Monday, August 28, 2006

Ironies Compounded by Ironies...

The political lamp is lit

Larry Brilliant says: Here is a really scary poll of 93 countries, on their view of US leadership: "Do you  approve or disapprove of the leadership of the United States of America?"

Percentages who Approve / Disapprove

Average              44 / 56
Lebanon              42 / 58
Saudi Arabia       14 / 86
Jordan                  20 / 80
Turkey                 30 / 70
Indonesia             45 / 55
Bangladesh          26 / 74
United Kingdom  35 / 65
France                  15 / 85
Germany              23 / 77
Netherlands          25 / 75
Belgium               17 / 83
Spain                    15 / 85
Italy                      35 / 65
Poland                  59 / 41
Hungary               44 / 56
Czech Republic    48 / 52
Romania               77 / 23
Sweden                24 / 76
Greece                  11 / 89
Denmark               35 / 65
Iran                       28 / 72
Singapore             88 / 12
Japan                    20 / 80
India                     57 / 43
Venezuela            38 / 62
Brazil                   28 / 72
Mexico                 33 / 67
Nigeria                 82 / 18
Kenya                  80 / 20
Tanzania              66 / 34
Israel                    75 / 25
Palestine              16 / 84
Ghana                  89 / 11
Uganda                85 / 15
Benin                   64 / 36
South Africa        70 / 30
Canada                30 / 70
Australia              30 / 70
Philippines           81 / 19
Sri Lanka             73 / 27
Vietnam               59 / 41
Thailand               59 / 41
New Zealand       30 / 70
Angola                 43 / 57
Botswana             59 / 41
Ethiopia               81 / 19
Mali                     82 / 18
Mozambique        78 / 22
Senegal                68 / 32
Zambia                 66 / 34
South Korea         29 / 71
Belarus                 28 / 72
Georgia                71 / 29
Kyrgyzstan          42 / 58
Moldova               62 / 38
Russia                  22 / 78
Ukraine                30 / 70
Burkina Faso       74 / 26
Cameroon            68 / 32

Comments international economic pundit Mark Anderson: “Thank God for Burkina Faso, the Philippines, Mali, and, uh, let's see, Ethiopia. I wonder if there is a way for the ever-victorious Ms. Rice to formulate a new U.S. foreign policy with these key supporters as a cornerstone?”

May I add something? Scan the list to see which country MOST disapproves of US leadership.

Now contemplate this irony. It is the same country that has - at one time or another - either employed or contracted or subsidized a majority of senior members of the current US administration, including nearly all of the Bush/Cheney political appointments to head up Defense, Homeland Security and the CIA. Nearly every single one.

Now at first, that may seem contradictory. How can a country that has such deep and broad influence, throughout today’s US leadership, also be the country that most disapproves of that leadership? A leadership that, one could argue, it effectively OWNS?

The answer is as obvious as it is frightening. In that country, where textbooks are state secrets, children have been relentlessly taught about the utter corruption of Western Civilization -- the desirability and inevitability of its total downfall. Is it any surprise, then that common citizens in that country answer such a poll with loathing, not distinguishing between America in general, and its leadership caste? After all, it is only the narrow elite that knows how thoroughly they actually own the Great Satan.

What it does suggest is that we consider something far deeper and more disturbing even than the Iraq War.

Consider a mental experiment. If YOU came out of such a culture, and also found yourself with a bottomless well of funds with which to express your hatred.... don’t you think you might spend lavishly, in order to corrupt and suborn your hated foe. Are you saying there’s even a chance you wouldn’t?

Is anything on Earth more obvious?

Look across the last one hundred years for the very worst mistakes that America made. An era of many successes, punctuated by a few deadly errors. If YOU had the power to control our policy, through paid or suborned surrogates, and you wanted us to fail, would you not use the list of those past mistakes as a template?

Drive away America's friends, destroy its cultural cohesion, provoke inner dissension, wreck the military, demolish science, and - above all - get us into a lose-lose land war of attrition in Asia.... and that only begins the list.

Yes, I am suggesting a very provocative theory... the paranoid-sounding that it has all been deliberate.Not an epic extravaganza of loony incompetence, but an actual and competent and well-executed plan.

No, I do not hold this view officially. I know I stand alone and I admit (and hope) that it can be proved wrong. Hey, it is my JOB to come up with lavish and dramatic scenarios!

Still, when a pattern is this consistent, shall we not at least consider malice as a possible explanation?Not at all?

Find one -- even one -- way in which the pattern does not fit. Only then should you call me paranoid.


-- On Science Fiction and the Future ---

Finally, some fascinating non-political points

I’ve just returned from the World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles. It was a lavish show, in some ways well-done. I need to point out that I start out positively inclined, since the LACON in 1984 helped to “make” me in my own home town. It was also the greatest science fiction convention in history.

Still, this time I was appalled. The con committee deliberately (not by oversight) eviscerated nearly all panels about education or outreach to a new generation -- even though everyone was talking about the decline of science fiction, the drop in sales, the disturbing swing in favor of anime and feudal fantasy. Still, despite the fact that all fan organizations have charters that dedicate them to outreach and spreading the positive messages of SF, very few of them are interested at all in doing anything about it.

Above all, they avoid discussing the ageing of fandom. But one observable stood out at this convention.

The number of elderly people, riding scooters and wheel chairs, at least equaled the number of teens and tweens that you could see wandering the halls. As for children? My own three kids made up a large fraction of those attending. And yet, nobody seems to notice or mind, in the slightest.

The literature of youthful, forward-looking openness... is graying and (in many ways) dying, even as its tropes and glossy surfaces have been embraced as never before.

Ah well. If we are to save sci fi, it will have to be done outside of fandom. So subscribe to Analog and especially Baen’s Universe Magazine (online) !! I mean it. Even if you read none of the wonderful stories (including my own!) or view the resplendent art, or scan the wondrous articles... consider it a tithe.... and investment in tomorrow.

I've posted some resources for using Science Fiction in the Classroom

Oh! Have I mantioned that I am author guest of honor at the NEXT World Science Fiction Convention, to be held in August 2007 in Yokohama? Consider coming!

68 comments:

Blake Stacey said...

Quoth the wise Spider Jerusalem, "Remember: a paranoid is simply someone in possession of all the facts."

Rob Perkins said...

May I add something? Scan the list to see which country MOST disapproves of US leadership.

Greece? (89% disapproval)

Odd.. last I checked Greece's actual geopolitical status was "sidelined curiosity, with a hatred of Turks" but I could be wrong about that...

Anonymous said...

So the enemy is the Saudi Arabian Royal family.


So the next question is what do we do about it?

Over the long run the only answer is replace our need for oil. But what should we do in the short run?

Matt said...

Sweet! WorldCon 2007 is in Japan! Thanks for the pointer ... looks like I'll be prolonging my English teaching position by a couple of months.

As far as the poll goes, two points: first, the rest of the world doesn't actually get a say in how the U.S. is run (except insofar as the buy U.S. leaders, which probably happens more than we think, on either side); second, what would the results have been at any time during the 20th century? I'm guessing about the same.

Blake Stacey said...

Now that I have snagged the coveted first-comment position, I would like to exposit more fully on this, that and particularly the other.

David Brin sez, "everyone was talking about the decline of science fiction, the drop in sales, the disturbing swing in favor of anime and feudal fantasy." This sounds like a trend ripe for misinterpretation! One could only legitimately say that SF is swinging in favor of these mutant forms if the people who produced and/or consumed SF are now moving into these other fields: if the number of SF writers/readers drops and the number of anime viewers goes up --- and if these anime fen have no sense of continuity with the old man's books --- then I'd argue a qualitatively different phenomenon is at work, than if the same kids are deliberately setting down Childhood's End to watch Slayer. Like so many shrill alarms, this trend is frightening if true, but the glancing and inevitably blurred impressions people give aren't enough to establish what's really going on.

I got my first sense of science fiction's history by reading Isaac Asimov's autobiography. Sadly, that source has little to say after 1992 (and we have bad blood transfusions to thank for that). The detailed stuff actually stops more than a decade earlier, with the concluding pages of In Joy Still Felt, autobiography volume two. Between that book and In Memory Yet Green, one can flow from Gernsback and Campbell through to the New Wave. Yes, it's only one man's impression, but it is beyond doubt a valuable one.

I got a few other perspectives while researching the Wikipedia article on Cyberpunk, during my effort to transmogrify it from a cruft repository to a useful scholarly work. (I'm almost afraid to click the link I just provided, since I haven't checked the article in ages, and Wikipedia pages have a marked tendency to die by a thousand well-meaning cuts. But yes, Mr. CITOKATE, you got a little free publicity before I was done!)

I noticed that the histories I read tended to focus on the "expansion into experimentalism" side of SF development. Stylistic innovations became de rigeur, all the conventions of the Golden Age went all topsy-turvy, and pomo academics found themselves a Movement they could love. All the while, Asimov kept writing the kind of stories he wrote during the 1950s, getting (generally) denigrated or ignored in academia but, hey presto, still selling quite well.

Ay, and there's the rub.

