, because the human capacity to invent stupid problems is vast, if not infinite.
I wonder about the former group too. Is a spade not a spade if someone you didn’t like made it? We had an amusing incident a few days back where in the hearing for a new Judge (I think for the US Supreme Court. Sorry, it’s not my country, and so I don’t pay all that much attention) had a Conservative – Senator Cruz IIRC ask the Judge for the answer to life, the universe, and everything. To which he got the answer ‘42’ – and the resultant melt-down from some snowflake that the Hitchhiker’s Guide was now tainted… because people not of her political persuasion had read it, remembered it, and were amused by it.
It had been sullied by their vile eyeballs, and would remain now forever unclean. She could never enjoy it again.
By now my vile eyeballs are rolling so hard and fast you could hook up a generator to them and power a small city. I was reminded of Orson Scott Card and John C. Wright – both considered brilliant writers by the Modern American Left… until they were cast out utterly for doctrinaire reasons in their personal lives and not their writing. Now, the same books, same writing style, has been miraculously transformed from pure gold into the basest of base metals. A spade is not a spade any more. Humans getting to Mars was good but is now bad. And logic has gone for lunch.
Oddly I consider someone with a different worldview reading and enjoying my work a huge win – even if what they get out is not what I meant. I can’t control what they think, and don’t want to. But I have communicated… possibly over a very wide and high barrier. That’s an achievement. And maybe I can make some points – as well as some money. I couldn’t do that if they didn’t sully it with their eyeballs.