Here I'm going to shortcircuit the endless debate and bring up my proposition: that the shape of American SF, as with British SF, is determined by the cultural zeitgeist, by the society's own vision of its future. And I propose that the American future is currently uncertain, unpleasant, polarized, regimented, and pessimistic. The American century that dates to VJ Day, August 1945, is more than half over. Much as the shadows lengthened over the coal-driven British Empire during the age of oil, so the shadows are looming over the oil-driven American Empire. Peak Oil is a spectre haunting the corridors of Washington DC, as it haunts the centres of power in every other nation. But the United States is unusual among the industrialized nations in its dependence on oil, and its vulnerability when the price of oil begins to rise. Transportation and climate militate against the easy adoption of other lifestyles, and the demand for stability in the oil market is leading the current administration ever deeper into the morass of Middle Eastern politics.
This is not the place to list all the controversies or uncertainties haunting the American psyche in the wake of 9/11. Nor am I going to leave any hostages to fortune by prophesying either a reinvigoration of American hegemony, or a Soviet-style collapse. I'm agnostic on the matter. What I am willing to assert is that this uncertainty is haunting science fiction and warping the sort of fiction that is being written.
Cruelty and hardness in the literature that we read and the shows that we watch might play a critical role in preparing their consumers for this future. As I noted earlier, American technothrillers' interest in taking entirely peaceable and democratic allies and making them vicious antagonists might play a similar role. Hardness, see, even against our friends, is critical.