Let's wax Stephen Jay Gouldian for a moment and consider means and extremes. Did SF move unilaterally to the experimental and the avant-garde? Did everybody surf the New Wave and then, a generation or two of fandom later, jack in unison into the Grid? Not exactly. The range of subjects and styles expanded, but even in science fiction, the cutting edge is not the entire machine.

Moreover, bell curves have two tails. If the genre can expand in one direction, can we argue a priori that it cannot expand in the other?

Dangerous Visions was published in 1967. Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain was published in 1969.

If the New Wave and its offspring represent movement in one direction beyond Campbell's Astounding, then I believe the "technothriller" represents the other direction, the infrared to New Wave Ultraviolet.

How about we try a Borgesian reading of something in the modern mainstream, a "text" (yes, oh yes, let's use the pomo jargon) from beyond the SF orbit. Did anyone see that episode of 24 with the electromagnetic pulse weapon? How about GoldenEye, best of the Brosnan Bonds, which features the same gimmick? The people at the video rental place don't file those DVDs under "sci-fi"; GoldenEye is across the store from Gattaca. Yet would we classify them differently if nothing else were changed, but they carried a writing credit that said, for example, "Based on an original story by David Brin"?

It's no use saying, "Oh, the real world is just catching up with SF!" All those 220X zooms with security-camera footage and instant DNA analyzers are still a long way away, and the screenwriters who make them up learn about them in the same way Golden Age authors learned about hyperspace: meme infection.

Kurt Vonnegut presaged this in 1965. He wrote,

The lodge will dissolve. All lodges do, sooner or later. And more and more writers in "the mainstream," as science-fiction people call the world outside the file-drawer, will include technology in their tales, will give it at least the respect due in a narrative to a wicked stepmother.

Vonnegut didn't anticipate the ability SF found to diversify in one direction (the ultraviolet), but his prediction about SF and the infrared mainstream was, I believe, prescient.

(It's also worth noting that the words people have given us do a sorry job of really expressing what's been going on. Damn you, Sapir-Wharf! For example, we have Lawrence Person's postcyberpunk, which he advocates in an essay I otherwise find quite perceptive. The post- prefix, like that in postmodern, puts us in a bind. The difference between "post" and "classic" cyberpunk is supposed to be the difference between Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Neuromancer. Fine, but what about the religious iconography of Lang's Metropolis or the well-nigh-goofy cyperspatial optimism of Tron? To pull a Borgesian trick again, would the blogosphere deem Asimov's The Caves of Steel a postcyberpunk novel if it were published this year? Briefly put, the term acknowledges a real distinction but confuses chronology with content.)

Now that I've rambled well and truly, I should probably try to give some form to this arrogant and pseudo-academic discourse. Point: we can bewail the death of a classic form and the upsurge of some animated heresy, but what if the true heirs of classic science fiction are to be found within anime? (The Tachikomas of Ghost in the Shell: SAC remind me more of Asimov's robots than many other SFnal AI creations I see these days.) Wouldn't it be worth taking a peek or two or three to find out what the animators are doing right?

Then, hook the young'uns any way you can --- action-packed novelizations, if need be. No convention is vouchsafed to a particular genre; there's no lifeguard to enforce order in the meme pool. Nanotech assassination tools in David Weber's Honorverse --- which we all thought was "space opera"! Firefly was supposed to be a "space western", but what's with that Blue Sun corporation acting all Blade Runner and those people smuggling organs inside human bodies?

It appears I've written several screenfuls about the science fiction convention and said nothing about the politics. Well, I guess I'm living in the ivory space elevator after all.

David Brin said...

Rob, I missed Greece in my initial scan. Yipes! The home of Pericles hates... well, in this case I think it’s pretty plain they hate our government, not us. Not yet.

Matt, glad you’ll stay for Nippon 2007! But alas, you are dead wrong about these figures being always the same. Bill Clinton was (and still is) wildly popular in the very countries that we should and always did call friends. Moreover, his super-efficient and effective Balkans campaign actually RAISED our popularity in the Muslim world!

Now one measure of red-neckism is this. Do you actually take PRIDE in the world hating our guts? We all know that our spiral into worldwide despise is viewed that way by supporters of the administration who shrug and indeed glory in this.

Hey, I lived many years in other countries and I can tell you that I am often completely okay with America charting a course that the French (and some others) disapprove! The world has been better led by Pax Americana than by any other Pax. But that’s the point! We are destroying our ability to lead. The morons in charge are frittering away a century’s goodwill. Only imbeciles could manage that... or else...

Blake, I do not resent the rise of anime. In 1984 when worldcon hit its zenith, I attended a little COMICON in the basement of San Diego’s El Cortez Hotel. Now Comicon could swallow Worldcon and have room to chomp down the next ten sci fi conventions for dessert.

I think your explanations are very interesting and clever! I also think they are too ornate. I see two simpler ones:

1- fandom is run by non-breeders who hate kids. I mean that. I mean it literally. They are archetype curmudgeons who want to keep their surrogate baby for themselves.

2- the 21st century started in future shock trauma. I believe we’re really, really sick right now. Only neurotic people would have let the last few elections be even close (close enough for cheating to make the difference.) Modernism is under attack from all sides. No wonder the literature OF modernism is in retreat.

I think that this is a real problem in many ways. Though the tropes of SF have inveigled into all mass culture, there is no DISCOURSE in those tropes. Only literary SF engages in complexity or nuance. For example, you will seldom see a movie in which the premise is other than a simple dystopian idiot plot.

Hence there is no @#$## that anime is the heir of literary SF. Because it avoids even a glancing reference to genuine exploration of future possibilities. It is baroque and utterly romantic.

Stefan Jones said...

Anti-Modernists revel in the thought of a new age of sectarian shackles:

The Death of Science

The author notes that communism was once carelessly touted as scientific. True enough.

But let's get real. What really bothers conservatives about science is how it has knocked the props from under their static, authoritarian world-view. Notice how Noonan pegs the end of the golden age of true science as 1850. And, yes, from the point of view of a sectarian, authoritarian, anti-modernist, that's when it all started to fall apart. Evolution, the revelation that human history is an insignificant blip on a timelines, the realization that the known world is an infinitesimal speck located nowhere special is a universe vast beyond comprehension, the bizarre and disquieting nature of quantum theory.

Conservatism can't deal with that, other than to slowly shake its head, go tut-tut, and wistfully wish for the good old days.

"The prosperous middle classes, who ruled the nineteenth century, placed an excessive value upon the placidity of existence. They refused to face the necessities for social reform imposed by the new industrial system, and they are now refusing to face the necessities for intellectual reform imposed by the new knowledge. The middle class pessimism over the future of the world comes from a confusion between civilization and security. In the immediate future there will be less security than in the immediate past, less stability. It must be admitted that there is a degree of instability which is inconsistent with civilization. But, on the whole, the great ages have been unstable ages."
--Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 1925.

Blake Stacey said...

A few more comments on anime, while the subject is topmost in my mind. These constitute my reply to DB's last note, though I typed them up before said note appeared.

First, if 90% of anime is dreck, then it's still doing no worse than "literary SF" ever managed! So, would a few examples of non-romantic, forward-looking cartoons serve as "proof of concept", an indication of what is possible if we actually get our brains together?

Second, since this spring I've been watching Ergo Proxy, "fansubbed" by Anime-Kraze, Pino-no-Usagi and others. Much could be said about the contents of the show itself, but here I'd like to draw attention to the practice of fansubbing itself. Fans of a show with proficiency in its original language add subtitles and then distribute the modified video files across the World Data Net. The really good ones translate the wording on signs, computer monitors and so forth. This counts, I believe, as a prototype form of what Daisy McClennon does in Earth: digitally edit movies for specialized audiences. (It's the flipside of those religious groups which re-sell movies with the "objectionable" (i.e., fun) parts clipped out. Like I said above, bell curves have two tails: when an innovation comes around, always watch for the flipside!) In some cases, the fansubbers go to laudable extremes to blend their additions into the original, choosing typefaces and colors to prevent the English words tagged onto Japanese glyphs from becoming too jarring.

The Net is fueled by whatever people can obsess about, and good fansubbers are I imagine as obsessive as they come. But I don't have to try engaging them in coversation --- I just download the results of their hobby!

I do not know how Ergo Proxy ends, because the subtitle gnomes haven't gotten that far. However, I have noticed a distinct subtext: a ruined world can be rebuilt. The demigods of the show, the Proxies, also have problems of their own and layers of "issues" which the Sith Lords never had to contend with.

I first started thinking about what this practice implies while watching the Laughing Man fansubs of Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2nd GiG, the second season of the GitS television show, which brings me to my second point, the part of the essay entitled "reasons I like Ghost in the Shell".

One thing I enjoy about GitS is that it has a good ratio of philosophy to explosions. Furthermore, the philosophical issues themselves are in a good, classic SF tradition. To borrow some linguist terms, GitS is more descriptive than prescriptive: it extrapolates in a largely sensible fashion to the world of 2030, saying not "this is what should happen for right and justice to prevail" but rather "this is what may well happen if people continue to be people". A strong sinew of optimism twists through its heart: humanity has erupted into two World Wars by 2030, one of them nuclear --- but our species and civilization have survived! In what would be one of the great feats of "Can Do!" in history, Japan invents nanomachines which can remove fallout from the environment. Yes, the yakuza are still going strong, and yes, the United States has become the American Empire, but the good fight is far from lost.

