Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Spider Robinson -- Why are our imaginations retreating from science and space, and into fantasy?

I'm not knocking fantasy, but if we look only backward instead of forward, too, one day we will find ourselves surrounded by an electorate that has never willingly thought a single thought their great-grandparents would not have recognized. That's simply not acceptable. That way lies inconceivable horror, a bin Laden future for our grandchildren.

I take heart that SF still exists, 50 years after the first Hugo was awarded. My wife's family are Portuguese fisherfolk from Provincetown, Mass., where every summer they've held a ceremony called the Blessing of the Fleet, in which the harbour fills with boats and the archbishop blesses their labours. The 50th-ever blessing was the last. There's no fishing fleet left. For the first time in living memory, there is not a single working fishing boat in P-town . . . because there are no cod or haddock left on the Grand Banks. For all its present problems, science fiction as a profession seems to have outlasted pulling up fish from the sea.

I believe with all my heart that the pendulum will return, that ignorance will become unfashionable again one day, that my junior colleagues are about to ignite a new renaissance in science fiction, and that our next 50 years will make the first 50 pale by comparison, taking us all the way to immortality and the stars themselves. If that does happen, some of the people who will make it so were in Toronto.

People still believe that men fished the Grand Banks, once. Some even dream of going back. SF readers have never stopped dreaming. We can't, you see. We simply don't know how.

Another response here in Thieves and Kings.

The need for stories examining all the possibilities of science and technology isn't really there anymore either. Everybody is fairly well tuned in now. Future vision is no longer a kaleidoscope of science dreaming. Not the way it once was. Sorry, Spider. The job is just about done, and the workers are rolling up the drop cloth and heading for the van. The wild flights of speculation, the story-telling party of the century, is over.

Or perhaps I should say, the party has moved into the kitchen. (After all, there's always work of some sort which needs doing somewhere around the ramshackle house of humanity!) --People's minds are traveling over different terrain these days. And while some might look at the Orwellian vision and sink in their chairs with growing despair, I see a great deal more than just the backwards, corrputed, polluted and violent dystopia we were all warned about time and again. There are new and spectacular things afoot in the world! And all the millions of minds are seeking answers to these new kinds of problems. New possibilities!

What possibilities?

Oh, but that part is easy! Just look at popular fiction. Peer into your own headspace at the questions you find yourself asking. Or perhaps. . , the questions you are avoiding. --Remember, Science Fiction was also, for many years, a most shunned area of literature. A large number of people have a strong tendency to not want to look too closely at things which promise to change their lives in Big (with a capital 'B'), ways. How did Bilbo Baggins put it. . ?

'We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can't think what anybody sees in them,'

It's all about escapism! They said the same thing about Science Fiction, and they were right! However, the question nobody ever asks is, "Escaping to where?" --Think carefully, because the stories we read today are but kaleidoscope shadows of the places we'll be living in tomorrow. Our subconsciouses are generally much smarter than we are, after all. They speak to us through the stories they make us want to read.

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