January 17th, 2006

[BRIEF NOTE] A Final Addendum on Science Fiction/Ideology

Finally, on the theme of science fiction--and other cultural products--as potential buttresses for tyranny, I'd like to refer to Charlie Stross' April 2005 essay on what he saw as the differences between British and American science fiction. It all comes down, in Stross' analysis, to the differing futures that Britons and Americans see.

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.
  • Current Mood
    very concerned

[URBAN NOTE] A Moment's Dance

I was running to catch the northbound subway this morning when I passed some buskers and saw a man dancing. He was in his 50s, he had a briefcase, and he was dancing loosely to the rhythm of the Spanish guitars.

I didn't stop to join him. The doors were closing, and even as the loudspeakers warned that one shouldn't jump through the doors I did. As I settled into a seat, I heard the man calling, yelping, "Wait!"

It didn't.

[BRIEF NOTE] A Point re: Canadian Politics

In drating a response to an E-mail to a friend touching upon politics, I'm trying to think why my support for the NDP against the Liberals and my resignation to a Conservative government (minority or majority) and hope that the Tories might create a new sense of engagement in Canadian politics is different from the hopes of the South American urban guerrillas of the 1970s that provoking military dictatorships to wreak havoc will trigger massively popular socialist revolutions. I'm failing.