The heroes of GitS: SAC are members of a civilization!

This point is, I think, why various people on the Net have been calling the GitS franchise "post"-cyberpunk. Like I said before, the confusion between chronology and content worries me: Enlightenment cyberpunk might be a better turn of phrase!

A second item to enjoy: the heroine, Motoko Kusanagi, is sexy. She is definately drawn to be a female in the "razorgirl" mold, spiritual descendent of the "Gibson girl" mirror-eyed Molly, she of the shuriken --- for all that archetype infuriates the pomo feminists!

Said fury may be warranted, but for Kusanagi, there's a point to the clothes. GitS: SAC even gives a reason why she wears a cyborg body with those proportions: men are weak, and can be manipulated by a woman with those looks! To be sure, the first season may have pushed it a little too far, but her wardrobe in the second season is much less an act of "fan service". And really, I won't complain about the fan service --- not (just) because the primal male circuits in my limbic system say so, but because my frontal lobes agree. I'd much rather have my fan service at the level of the heroine's clothes instead of the philosophy the fiction is exploring.

A succinct and hopefully provocative formulation: when it comes to women and wisdom, Ghost in the Shell does right what Atlas Shrugged did so very, very wrong.

Finally, this is my caution to all those (including me) who like to yammer about "true SF" or "the true heirs to the Golden Age". One day, a proud man from Glasgow told a man from London, "No Scotsman eats vegetarian haggis."

The man from London replied, "But my friend MacGregor eats vegetarian haggis!"

His friend from Glasgow paused briefly and then bellowed, "No true Scotsman eats vegetarian haggis!"

Again, if history is any guide, we'll have to be happy with 10% of SF being worth reading, just like it was in TwenCen. Or am I being too romantic?

JV said...

I don't happen to be a big sci fi fan, but I was struck by the description of elderly people outnumbering young people at the convention, because I've seen the exact same thing in other hobbies and fan communities that I'm familiar with.

Yes, if this is happening, then yes, the genre is literally dying out.

However, I don't think there is any need for complicated explanations for this. There are lots of communities formed post-World War II where this is happening. I'm not sure exactly why, and I'm not sure where 20 somethings are investing their time (if they are creating new communities and hobbies of their own, great, but I suspect this isn't happening). But this is a universal trend, and there is probably not much sci fi clubs and authors can do about it.

Also, if you look at other genres of fiction, they are in creative trouble too. I tend to agree with William Gibson, that things have gotten so strange in reality now that fiction just can't keep up. I had this conversation the other night, and the conclusion was that fiction is now boring. Our own lives are too interesting (mostly in bad ways).

David Brin said...

great postings.

Please don't get me wrong. I enjoyed CASTLE IN THE SKY and PORCOROSSO and I intend to get better educated in Japanese SF and anime. Indeed, links to sites that can HELP me get getter educated, efficiently and painlessly, would be welcome!

Still, the best 10% of lit SF has one tradition that the best of other genres lack. Once we notice that something is a trope or trdition or habit in our field, our tendency is to experiment, interogate, and even demolish the convention!

True, most authors are unable to SEE their own conventions. Hence very few eschew the habit of dystopia in favor of adventures set amid genuine civilization. Still, the tradition is there.

Anime tends not to do that.

Tony Fisk said...

... maybe the Greeks disapprove of how the US has treated the memory of Pericles. (Led with the chin there!)

... and maybe the Secret Masters of Fandom are controlled by the Multinational Oil Companies as well (and perhaps NASA's new direction is a try for the Orbital Mind Control Lasers. Mining the Moon for oxygen!)

Seriously though, the decline in book sales in general has been going on for quite a while (sf has actually been relatively mildly affected)

Did you ask the underage thinkers in your party what sort of convention they and their friends would like to go to?

I agree on the anime side. Often great imagery and background that just doesn't go anywhere!

David Brin said...

One of you (James) wrote in to refer us all to:
http://www.jesuscampthemovie.com/

These people define themselves as our enemy. David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) has - and the impression one gets from his review
http://journal.davidbyrne.com/2006/08/american_madras.html
only deepens the impression givien by the movie site.

THIS is how Modernism is being fought. So the question is - how do we fight this?


Excellent and scary post, James. But it gets worse. These people are actively and vigorously infiltrating the US Military Academies with young zealots who are not loyal to the Canstitution or George Marshall's vision of the Officer Corps.

Let's be fair. They no doubt THINK they are loyal to the United States. They adulate (nay, worship) the flag as a quasi-religious icon. But the tribe that they call the New Israel is not the same one that Washington and Jefferson and Franklin and Lincoln and Marshall forged.

In many ways, what they seek is the triumph of The Cause.

The Cause of Jefferson Davis, covered by a cloak of holy sanctimony and glory.

monkyboy said...

I think "classic" Sci-Fi appealed to a few generations for whom space travel and the chance to meet aliens seemed like a very real posibility.

Once it became obvious that, barring another Newton or Einstein coming along, space travel wasn't gonna happen, "classic" Sci-Fi stopped getting new readers...

Anonymous said...

Mr.Brin, about anime, among the others there's one I recently watched that should appeal a lot to you.
The title is PlanetES
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetes
It does remember me of the best, early Heinlein, and it's quite optimistic and motivational without being naive and shallow. The son of a friend after seeing it quickly went into "i want to be an astronaut" mode... :P

Anonymous said...

Other nice SF anime products, even if less directly linked to your usual favorite topics...;)
"Memories"
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113799/
"Cowboy bebop"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cowboy_bebop
the already named "Ghost in the shell" (movies, series and manga)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_in_the_shell
"Appleseed" (I enjoyed more the last 2004 version)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appleseed_%282004%29
"Trigun"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trigun_%28anime%29
"Voices of a distant star"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voices_of_a_Distant_Star
"Metropolis"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolis_%282001_film%29
"Serial Experiments: Lain"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_Experiments_Lain

Even if not SF, I would consider quite important moives to watch all the work of Miazaki, of wich you already saw "Laputa: castle in the sky" and "Porcorosso"
In particular, "Princess Mononoke", even if strictly speaking fantasy, *does* deal with your favourite topics, and in a non obvious way, if you watch carefully...
Also, "grave of the fireflies"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grave_of_the_Fireflies

Nate said...

I define myself in part by my sci-fi nerd-dom (I just finished reading a book with a bunch of authors arguing about Star Wars, for goodness sake!), and I have to admit these days I easily read more comics than "literary" sci-fi. But a lot of the comics I read are sci-fi comics. Transmetropolitan and Global Frequency for example. And some superhero comics I'd class as sci-fi, not for the spaceships and lasers, but because they go "Okay, so if there's all this, what happens?" Watchmen, Rising Stars, and Top 10, for example.

But most of the comics I read aren't even published by the big publishers. They're webcomics. And a lot of webcomics are sci-fi. Especially with "mad scientists" as the protaganists. For examples, stolen from my reading list:

A Miracle of Science athttp://www.project-apollo.net/mos/
Mad science is a meme infection, and there's special police who deal with them.

Girl Genius, at http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/cgi-bin/ggmain.cgi
Mad scientists in an alternate Victorian Europe. They may routinely violate the laws of physics, but the Foglios play out the consequences of mad science inventions. And even though many Sparks are mad and dangerous, many are also the heroes.

Narbonic, at http://www.narbonic.com/ More mad scientists, and one of the best comics on the net.

Schlock Mercenary, at http://www.schlockmercenary.com/ Hard-ish SF military drama and humor.

Starslip Crisis at http://www.starslipcrisis.com/ About equal parts sci-fi and making jokes about art criticism.

Freefall, at http://freefall.purrsia.com/ robots and aliens and genetically engineered hybrids on a planet being terraformed. The heroine's the engineer.

Faans while not strictly sci-fi, is all about the adventures of a science-fiction club.

There's a lot more out there, of varying quality, as with anything else.

As for cons, honestly, the only cons I've been to have been comic cons or generic geek cons. Not any dedicated SF cons. Maybe that's part of SF cons decline, there's other cons that have other things people are into, not just the SF, but I don't know. I do know the Sci-fi museum in Seattle was busy when I was out there, full of books and movies and TV shows. The TV shows and movies usually got more space, because they had cool props to use for display space, while there's only so much display you can get from a book.

Don Quijote said...

even though everyone was talking about the decline of science fiction, the drop in sales, the disturbing swing in favor of anime and feudal fantasy.

Once upon a time SF was an optimistic genre which showed us a vision of a better world, but the future has come and it's not living up to SF's optomistic vision. Where are the rocket cars,the space stations, the moon bases, the robotic maids, the short working hours, the high standards of living, the practically unending leisure?

Unfortunatly the Distopians were right and we ended up in a world that looks a lot closer to "1984" crossed with "Brave New World" with a heavy dose of Cyberpunk thrown in for good measure.

The optimist have been wrong, the pessimist have been right more often than not, so let's read something fun and relaxing like Fantasy, we know it's not real, it won't happen and that it won't disappoint us.

