I’ve been sampling around the Internet from articles, essays and rants on the subject of the ‘death of SF’ and ‘relevant issues’. Some interesting points raised but, good grief. Apparently SF must do something, it must re-invent itself, update itself and, wait for it, it must become more socially relevant. Apparently it is conservative, racist and sexist, runs away from present science and pitches itself into the far future to escape that (?), it’s behind the curve, only highlights present ‘issues’ by visualising dystopian crashes resulting from them … on and on.
Bollocks. Science fiction is updating itself continuously. Neuromancer is a case in point (as de Vries pointed out), bringing things up to date and thereafter incorporated. Nanotech is in the fold, so is biotechnology, quantum mechanics, brane theory … in fact point at any present day science or technology and an avid SF reader will be able to point at a book in which it is included or extrapolated. Science fiction isn’t running away from present day science (hard) but leaping to a future where that science isn’t the territory of a few experts, some learned journals or struggling from the laboratory, but out in the real (or unreal) world.
There’s also the danger here of chucking out the baby with the bathwater. To be more relevant should SF, as some seem to think, discard its own history? Why should old ideas become less relevant? Arthur C Clarke wrote a paper once about satellite communications, but that’s so old, let’s get rid of it and start polishing up the new shiny thing. We should dump the lasers too, and someone needs to tell Boeing to stop shooting UAVs out of the sky with them. Spaceships, they gotta go, are you listening Branson?
But the rest, outside of real science in my terms but in the territory of ‘soft’ science in others is that ‘social relevance’. Nothing new then. Just another New Wave slopping on the beach to deposit its flotsam of liberal guilt, its need to shove away real science and get deep into humanities man. Having an interest in hard science, a preference for sensawunda and a stonking good story is conservative, apparently. Telling a story without sufficient sexual or racial diversity is sexist or racist, except, if your main character is a black woman and you’re a white male writer, you’ll get pilloried for that too. (Oh, and apparently SF awards need more positive discrimination. Call me old fashioned, but I always thought awards should be given on the basis of the product, not the colour or sex of the producer. To positively discriminate is hugely patronising and is sexist and racist in itself.)
Damn, every single point in all these debates (just like the death of SF itself) has been bludgeoned into insensibility over forty or fifty years. Do they serve any purpose, do they help to inject new life? Usually each essay, article or rant is just the vehicle of the prejudices of the writer concerned (like here) but, applying Sturgeon’s Law, something of interest or use can be found, you just need to put on your hasmat suit to go and find it.