Image Pixabay. (does the future hold the frog or the flower?)
I’ve been reading several 1960’s sf novels (homework, and enjoyment) I’ve been through James Whites, a Mack Reynolds and a few Simaks. Interesting from the writers point of view. Style has changed a lot (books were much shorter). The stories are still interesting and well structured. They’re actually thoughtful books – far more so than modern rehash of PC thought. But the dialogue and the social relationships, the ‘mores’, the expectations and social structure… are very 1960s.
I like the stories, but there are times this makes it hard work as it throws me right out of my rapid reading trance.
Science fiction writers don’t just extrapolate (or in some cases make up without any remote logical basis. Nice work if you can get it) the technology of the future, but society that will flourish (or survive) the impact of that technology.
Well, that’s the idea, I guess. Mostly, in practice, we write stories. And in order to sell those stories we tend to try and please an audience – whether that’s an editor living in NY bubble, or the guy reading books. Still, in a few years’ time when readers look at your extrapolation of where the world is going and (in the light of the changes since you wrote it) where it is or seems likely to go, now… odds are you’re going to look a totally dated idiot – ON THE BEACH reflected the thoughts and views and social structure of when it was written. Likewise many of Mack Reynolds books where he assumed the triumph of socialist rule – and projected that on a society which had the attitudes, reflect views and mores of his 1960’s market.
The smart money – looking at the track record of sf writers, says: ‘don’t know what it will be like, but it won’t be like that.’ The values and ‘mores’ are reflective of when a book is written. It’s a rare author who can project those further than a couple of years future-ward. We’re MUCH better at technology than people and societies.
It’s why I say that sf (though writers imagine fondly that they’re shaping the future) in most cases, actually reflects a daydream based in today, or yesterday. It is largely reactive, not formative (I know. Not what writers want to hear. It can be that, and true.)
This is damned awkward when you look at the fact that books in the traditional publishing world only come out a couple of years after the time they were written. Secondly – particularly in for the Indy writer – the long tail is relevant. The last thing you want is audiences going face-palm because you set your projected extrapolation of social mores on what looked like a sure thing… in 2016. Think back. Take it from the assumptions of that time, particularly in NY publishing bubble – and just how dated books set in that context seem a mere couple of years on. And now we have a huge revival in agonized Handmaiden Tail (yes, I did spell it that way on purpose) smudged clones… which may look equally foolish in a few years. The ‘wrong side of history’ is a fickle beast.
I’m not a great fan of catastrophism (everything blown into the worst disaster evah! “I got a B+ for my medieval basket weaving module: my life is ruined. It’s the end of the world.”) but the way things are changing… well, it’s hard not see vast social and political and economic knock-ons, much of which is certainly unknown territory, and must be utterly terrifying to those who were so certain their Titanic was proceeding smoothly to a known utopian future.
Being a fairly pragmatic scientist, and a student of history, I suspect most of the predicted catastrophes will not be catastrophes at all. We’ll muddle through with most people having no idea just what the hell all the shrieking, wailing and ‘here come the cattle-cars’ was all about. Of course, history and science suggest there will be catastrophes… but they won’t be any of the nonsense that pearls are being clutched over.
But I do think we’re heading into another shift in the zeitgeist. Politics have always been divided more or less left/right, but what the two sides stood for 50 years back of course has little to do with what they are now. Aspects have changed and others have not, and, basically, no writers have got it even remotely right. I probably won’t either.
Our field – at least in traditional publishing – has moved steadily leftward, to the point where US political donation records from book publishing indicate less than 1% going to anyone else.
At one stage the Left was the party of working class. That was then. That, if you read the left-wing authors of the 60’s and 70’s was their world-view.
Times change. The US Left, looking at donors and endorsements, have become the party of super wealthy, the media, the celebrities, the large powerful corporations. They have taken on a collection of disparate ‘disadvantaged minorities’ as their client-voters and abandoned any pretense of supporting the working class, and gone all-in globalist – a world view – and the future it produces, reflected in the books they publish.
It seemed a sure enough bet, a few years ago, to the extent that any pretense of evenhanded conduct has gradually disappeared. And publishing followed the same trend as academia and media: working on the idea that to permit any other views to be expressed was to legitimize them, ‘normalize’ them, and that might encourage people to take them seriously. They must be demonized instead to keep the ordinary people from embracing their ideas. To fight ‘fascism’ and the far right – which seems to be moving target, better expressed as ‘to attack anyone who isn’t absolutely doctrinaire like us.’
The entire doctrine ‘preventing normalization’ rests in practice on one slender reed: people are stupid and cannot be allowed to think or decide for themselves.
To take this point of view requires that those academics, journalists, writers and publishers assume they’re an elite, who will make wise and suitable decisions for everyone.
Does that sit well with you? Do you know any of these self-elected ‘elite’ (look at them: are these the people you’d choose? I know a lot of academics, a few journos, and a lot of people in the publishing industry. Some of them I even like. But allow them to make value judgements for me? Er. Nope.)
Perhaps you think you are, and will be one of those elite making those decisions?
If you do: you’re a dumb as rock and have not the most elementary grasp of history.
Besides… there is no evidence that it works. Oh, it works on individuals all right. The individual can have their livelihood destroyed or damaged, their lives screwed up. But unless you believe that they were a charismatic force of one… the question is not whether such behavior hurts that person (it does) but whether it changes the views of wider public of that topic.
And the evidence seems to show that de-platforming – or allowing open debate… produces pretty much the same outcome. Perhaps it would be different under a complete ‘Saxon style’ suppression (kill all the men, rape the women and make them chattels. Make brutal examples of any hint of resistance) and there have been those who say ‘ by any means necessary’ – but, to judge by the failure of the levels of brutality used in Russia, China, Cambodia etc… that is what it would take. One has to wonder at the rationalization and mental gymnastics needed to take this course.
In fact, if you have to look at the huge expense, effort and brutality that go into silencing and denigrating… and weigh that up against outcomes, you might look at things like the campaign against Brexit, the attacks on Donald Trump, the media’s attacks on the gillet jaunes etc. and ask whether ‘silencing’ and ‘deplatforming’ to get rid of a ‘problem’… didn’t have opposite effect?
Interesting times. Ones that could go all sorts of ways. Ones that need to be considered when shaping that social structure in your next book. And ones that could leave a lot of the books of a few years back with very short tails.