Keith Loh said...

I find the argument that science fiction has permeated the general population to be convincing. A subculture diffuses and only a small core remain the same and that small core are specialists, not generalists. The people I know who like science fiction also like biking, going out, developing their professional lives, talking about other things. They are nerds but on a variety of subjects. They probably don't see a need to go to a 'con' because they don't need affirmation. Plus, I have to say, they probably don't like old men who don't bathe. Or grimy pasty otaku who don't brush their teeth. And I mean that! I went to a photography show - another brand of nerdism - and old men obsessing about some twenty year old piece of metal also coincided with a decline in personal hygiene.

Warren said...

Regarding approve/disapprove of the "leadership", it's fair to point out that the numbers look about the same in the US: About 65% of those surveyed disapprove of the way that moron from Texas is running things.

Robert said...

As a long time SF reader, the decline of space based SF has been long process. We've had ups and down of "fashionable" SF styles. Disaster, post-apocalptic, "head games", cyberpunk... currently Anime, TV and Movies represent the leading SF styles. Think StarGate, Eureka, Firefly, BattleStar Galactica etc.

Back to the poll:

I'll bet that there are some vast differences of opinion as to WHY they disapprove of the US Government. Similarly I'll bet that a similar poll around AD 100 would have had parallel results about Rome!

Hmm, is there that little difference between BushCo and Caligula?

I'd also bet that the results would be quite different for many respondents, but obviously not all, if the question were "Do you approve or disapprove of the ethics, morals and actions of the American people?"

(especially if the lead up questions involved charitable organizations, aid etc.)

cheers,
Robert.

JSmith said...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Sturgeon's Law here: 98% of everything is crap. Including sci-fi.

Digging for gold is more work than many people want to do.

Nicq MacDonald said...

Despite the fact that space travel technology is now advancing at a pace faster than any time since the 50's, it no longer looks that exciting. We've seen many wonders through our probes and space telescopes; yet, as fascinating as they may be for an astrophysicist, everything we've seen would pale before one small piece of space junk that would prove, once and for all, that we're not alone. One ancient, direlict probe from a civilization that perished millions of years ago in a distant solar system. Ruins on Mars or Venus that showed that intelligent life once dwelt there. A deserted listening post on a moon of Jupiter. A few scraps of rusting metal from a probe launched by an ancient earth-bound civilization that arose millions of years before modern man.

Any of that would excite me more than discovering another million planets orbiting distant stars.

In traditional societies, we had a cosmos filled with angels, daimons, gods, jinn, elves, planes of existence, heavens, hells- a cosmos that pulsed with life. When that was stripped away, we were promised a new universe, filled with ancient alien empires and civilizations, ruins to explore, life to be found.

Instead, we're faced with a void. A silent, sterile void.

David, if people are turning to fantasy and magic, it's not necessarily because they hate democracy (much, nay, most fantasy and magic is wildly anarchic and democratic- ever read Mieville? Gaiman? Any chaos magicians? The whole goddamn neopagan movement?) but because they hate our sterile, disqualified universe. We don't want rationality, we don't want utopia (if I wanted utopia, I'd still be living in a middle class neighborhood in South Dakota, rather than in a barrio in Albuquerque. Ever wonder why the suicide rate in the happy, peaceful social democracies of Scandinavia is so high?)- we want wonder and weirdness, atavistic powers, a relief from our day jobs in call centers and offices. "Space" sci-fi is fantasy these days- there are no alien empires or ancient mysteries out there, and we're waking up to that fact. Cyberpunk is essentially a postmodern fantasy- it makes our urban jungles and computer networks into enchanted forests and astral planes. Man wants magic, and cannot be denied magic. Magic is not anti-democratic; nay, magic puts power in the hands of the powerless. Fantasy is not the enemy of science fiction; science fiction is merely a part of the fantastic. Science itself is, when it comes down to it, an exceptionally successful branch of magic; but after a point, all paradigms have diminishing returns...

Jalf said...

Jeez, I'd have thought you were too bright to fall into the routine of claiming that a) it's not our fault, and people who suggest it is, are obviously wrong, b) What we do and have done has always been, on the whole, good, because it's us who did it, c) if people don't like us, it must be either a conspiracy or propaganda campaign against us. It can't be because there is something to hate.

Honestly, most of this post sounds like 90% of the ignorant pro-american garbage that is so easy to find online. Not what I expected to find here.
(Hey, you always keep saying people should give you criticism when deserved)

Ok, first, you're not talking about Greece, so who is it? I'd appreciate a name. I could just scan through the list *again* to find the second-lowest score, but then I'd have to verify that you didnt miss that one as well. So can't you just say which country you're talking of?

Now, on to the meat of your post:
"It is the same country that has - at one time or another - either employed or contracted or subsidized a majority of senior members of the current US administration, including nearly all of the Bush/Cheney political appointments to head up Defense, Homeland Security and the CIA. Nearly every single one."
So what? Leading Americans have close ties to the governments of other countries as well. Does that mean *all* Americans should feel that they own that country? Or that it's some kind of close family that it isn't possible to hate? Hell, your leaders have supported Saddam at one point. If we follow your logic, Americans in general should now feel that he's a nice guy, that he's almost part of your country. And if you don't, it must be because "textbooks are state secrets, and you're being lied to by your leaders"
See the flaw?

Next up, because of the above propaganda campaign, they have all been indoctrinated with lies about how evil western civilization is.
Hang on, would we see the same disapproval rates if they had asked about a European country instead of the US? Last I checked, those were part of "Western Civilization" as well. And what about all the countries that don't have state-secret text-books, but where the population *still* disapproves of your leadership? Say, the UK (35% approval), France (15%) or, yes, Greece (11%)? Sweden? (24%) Are you suggesting that all these have been lied to by their leaders in the same way? That they'd like you much better if only they knew the truth?
If your little conspiracy theory was true, then shouldn't it *only* be the countries with totalitarian governments who lie to their populations, who hate the US? That's obviously not the case. According to you (I still don't know what country you meant), *one* country fits your theory. But that leaves, what, 30 others that don't. Can I call you paranoid now? ;)

So an obvious second question. Could it be the other way around? Could it be that you are the one who is lied to? That you have been told that the US is basically nice so often that you believe it? Have you subjected that to your famous objective criticism?
Where have you encountered the idea that "give or take a few mistakes, America has overall been good to the world"? Among Americans, obviously. Anywhere else?

(Or could the truth be somewhere in between? Countries where people disapprove so much might just notice things that ordinary Americans don't. And vice versa, their media might not always put as much emphasis on what part *America* played when something good happens.

That theory would work without either side being explicitly lied to by state-secret textbooks and great big propaganda machines.

That leads me to a different point, the "Pax Americana". Has it really served the world so well? Sure, it's helped the US vastly. It's on the whole kept the world unusually peaceful (then again, how much of our peace is due to that? Peace in Europe has been a large factor in this overall tendency towards peace, and "Pax Americana" hasn't figured hugely in that, has it? Stuff like the Marshall Aid and various post-WW2 policies helped kickstart the process, but was that part of pax americana? And does Pax Americana deserve full credit for the entire 60 years of peace?

Meanwhile, let's look at the negatives. The middle east obviously hasn't profited much. In fact, by arming and supporting Israel, it is possible we have even more violence today than we'd have had otherwise. (I'm not saying it'd be better to let Israel get wiped out, which might or might not have happened otherwise, just that on the whole, it's not much of a pax in that region, since the main effect it has had is to turn one side in the conflict immensely powerful, while impoverishing and angering the other side)

And finally, the most obvious symptom that Pax Americana might not be all that great: Check those approval rates. A Pax that makes so many people hate the big world-controlling empire isn't going to be stable. And a Pax that isn't stable, that only ensures peace in the short term, by guaranteeing trouble in the long term, isn't much of a Pax, is it?

Again, the truth might lie somewhere in between. But I'd like to hear some objective justification for your claim that the Pax Americana has been better than any previous one.

"not distinguishing between America in general, and its leadership caste?"
Well, why should they?
Are you saying that the American people have no responsibility for their leaders? Sure, today's administration might not seem the best example of democracy at work, or of leaders listening to the people, but even so. Who created the political system? Who, fraud or no, voted the leaders into power? Who voted leaders into power who could warp the system enough for the likes of Bush to gain power?

Why should an outsider differentiate between your "leading caste" and the population? (Again, not saying you shouldn't differentiate at all, but you are making the huge, basically unfounded, assumption that "You can't blame me, because I'm just an ordinary American, not a leader"

Or to put it bluntly. What if Americans themselves hadn't distinguished so sharply between "us and our leaders"? Is it possible you might then have had decent leaders still?

Ok, I'm rambling. But the point is, are you so sure that America, and Americans aren't to blame? Are you sure that the blame can be laid at the feet of the "state-secret textbook" countries exclusively?

Or are you just reverting to the comfortable safety of "I was brought up to believe this stuff"?
I've met a frightening number of Americans who hardly ever venture outside that little fluffy dream, the one where America is good because other Americans said so. And other Americans are obviously reliable and qualified to say this, because they're on the Good side"

Gilmoure said...

