I've read the blogposts"Cory Doctorow, the Singularity and Progressive history"
and"What if the Singularity Doesn't Happen?"
(on the blog Stone Dead Parrot)... and it got me thinking about fads and fashions in genre fiction.
Science fiction has its own catalogue of fads and fashions. "The Singularity" is but a recent one. It also reminds me about other sci-fi fads which have come and gone in the past... and often, in hindsight, caused embarrassment.
Examples of past "fads and fashions" in SF:
1. "Psi powers" (Hey kids! You can have super powers by just wishing for them!)
2. "Intelligent life on Mars" (Real soon now, the Martians will make a noise! Any... moment... now.)
3. "Faster-Than-Light space travel" (We can enter hyperspace! Just add Handwavium.)
4. "Evil intelligent computers take over the world" (There is no spoon -- and no Windows blue screens!)
All science-fiction fads, when you look back at them, seem naive. They are invariably rooted in the wishful thinking and cultural anxieties of their time and audience. But they were popular because they offered a phony wish-fulfilment "solution" to real problems, or articulated an irrational anxiety.
Real problem: The reader, though intelligent and educated, is physically puny and gets sand kicked in his face by stronger, dumber guys.
SF "Solution": Psi powers ("I may look weak on the outside, but I have hidden mental powers!").
Real anxiety: Where are the aliens?
SF "Solution": There is intelligent life on Mars (despite zero evidence to prove it).
Real problem: Space is enormously huge. Traveling to other stars would take hundreds or thousands of years.
SF "Solution": Faster-Than-Light space travel (Ask Star Trek fans how the warp drive works. Yes, really. Ask them.).
Real anxiety: People who don't understand computers are scared of them, and fear losing their jobs to automation.
SF articulation of anxiety: Evil intelligent computers take over the world (despite zero evidence of this actually happening).
Real anxiety: You're going to die.
SF "Solution": When the Singularity comes, we'll all be uploaded into a giant computer network and live forever as digitized souls.
It's not that I dislike using one's imagination -- far from it. But when SF readers and writers confuse "If Only" with "For Sure," you get embarrassments like "psi powers" and "the Singularity Movement"... or the "Super Adventure Fun Club" (created by a science-fiction writer). People start mistaking obvious fictions for future reality. Intellectual speculation becomes Manifest Destiny.
The tell-tale sign of this kind of infatuation with a make-believe idea is that the "believer" lacks a sense of humor and/or irony about it. The fault lies not so much with the fiction itself, as with the way it is being read and "sold."
Of course it's perfectly okay and legal to write free fantasies -- add as many fire-breathing dragons as you want. But let's label it properly: Fantasy. (And it won't hurt to have a sense of humor, too.)