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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Fads and Fashions In Science Fiction

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.

1.
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!").

2.
Real anxiety:
Where are the aliens?
SF "Solution": There is intelligent life on Mars (despite zero evidence to prove it).

3.
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.).

4.
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).

5.
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.)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

An Apology

Right now, a large number of men are demanding the death of a schoolteacher... for the sake of a teddybear's name.
(Incidentally, several of these self-righteous men are bound to have the exact same name as said teddybear, but hey -- let's not demand that they behead themselves in the name of consistency.)

You angry men... this is for you:
-----------------------

A.R.Yngve

AN APOLOGY.


Dear angry street person,
you who are so busy burning flags
and effigies
waving your banners and placards
shouting your death threats
with such vigor
demanding apologies
for all the wrongs committed against you:
This is an apology.

We apologize
for being billions of people
around the world
who don't care
about what you say.

We apologize
for the billions of people
who lived before you were born
who cared even less
for what you say.

We apologize
for those not yet born
and not yet counted
who will without doubt offend you
in some way.

We apologize
on behalf of the countless thinking life forms
in the known universe
who won't care
to apologize to you
and who have the gall
to be ignorant
of your existence.

We beg forgiveness
for all the fictional characters
and drawings
and motion pictures
and mere thoughts
that offend you.

Let us also not forget
to apologize
for all the insulting things
that may be said
or pictured
or imagined
from now on
and billions of years
into the future.

We apologize
for being afraid
of your threatening demeanor
and for fearing your intolerant friends
who kill us.
We apologize
for being so rude
that we wish to live our lives
without constantly being told
that we should obey your commands.

We apologize
for believing in democracy
and freedom of speech
and equal rights for women
and freedom of mind.

We apologize
for our love of reason
and consistency
and logic
and common sense
and our aversion to killing people
for disagreeing with us.

We apologize
for all our belief systems
and philosophies
that are not as perfect as yours.

We apologize
for not much caring
about an afterlife
and for our selfish need
to improve living standards
in the here and now.

Humbly we apologize
for your birth.
Oh, what insult
that someone as divinely guided as yourself
was squeezed out between your mother's thighs
and born screaming in blood and pain,
like any other human being!
Someone as perfect as you
should have simply descended from the heavens.

How can we ever apologize enough
for the excrement
that insults your righteous behind
and dares to offend your nose
with its foul stench?
Your waste should have smelled of roses.

We apologize for the universe
and its reckless indifference
to your sacred convictions.
So many stars, so many planets
so many galaxies
are formed, and live, and die
without a care
for your hurt feelings!
We deeply, sincerely apologize
for the totality of existence
which has offended you
by not apologizing.

And finally we,
these billions of human beings
who so offend you
with our existence
apologize in advance
for the distant chance
that someday our patience
might run out.
And should that ever happen
then please tell God
that we're sorry.
-------------------------

(c)A.R.Yngve 2006. This is a work of fiction. Its intent is satirical.