Hey Nicq MacDonald, try the East Mountains. Moved there from Florida suburbs. Sweet.

As for aging con attendees, I've seen the same thing in the SCA. Back in the 80's, was mostly college kids and anyone over 30 (at least in Florida), we called grampa. I think part of it is that back then, there were few ways to network with similar minded folks. You did SCA, you attended cons, you even ran into the same folks at sushi places and Irish pubs. And then teh interweb showed up. While people my age (late 30's) seem to use it for research first and keeping in touch with RL friends, younger folks, growing up with net access seem to be taking care of a large percentage of their social life online and don't need structured physical gatherings.

I also spend time and money on web comics, where before, it was all on books. The decay of the big chain S/F shelves also plays a bit into this. So much formula crap, it's hard to find the good stuff. For the last few years, I go off of Word-of-mouth. Will be picking up Spin this weekend, due to such info.

DavidNM said...

Hello. My first comment here...

Surely it should be possible to write a fantasy story which uses the 'furniture' of said genre but nonethless still contains strong modernist elements? This way, people who are looking for escape (as suggested above) from tedious lives/jobs won't be put off by the 'science fiction' label, with the added bonus that they still encounter whatever modernist point the story is aimed at making. I can't see that fantasy as a genre is necessarily intrinsically hostile to modernist ideas, rather this more strikes me as a 'sample bias' generated by the writers who've been attracted to it historically.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps there appears to be a drop in the popularity of SciFi readership because someones favorite SciFi author has stopped writing great novels and started writing about politics! ;)

Mark said...

DavidNM,

If you want a modernist fantasy series, check out Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. These are actually a "young adult" books, but very good.

You'll hear much more about these next year when the first movie, "The Golden Compass," comes out. If you think the fundamentalists hate Harry Potter, wait till this gets on their radar.

Doug S. said...

Two things:

1) The general population of Saudi Arabia disapproves of the Saudi government about as strongly as they disapprove of the United States. To some extent, the Saudi royal family relies on the United States to keep it in power, which is one reason for the US millitary bases there. If Western Civilization falls, so does the House of Saud.

2) If you want an example of modernist fantasy, how about Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy? Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels also tend to portray a world view that could very well be called modernist.

David Brin said...

Quijote is back! Welcome, son. Good to hear your dolorous song.

Of course, I disagree diametrically. Despite 6 years of the most obscenely corrupt and EITHER incompetent or traitorous rule in American history, and despite the very real danger of wither an anti-modernist coup or else civil war, I just gotta tell you that your view is cockeyed.

There are no people, EVER in any land, or time, in all of human history, who would not gladly trade places and have the life you are living, with the freedom and knowledge and health and wonders that you get... yet constantly carp and complain about.

Sayeth Warren: “Regarding approve/disapprove of the "leadership", it's fair to point out that the numbers look about the same in the US: About 65% of those surveyed disapprove of the way that moron from Texas is running things.”

But IS he a moron?

Anyway, what are we DOING ABOUT IT?

HERE IS NUMBER ONE PRIORITY! Everybody take part in voter registration efforts near you. Ask every single young person you see if she or he is registered AND IF THEY HAVE ASKED FOR AN ABSENTEE BALLOT! The latter is the only way to make sure that they vote. SERIOUSLY this is the most efficient way to double or triple or multiply your vote. By ensuring that several (or several dozen) people do this.

Secondly, persuade honest and decent conservatives to sit this one out. Remind them that they always believed in “divided government”. It’s time to at least have a Congress that holds hearings and asks questions. Get them to do at least that much.

Third, don’t forget the state Assembly races! In fact, find out which race near you is the most contested and help that one, even if it doesn’t seem sexy. Loosening the neocons’ grip on States is key.

Nicq, I am well aware of the power of magical thinking. I am a master magician. I know incantations and I can make whole worlds in other peoples’ heads. I know full well how necessary it is to the human heart and soul. It fizzes out of us and is ten thousand times as “natural” to human beings as science. Just as feudalism is ten thousand times more natural to us than reciprocal accountability.

But sorry, old man. Your paragraph makes no sense whatsoever. For ever anarchic fantasy there are a zillion extolling kings and demigods. And anarchy is NOT the opposite of feudalism. It is feudalism’s best friend, because the two trade off.

Don’t poise cyberpunk as an opposite, either. It is fantasy, pure and demigoddish.

That you think science is a branch of magic proves that you just know nothing at all about science, my friend. Yes, scientists are tempted by the old ways. But it is exactly to the degree that they resist, that science thrives

Nicq MacDonald said...

David:

I was a physics and biochemistry student before I abandoned the field for political science, so, while my knowledge of science is far, far less than yours, it is disingenuous to say that I know nothing about science. On the other hand, I would contend that you know very little about magic.

Yes, as long as scientists resist the magical temptation, science thrives... but to what end? That we can create a disqualified, boring, mechanical universe, "raise the standard of living" until everywhere looks like modern Sweden- and we all shoot ourselves in the head to end the boredom and pointlessness of it all?

No thanks.

We need magic. We need chaos. Hell, we probably need feudalism; my only opposition to the neocons on that account is their lousy choice of aesthetics.

I have, by most people's accounts, a good life. Here I am, 24 years old, living in America. I have a two-bedroom house, a late model Japanese sportscar, a college degree, a decent salary working as the assistant director of a medical association.

But do I really want any of it? No!

I'd trade any of it for an existence that actually had TRANSCENDENTAL meaning. To be an ancient norse vitkir, or a Jedi knight in a galaxy far, far away. To find a religious community or guru that actually did posess the truth. To live a truly integrated life, where my position in my culture actually mattered, where I wasn't just another anonymous part. To be a king.

Anything but this pointless yuppie life. I wonder why millions would kill to trade places with me for a life as dull and pointless as this one.

Stefan Jones said...

Snarky Anonymous above suggested that SF readership is falling because our esteemed host isn't turning out novels.

I agree!

C'mon, DB, write us a story about a world where magick is dying and the realm of fearie is withering away and the mermaids are putting on weight and turning into manatees and unicorns are exhausting themselves to death looking for maidens . . . and show how that this is a victory for grown-up humans!

Stefan Jones said...

"To be an ancient norse vitkir, or a Jedi knight in a galaxy far, far away."

Phony bullshit. Illusions. Cheap tricks and ignorance. The products of delusional creeps and charlatans.

"To live a truly integrated life, where my position in my culture actually mattered, where I wasn't just another anonymous part."

You won't get that through magic. You get it by engaging with society and the zeitgeist.

You don't need trancendence, you need an avocation.

"To be a king."

Better yet: Be a mensch. The world could use more of them.

David Brin said...

Nicq, I am saddened. First by your inability to even consider that I might have a point. Let me assure you that you most definitely do NOT "get" science. I mean that kindly, but both sincerely and with utter certainty. Every phrase in your description of science indicates that you have an image of it that simply is untrue.

Indeed, utterly unconnected. Utterly.

Magic is about subjectivity, which - Plato correctly pointed out - rules human lives. We cannot ever see the objective world. Plato and Buddha and others idealize that hidden "real" world and criticize our susceptibility to illusion... and yet they and their followers howl at the only human process that has ever stripped away mist and fog and confusion in order to bring our models closer to objective reality!

Why do they do this? It's simple. The old wizards promised "transcendent" experience... and sometimes delivered marvelous acid-trips, religious frenzies, hypnotic trances, states-of-grace... but always with an added apealing essence that science NEVER offers.

The sense of being special. Of being graced. Of being an uber while all the sheeplike shopkeepers and tradesmen and plumbers and farmers are left with their gritty "reality". The is precisely the snooty superiority preached by Paul, by wizards, by Joseph Campbell and Plato and Keat s and Shelley and the romantic poets... and by Hollywood today.

Nicq, you live in an age of marvels. The toys and machines and internet and things that you disdain would have struck you as marvelous, if you had to peer at them through a prince's or a mage's window. e.g. tha "Palantir" in LOTR.

But mass produce such wonders for EVERYBODY!??? Horrors! The same marvels are now cheap Japanese mass-produced crap!

All right, I admit I am being unfair. I can get "transcendence" pretty easy, easier than most, just by sitting down and writing a story. But I gotta tell you, that's not what impresses me.

What impresses me is the challenge, the grownup job of raising good kids who will be better than me. A civilization that will be better because of my efforts. Incrementally adding to an edifice of actually true truths, that will stay true, whoever looks at them.

None of the magicians ever even TALKED about stuff like that, amid their egotistical ravings.

Tony Fisk said...

Nicq:
everything we've seen would pale before one small piece of space junk that would prove, once and for all, that we're not alone....
Instead, we're faced with a void. A silent, sterile void.

JBS Haldane once remarked that one day we would find out whether we were alone or not and that, either way, the implications would be staggering.

Just to put your initial gripe about the blandness of modernist reality into perspective.

Science is how we come to understand the world. Magic is what we make of that understanding (through fizzing).

(Stefan, haven't you got your Baen subscription?)

Mark said...

