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Thursday, October 11, 2018

SF/F Writers in the Real World

Eric Dontigney found and posted an interesting article on our facebook page yesterday. If you missed it, here’s the link:

The original article is on, and the subject is, “Does your science fiction or fantasy world have to be woke? Experts debate at NYCC.”

It’s an interesting question, and one that deserves further debate, which is why I’ve reposted it here. I don’t think I’m the person to lead this discussion, though. When I look at this, what I see is further proof that we’re locked in a time loop and condemned to recapitulating the past fifty years. Right now we’ve made it up to reliving 1970—seriously, the parallels are alarming—except that last time around, the demand was for “relevance” in SF/F, not being woke. As far as SF/F goes, “relevance” was a political fashion trend that nearly destroyed the genre.

If you don’t remember the bulk of the painfully serious and relevant SF that was being published circa 1970—well, lucky you. If you want a quick refresher, you could track down and watch Silent Running, the movie I lifted the above still from, as a representative example. Or I could spare you the pain of listening to Peter Schickele’s hideous soundtrack music and sum it all up in one phrase:


Yeah, remember how we ran out of oil in the year 1985 and the world reverted to tribal savagery? Remember how we ran out of mineable copper in the early 1990s, which caused the complete collapse of all industrial economies based on electricity and electronics? Remember how in the year 2000 the world population hit 20 billion souls, all fighting tooth and claw for what little food and water remained, and how in the end we resolved the problem by resorting to industrial-scale cannibalism?

Yeah. Neither do I.

What I did remember, though, as I was thinking about writing this column, was that the long and gloomy winter of “relevance” eventually gave way to the exuberant spring of Star Wars, and while many serious literary critics at the time condemned Star Wars as being mere escapism, C. S. Lewis had already answered that charge.
“Stories of the sort I am describing are like that visit to the deck. They cool us. They are as refreshing as that passage in E. M. Forster where the man, looking at the monkeys, realizes that most of the inhabitants of India do not care how India is governed. Hence the uneasiness which they arouse in those who, for whatever reason, wish to keep us wholly imprisoned in the immediate conflict. That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of ‘escape’. I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, ‘What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape?’ and gave the obvious answer: jailers. The charge of Fascism is, to be sure, mere mud-flinging. Fascists, as well as Communists, are jailers; both would assure us that the proper study of prisoners is prison. But there is perhaps this truth behind it: that those who brood much on the remote past or future, or stare long at the night sky, are less likely than others to be ardent or orthodox partisans.”
It was snowing here as I drove in to work this morning, but already, I’m thinking about Spring.

What are you thinking about?

Kind regards,


~brb said...

I've long held that the job of the SF writer is not to make serious predictions about the future -- really, when we try that, most of the time we're *way* out of our depth -- but to hold a warped funhouse mirror up to contemporary reality. Perhaps this just reflects the idea that most of my favorite SF novels are satires -- or is it that my favorite satires are SF?

But aside from mayonnaise-based potato salad at a picnic on a hot July day, *nothing* goes from appetizing to vomit-inducing faster than SF that tries to convey a serious message about contemporary politics.

Jacob said...

I agree with you, nothing worse than political sanctimony in SF. Just tell me a story. Like C.S. Lewis said, I just want a visit to the deck. From the deck, at night, I can see outer space.

Snow, ugh. I wish I didn’t have to live on Hoth for 4 months out of the year.

Unknown said...

"No. Get thee behind me. That’s not who I am. As someone who remembers the past sixty-some years, I have trouble getting worked up about the current outrage d’jour."

So refreshing!

Eric Dontigney said...

As a writer, my guiding star has always been: The story comes first. If it doesn't serve the story, it doesn't belong in there. Shoehorning in an "issue" or "agenda" is the exact opposite of "the story comes first." You can tell that's true by how often you stop reading novels and think things like, "Stop preaching at me, dammit."