It’s been 50 years (and a few days) since the Apollo 11 mission took the first two men to the moon. I remember clearly (and I was rather young) the black and white grainy images and the US flag flying proudly on the moon, and hearing the crackly ‘One small step…’
I’m sure I was only one of millions of little kids who saw that and dreamed of going out there one day. I was already reading sf (and most of it was mediocre to bad science, but great entertainment, great dreams) so this helped my suspension of disbelief, as well filling me with awe, hero-worship and a life-long support for space exploration.
You might say that popular support for the space-race owed at least some of its existence to Science Fiction. That put the idea of its possibility into the minds not merely of scientists, but the public – and without that public support it could never have been. Putting men on the moon was a tremendous achievement, and from the effort flowed hundreds of inventions which made life – right across the globe – for humanity, just that bit more pleasant, more comfortable, safer and happier.
It’s something in our genre’s past worth looking up to and seeking to emulate. The shoulders of giants to stand on, if you like. Or… a big ask to live up to, making one’s frail deeds and words seem rather inadequate. Perhaps this is why we’ve had this rash of ‘belittle and bad-mouth’ the moon-landing: when your achievements are tepid and irrelevant, the only way you can make them look any better is to try and denigrate the giants against whom you look a pygmy. It’s like the statue tearing-down: only worth doing if you have nothing worthy of a memorial yourself.
Whatever. There is no escaping the fact that we are where we are today because of great achievements in the past. We don’t live in the past: that was a different country, with different mores: but we owe almost everything we have to it. Not all of that is ‘good’ (for current and personal values of good) but, compared to pretty much all the alternatives, it is a vast debt. It’s left the US with huge legacy – a little of which also spills onto its old allies. Actually, despite all the PC nonsense and media hatred of the US and Western civilization in general – most of the world thinks that too: which is why migration flows the directions it does.
As writers we can help to shape the zeitgeist of tomorrow: even though most sf (especially in trad publishing) is little more than a mirror of the zeitgeist of their bubble – which is out of touch with today and well in the past.
Of course to have that sort of impact, not only does your book have to build new concepts and ideas, but it has to get them into the public awareness. So if your book is being read only by a tiny group of the Woke, who are, in general, Ark B people, society’s telephone sanitizers and government drones, I guess your impact on the future is not going to be large, if it is existent at all.
On the other hand, if you’re getting read by the sort of people who will be tomorrow’s artisans, engineers and scientists, the thinkers and doers, well, maybe your legacy will be greater than you realize. Of course it helps probabilities if that book is read by large numbers of people and these are not only from one sector of society (the world changes, the worm turns, the loser now may be later to win…)
If you want to change the world, forget Ark B, forget the narrowing purity spiral that is trad publishing, and aim for a different readership. Otherwise, if you have no such ambitions (Jules Verne may well not have) but merely want a lot of readers, do likewise. Either way, you may well leave a mark on the future. It would be hard to leave a bigger one, but if you don’t try, you won’t succeed.
And here is to those brave men, and to those who got them there and home safely.
You shaped my life.