David,

You are correct about the difference between science and magic, but I think you are confusing cause and effect when it comes to readership of SF. I believe most people read science fiction for the same reason they read fantasy. It is fun to pretend you can read other peoples minds, turn people into frogs and zap enemies with ray guns, blasters and fireballs. It matters little if the cool power comes from nano-technology or Merlin's incantation.

I believe what you are talking about is more of a side-effect than a cause. It is far healthier for one to read about cool adventures in the future where scientists are creating all these wonderful marvels than similar stories taking place thousands of years ago. A generation that grows up wanting to be scientists is a good thing, one that grows up wanting to be wizards isn't as helpful.

But people don't read science fiction because they want to be scientists, at least not at first; it works the other way around.

Anonymous said...

Cheap Japanese mass-produced crap? Don't you mean cheap Chinese mass produced crap? Japan doesn't mass produce the crap any more; they make the good stuff. China makes the crap.

Cedric Morrison said...

But Israel gave the US government a 75% approval rating? Seriously, when you mentioned a highly influential foreign nation, Israel was the first one to come to mind, and it took me a while to realize you meant a different country.

David Brin said...

I refer youse guys yet again to
http://www.davidbrin.com/tolkienarticle1.html

The difference between SF & Fantasy has nothing whatsoever to do with technology. And you can have escapism in SF just as easily as in fantasy.

But in SF you cannot slay a million enemy foot soldiers without eventually looking their mothers in the eye. In fantasy and LOTR and Star Wars, the enemy footsoldiers HAVE no mothers. How convenient.

SF is about contemplating the possibility that children can be better than their parents. It contemplates that "eternal verities" may NOT be eternal. That change, for good or ill, is interesting.

Fantasy loathes change. Verities are eternal. And humanity cannot improve. And that is seen as a good thing.

Above all, wonders are not to be shared with the masses.

Cedric, Israel is under siege and stays loyal to its lifeline. Duh.

While they have political influence here, they are NOT getting what they want, which is an active US leadership role in finally achieving peace.

The r-oil house, on the other hand, is getting absolutely everything it wants, at all level... having only one exception. It seems that the Mullahs in Iran are ALSO winning, big time.

It is beginning to look as if the Shia / Sunni split is just for show. Seriously. While people slaughter each other in Baghdad, the TOP people in each camp get chummy and are both sides profiting hugely. They are rebuilding the UMA and times are very very good.

Nate said...

Fantasy can be forward-looking too. Terry Pratchett, as mentioned before, is a fine example. And a bunch of fantasy stories I have to get around to writing. Heh. But I'm sure there's plenty of other examples I can't think of at 11:30. I don't think the philisophical difference you're looking for breaks down on such neat genre lines, Dr. Brin.

Maybe one of SF's problems is similar to your theory about one of liberalism's problems, by defining SF as something that has ALL of a list of attributes, rather than ANY of that list.

JAX said...

I think I shall avoid the political discussion and stick to something I know a little more about.

Shopping and why I do it or don't do it.

One reason I quite enjoy your books Mr. Brin is that while I recognize/assume that you are heterosexual (whatever that means but I'll label you such for the sake of argument, sorry) I quite enjoy your near future novels (Earth, Kiln People, The Postman sorry Uplift Universe) because while there may be a romantic element it has never been to me an overwhelming thread of your fiction,that I must interact with necessarily as a reader and I have been able to read and enjoy your fiction without being cajoled, preached to, inveigled, or just plain bored to sobs by the extolhations(a word?) of the world saving powers of heterosexuality a la Star Wars et. al.

I am sure that some Libertarians will get up in arms about me politicizing my sexulaity but since I imagine all of them can legally get married and reap the 1000s of benefits of that government SERVICE . . . they can kind of kiss my a@#. :-)

but back to the topic at hand

Maybe declines in SF have to do with the fact that people are bored of reading about straight white guys blasting or f*@#ing their way to a climax(pardon the pun) in a 14 dollar book if they themselves are not straight white guys.

In the end straight white guys aged 18 to 35 are the most heavily marketed to demographic in the history of Earth so maybe they have just been convinced to spend their time and money elsewhere and authors just haven't noticed.

You would think Science Fiction authors would realize they need better PR hacks. . . PR is what got a stoned Facist Texan into the White House only 8 years after getting a stoned Socialist Arkansan in.

My apologies to Octavia Butler and Star Trek. :-)

THX for letting me vent a little.

Doug S. said...

But in SF you cannot slay a million enemy foot soldiers without eventually looking their mothers in the eye. In fantasy and LOTR and Star Wars, the enemy footsoldiers HAVE no mothers. How convenient.

Sure you can! I've read and watched SF that's just as guilty of having faceless, motherless, purely evil enemies as any fantasy story. Star Trek's Borg. The Martians in H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds. The "bugs" in Heinlein's Starship Troopers.

You can also find its opposite in "fantasy" stories. L. E. Modessit Jr.'s Recluse series shows a conflict that is initially portrayed as quite literally black and white, and then, in a later book, describes the same war from the perspective of the other side! Raymond E. Feist's debut novel, Magician, also starts with a one-sided presentation of a war but eventually eschews any kind of good/evil dichotomy at all. In George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, it's simply impossible to classify the various factions as either "heroes" or "villains."

SF is about contemplating the possibility that children can be better than their parents. It contemplates that "eternal verities" may NOT be eternal. That change, for good or ill, is interesting.

Fantasy loathes change. Verities are eternal. And humanity cannot improve. And that is seen as a good thing.


I'll grant that fantasy tends to be far more guilty of this than science fiction, but there's plenty of science fiction that involves Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. Just take any story in which an artificial intelligence turns on its creator, all the way back to Mary Shelly's Frankenstein and R.U.R. And yet, plenty of stories labled fantasy take place in worlds that undergo fundamental changes, in which things get better instead of worse. Terry Pratchett's Discworld seems to be in the middle of a Renissance. In Fred Saberhagen's Swords series, the gods make the magic Twelve Swords for mortals to fight over - and humanity uses them to kill those troublesome, meddling gods who keep screwing up the world! The video game Final Fantasy X is as much the archetypical modernist story as Star Wars is the archetypical romantic story; the world's anti-progress religion is revealed to be a lie, and in the end, it is "forbidden" technology that saves the world.

Tony Fisk said...

David is painting with a broad brush. I'm sure you can find plenty of counterexamples of modernist fantasy and romantic sf (my favourite being in the ultimate s(nooty el)f tale itself, with Gandalf expressing pity for Sauron's slaves, and Arwen telling her dad where to get off! All that's needed is for Gollum to make a conscious decision at the end there and...).

I think the main question is whether or not modernist is outselling romantic escapism? Go have a look in your local bookstore.

Kinda relevant:

Looks like the future's happening in Hawaii (despite the Governor!)

Mark said...

But in SF you cannot slay a million enemy foot soldiers without eventually looking their mothers in the eye.

Ok, you have now formally ventured into pure ideological looney-toon land. I don't think there is even a shred of truth left in this one. Your arguments are now veering scarily close to "SF good, fantasy evil" where all good writing is re-defined as SF and all poor writing is re-defined as fantasy. (Yes, I came close to a strawman with this one, but seriously, look at what you wrote!)

You are beginning to sound like someone saying "taxes bad" or "corporations bad".

matzebrei said...

Doug S. said...
I've read and watched SF that's just as guilty of having faceless, motherless, purely evil enemies as any fantasy story. Star Trek's Borg. The Martians in H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds. The "bugs" in Heinlein's Starship Troopers.

Later exploration of the Borg in ST:TNG and ST:Voyager does portray them with humanity. They even had a former borg drone as a recurring main character! The Martians are revealed as a civilization desperately trying to escape their dying world (sure, sure, they didn't do their due dilligence w.r.t. biology and maybe misjudged our level of tolerance, thinking they needed a military solution). The only point you could make with these examples is the Starship Troopers "Bugs", however, IIRC, the book depicted them (and the humans) in a total-war fight for survival which began for unknown reasons and which was still unresolved at the end of the story. The root causes of that war deserve exploration, but that would have made that book into something more like the Ender's Game series than the biography of a Space Marine.


You need to find better examples. The best example of cannon-fodder villians I can think of would be...Storm Troopers in gleaming white plastic. But then there are many, many words written about that series, even questioning whether it's even Science Fiction.


-- Matt

reason said...

nicq seems to be projecting his problems on to other people. Personally, I see being part of the process of improving the world as being my transcendence. I also want no part of yuppiedom - but surely nobody is forcing him?

If you don't like the society - then get out there and try and change it, man! One thing history sure teaches us, is that things change. I don't subscribe to the great man theory of history. Its the little guys that make the difference, for good or for bad. What was that Donovan song "the universal soldier".

reason said...

That said, I think this time that the reason for the decline in SF is well captured in the post by Don Quiote of all people. People have a sense of betrayal. The wonders that science has produced - are not the wonders that they feel they were promised.

Perhaps the reason is that science fiction concentrated too much on what was technically possible and not enough on the human and political dimension. The 1960s produced an orientation towards space travel and flight, that was not warranted by reality.

Perhaps the new wave of medical science fiction will change all that?-) Nicqesque ennui combined with immortality and anti-suicide fundamentalism. Wow!

monkyboy said...

Looking over the 15 bestselling SF&F novels on Amazon...and look who is in there among all the wizards and unicorns:

http://tinyurl.com/luum4

George Orwell
Robert A. Heinlein
Aldous Huxley
Ray Bradbury
Kurt Vonnegut

Perhaps this is a comment on the talent of modern Sci-Fi writers?

They're called "Golden Ages" for a reason...they don't come along very often...

Nicq MacDonald said...

stefan:

"Phony bullshit. Illusions. Cheap tricks and ignorance. The products of delusional creeps and charlatans."

Ah, spoken like a true product of this decadent modern blip (and indeed, I do mean product!). Take a look at the works of Julius Evola or Rene Guenon; they explain the world of tradition better than I ever could in a blog post.

"You won't get that through magic. You get it by engaging with society and the zeitgeist. You don't need trancendence, you need an avocation."

Without transcendental justification, avocation is meaningless. There is no zeitgeist, because we've disqualified die geist. You can't engage with a society that has lost its spirit and keep your soul at the same time.

"Better yet: Be a mensch. The world could use more of them."

A concept of Judeochristian-humanistic morality that I have no time for. The "mensch" is merely somebody trampled on by the people who actually take the glory. It is slave morality, nothing more. If I wanted that, I would have stayed at the monastery.

david:

"Nicq, I am saddened. First by your inability to even consider that I might have a point."

I considered that you might have a point; then I proceeded to reject it. Disagreement is allowed, no? CITOKATE as suicide pact, perhaps?

"Let me assure you that you most definitely do NOT 'get' science. I mean that kindly, but both sincerely and with utter certainty. Every phrase in your description of science indicates that you have an image of it that simply is untrue."

I "get" science just fine. I just merely find it ultimately meaningless.

"Magic is about subjectivity, which - Plato correctly pointed out - rules human lives. We cannot ever see the objective world. Plato and Buddha and others idealize that hidden "real" world and criticize our susceptibility to illusion... and yet they and their followers howl at the only human process that has ever stripped away mist and fog and confusion in order to bring our models closer to objective reality!"

No; it merely takes the subjective reality of the working scientists themselves and projects it on to the world. It is yet another way of expressing the will to power, in Nietzschean terms; the scientist imposes his will on collective reality, disqualifying the old magical worldview- and transferring the power to HIM. It's no more "real" than anything else; merely more enslaving.

"Why do they do this? It's simple. The old wizards promised "transcendent" experience... and sometimes delivered marvelous acid-trips, religious frenzies, hypnotic trances, states-of-grace... but always with an added apealing essence that science NEVER offers."

"The sense of being special. Of being graced. Of being an uber while all the sheeplike shopkeepers and tradesmen and plumbers and farmers are left with their gritty "reality". The is precisely the snooty superiority preached by Paul, by wizards, by Joseph Campbell and Plato and Keat s and Shelley and the romantic poets... and by Hollywood today."

Thank you, David, thank you! And this is EXACTLY the way it should be. We want specialness, we want to be graced with superiority to those around us... and with good reason. Aristocracy is natural- it's the modern flattening out of democracy that is killing the human spirit. Now, the natural aristocracy- those of us who would have been the mages, priests, and shamans of the world of tradition- are dosed with massive amounts of antidepressants and antipsychotics to keep us "in line". The spirit is being repressed, David. Denied. It cannot remain so for very long; and its best this way. Democracy and capitalism have produced the greatest illusion of all- an idea of material progress that merely amounts to a hamster wheel on which we spin.


"What impresses me is the challenge, the grownup job of raising good kids who will be better than me. A civilization that will be better because of my efforts. Incrementally adding to an edifice of actually true truths, that will stay true, whoever looks at them."

There is no edifice of "true truths"- only useful lies, useful to a certain caste in a certain era. Civilization will not be better because of your efforts; it may be worse, if your "efforts" even have any impact at all.

"None of the magicians ever even TALKED about stuff like that, amid their egotistical ravings."

No, they had better things to do than live the life of a modern slave of materialism.

"reason":
"nicq seems to be projecting his problems on to other people. Personally, I see being part of the process of improving the world as being my transcendence. I also want no part of yuppiedom - but surely nobody is forcing him?"

Again, there's no transcendence in "improving the world", because a) the world can't be improved, and b) you're still dead meat. As for being part of "yuppiedom", I am forced, in a way- business administration and politics are the only paths to power for those of us who weren't blessed with amazing scientific abilities or a great deal of luck.

reason said...

nicq
"I am forced, in a way- business administration and politics are the only paths to power for those of us who weren't blessed with amazing scientific abilities or a great deal of luck."

Ah!!! now I see it. Nicq is a frustrated power tripper. Type A personality. Not a good path to nirvana (sorry, personal happiness) unfortunately.-)

Nicq -With luck you'll grow out of it. But couldn't you just be quiet about it? Or maybe start your own blog and send a link?-)

Jonathan said...

But all of us (except those few unfortunates who are truly mentally defective) are "blessed" with "amazing scientific abilities." Doing science just requires you to use a certain mindset - the idea that the universe is knowable, and that evidence and reproducible experiment are preferable to philosophy and anecdote as a method of knowing it.

As for fantasy that bucks the feudal tendency, the only one that springs to mind is Rick Cook's "Wiz" stories - tales of an old-school programmer who is summoned to a world of magic, because one of the most powerful wizards identified him as the only hope of the world against the Dark Council. Unfortunately, the old wizard was killed during the summoning, so he never had a chance to explain himself...

How did Wiz Zumwalt save their world? By understanding that magic was a way of rewriting the universe, similar to a computer simulation, and then coding a "magic compiler" so that anyone who cared to take the time to learn the language could use its power, not just those blessed with a knack for it! Suddenly, the Dark Council found itself facing an entire nation of high-powered wizards...

Mark said...

No, I think Niq belongs here. Many of us disagree with David on a point here or there, but generally agree with the theme. Niq is the fist I've seen take on the entire theme with eyes wide open.

Niq, your points are perfectly valid if you are the wizard, priest or prince. For the 99.9999% of the rest of us, what the hell are you talking about?

.... I take it back. I'd rather be a billionaire today than a prince 500 years ago, so I don't really agree with any of it.

Stefan Jones said...

"Ah, sleep! That's where I'm a viking!"

-- Ralphie Wiggum

Francis said...

Nicq,
Please find me a society of wizards who would have allowed me to cross the atlantic. Please find me a society of wizards who did not trample on the little guys. Please find me a society of magicians and priests who did not gain their room to stand out by standing on the backs of the losers. Sometimes literally.

Also, please find me a society of wizards who have almost eradicated Cholera, TB, and other diseases.

I will agree that the magicians of the past have given us something to aspire to. But they have given very little to those not at the top. In short, they have given something to aspire to by being parasites.

Your claim that scientists impose their will on the world and that that is all that science is is demonstrable nonsense. Were it true, no scientist would have ever found a result that appeared completely unexpected. They would always have known the outcomes of the experiments before they undertook them - and the results of any experiment that went against the prevailing worldview would not be easily replicated. This is the prediction you have just made by assuming that will is what matters about the objective world. Whereas if David and I are right, there are counter-intuitive results in science, and results that really flew in the face of established theory and caused the theory to be re-thought.

So are there any such results? Hell, yes. Hordes of them in quantumn physics. And an obvious non-quantumn one is the Rutherford Alpha-scattering experiment. That is not one you would expect if your magical worldview was correct.

As for your desire to feel special, I don't need wizards and witches and a worldview that leads me to trample all over the weak in order to feel special. (I don't disbelieve in witchcraft and the ability to impact the external world through means that aren't yet fully explained - but that's another matter entirely).

As for your claim that the spirit of the country is dying, bull shit. The only time that the spirit of a country is fully awake is when seriously under fire. You confuse dormancy with death. If you want to see a country with a fully living spirit, I invite you to take a trip to Revolutionary France or even to the Congo.

I will agree that we need more elbow-room. But that is not the fault of science (although magic is superb at creating elbow-room by restricting people to tiny boxes). And science may find the answer. Magic doesn't stand a chance.

Nicq MacDonald said...

"Niq, your points are perfectly valid if you are the wizard, priest or prince. For the 99.9999% of the rest of us, what the hell are you talking about?"

The point is, certain people are meant for certain stations in life, and the people that would have been the priests and shamans in ancient societies- us "manic-depressives", "bipolars" and "psychotics"- are completely useless to modern society and are medicated, jailed and institutionalized into submission. The problem is, we are the gateways of the spirit; the bridge between the worlds, and as long as this spirit is repressed, modern civilization cannot be complete. We aren't diseased, we're geniuses of the spiritual realm, a realm that the modern world wants to deny.

Yes, my points are valid if you're a wizard, priest, or prince- they're the only kind of person they HAVE to be valid for. The rest of mankind doesn't matter- they're just more food for the abyss. All that our modern civilization has managed to do is tear everyone down and make everyone fodder for the abyss. "When everyone is special, no one is." Instead, in this Guenonian "reign of quantity", everything is knocked down to the lowest common denominator- and hence disqualified. The serf doesn't need to be made special- he's a goddamn serf, he DOESN'T CARE. Lowering the rest of us to that level is a crime against humanity, a crime against the spirit, and a crime against the cosmos.

Stefan:

Hey, you could try answering my points, rather than throwing out some line that has no relevance to the conversation. Typical.

Nicq MacDonald said...

"Please find me a society of wizards who would have allowed me to cross the atlantic. Please find me a society of wizards who did not trample on the little guys. Please find me a society of magicians and priests who did not gain their room to stand out by standing on the backs of the losers. Sometimes literally."

Why would I want to?

"Also, please find me a society of wizards who have almost eradicated Cholera, TB, and other diseases."

Boohoo. Diseases. Live a little longer, just so you can get fat and poisoned and die of cancer or heart disease a few years later.

"I will agree that the magicians of the past have given us something to aspire to. But they have given very little to those not at the top. In short, they have given something to aspire to by being parasites."

Hierarchy is not parasitic, it's the natural order. Again, read Guenon or Evola.

"Your claim that scientists impose their will on the world and that that is all that science is is demonstrable nonsense. Were it true, no scientist would have ever found a result that appeared completely unexpected. They would always have known the outcomes of the experiments before they undertook them - and the results of any experiment that went against the prevailing worldview would not be easily replicated. This is the prediction you have just made by assuming that will is what matters about the objective world. Whereas if David and I are right, there are counter-intuitive results in science, and results that really flew in the face of established theory and caused the theory to be re-thought."

Will is not necessarily conscious- magicians are suprised every day, just as scientists are. That, and magicians are frequently re-thinking their theories as well.

"So are there any such results? Hell, yes. Hordes of them in quantumn physics. And an obvious non-quantumn one is the Rutherford Alpha-scattering experiment. That is not one you would expect if your magical worldview was correct."

Sure I'd expect it, I already explained- the cthonic will suprises us every day.

"As for your desire to feel special, I don't need wizards and witches and a worldview that leads me to trample all over the weak in order to feel special."

Special just like everyone else, eh?

"As for your claim that the spirit of the country is dying, bull shit. The only time that the spirit of a country is fully awake is when seriously under fire. You confuse dormancy with death. If you want to see a country with a fully living spirit, I invite you to take a trip to Revolutionary France or even to the Congo."

This country never had a spirit. There hasn't been a culture with a real spirit in centuries; this one never stood a chance to begin with.

"I will agree that we need more elbow-room. But that is not the fault of science (although magic is superb at creating elbow-room by restricting people to tiny boxes). And science may find the answer. Magic doesn't stand a chance."

Science will find the answer- a howling, empty void, leaving no logical consequence to life except its inevitable suicide.

And it's getting closer every day.

Francis said...

In his most recent posts, Nicq wrote:
The point is, certain people are meant for certain stations in life, and the people that would have been the priests and shamans in ancient societies- us
...
We aren't diseased, we're geniuses of the spiritual realm, a realm that the modern world wants to deny.
...
Yes, my points are valid if you're a wizard, priest, or prince- they're the only kind of person they HAVE to be valid for. The rest of mankind doesn't matter
...
The serf doesn't need to be made special- he's a goddamn serf, he DOESN'T CARE.
...
Hierarchy is not parasitic, it's the natural order.
...
Special just like everyone else, eh?
...
This country never had a spirit. There hasn't been a culture with a real spirit in centuries;

Shorter Nicq:
I have found a belief system that means that I and not the current order should be on top of the pile. And vindicates my lack of empathy for others. (The only reason the serfs wouldn't care is because all desire has been beaten out of them). And it relies on scetchy evidence which I can read into what I want.

And incidently, parasites are part of the natural order.

Nicq MacDonald said...

Francis:

Everyone is a pimp for the philosophical system that puts them on top- this was Nietzsche's general critique. We can either lie about it (like David), or be brutally (and I mean brutally) honest about it- like me.

WatchfulBabbler said...

Nicq,

A Traditionalist, eh? Not a whole lot of people willing to admit to reading Evola these days -- even Schmitt never really discussed Guenon openly.

For those who aren't familiar with Traditionalism, just know that (A) it's about as anti-progressive as possible, explicitly tracing the fall of man from a quasi-divine period of knowledge (Satya Yuga, to use the Hindu term) to today's fallen world (Kali Yuga). Traditionalism sets for itself the task of recovering the true philosophia perennis, which has been debased by such modern concepts as democracy, liberalism, and the scientific method.

Of course, the internal problem with Traditionalism is that it requires people to cleave firmly to traditions they don't actually have to believe in as such (Guenon's quasi-Masonic Sufi lodges being only one example), just so they can have a kind of link to initiatic and cultic practices. More seriously, Traditionalism has historically either ended up leading its followers into embarrassing avenues of mysticism, more dangerous occult practices, or simply into outright fascism (cf. B. Julius Evola).

Interestingly, there are plenty of soft Traditionalists who have ended up as important influences in neoconservatism. Traditionalism's rising influence in Russian politics (the leader of a British fascist party wrote a series of articles on Evola in Pravda) and its credibility in Iran make the current global conflicts a parody of the old left/right Hegelian schism.

Anonymous said...

Eh, ignoring the massive troll job and getting to ANIME!

True, plenty of anime falls into feudal/romantic patterns, like plenty of literature. This is partly due to the fact that anime's main appeal is for people who like animation but don't care for the way it's been traditionally been ghettoized as children's entertainment in the US, although this is now starting to change.

The best-known and loved anime auteur is, of course, the anti-modernist Miyazaki. In fact, I reccomend picking up the collected manga versions of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind to watch an anti-modernist worldview of a very smart person self-destruct perfectly, precisely because the author just HAS to destroy the evil scientists at the end. I think Miyazaki learned at least a little from this, because the scientist/technolgy character in Princess Mononoke is portrayed with much more nuance, and the nativist Mononoke is much less sympathetic than Nausicaa.

But if you like classic, modernistic SF, go to your local Suncoast or wherever, and pick up a copy of PLANETES, right now! Absolutely the BEST televised SF done in recent memory, by anyone ANYWHERE. It's a near-future story where the heroes are orbital debris collectors. They're vitally important for keeping the space lanes safe, but they're looked down upon as garbagemen. The enemies are anti-space terrorists. Don't miss this one.

Anime tends to mix genres frequently, showing little distinction between magic and technology, so it's tricky to find pure sci-fi to reccommend.

STELLVIA is a nice, optimistic sci-fi tale of humanity pulling together to defend the earth against a calamitous stellar event. SCRAPPED PRINCESS is a show that first appears to fantasy, but is actually sci-fi, and ends up being almost like a modernist take on The Matrix.

While the shows I've listed above are great, I will admit that they're relatively obscure in anime fandom, with a lot of attention being paid to shows that follow the demigod formula, like DRAGON BALL Z and NARUTO. Some of these shows are still very enjoyable, particularly shows like TRIGUN and BLEACH, which feature demigods who are extremely humble and anxious about using their power to protect the helpless.

As for anime that is both popular and modernist, someone already mentioned GHOST IN THE SHELL: SAC, and to that I'd add FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST, which is one of those really hard-to-classify shows. I think it would be possible to argue for pages about whether it's fantasy, or alternate universe sci-fi.

And one more thing, about this whole fantasy-vs-sci-fi debate. David, I always hear you griefing on liberals for being exclusionary. We liberals have a litmus test and Carl Rove has a big tent. You say, if someone has just ONE conservative opinion, they're conservative, and that's a winning strategy. But I say, that in this debate, YOU are doing exactly what you criticize liberals for. You are making a litmus test for modernism and kicking out anyone who varies on a few points.

By lumping books like Harry Potter in with Lord of the Rings, which I have seen you do sometimes, you're behaving like the Naderites of 2000, who insisted that there was no difference between Bush and Gore, when in fact, there are HUGE differences between the two. I think Harry Potter, in particular, is about 95% modernist, but usually I hear you only harp on the 5% that isn't modern. You should take your own advice and look for modernist aspects of certain fandoms that aren't unambiguously anti-modern, as Harry Potter and a lot of anime are, and using those aspects to bring people on your side, instead of excluding them.

That is all.

--Mark W

Doug S. said...

So you'd rather be a wizard or a prince in a more "traditional" society? Chances are, you wouldn't get to be one. You'd be on the bottom of the social pyramid, too, instead of at the middle of a social diamond, like you are now. You think it's hard getting power and influence today? You have a much better chance now than you did five hundred years ago. Anyway, you seem to be claiming that you are better than other people, so you deserve to be a lord. News flash: you're not better than the other people you see every day. I'm not special. You're not special. Heck, Warren Buffet, Dick Cheney, and Tom Hanks aren't special either! We're all just people. If you think you want a society with feudal lords and wizards, would you consider moving to, say, Iran or the Congo?

Francis said...

Nicq:
The problem with that assertion is that Nietzche was wrong. There are many, many philosophical systems that would be better for me personally than mine is - and mine is worse for me personally than the current state of the world is. And the same goes for almost any other moral person that I know. Hell, it's part of my definition of morality.

Mark W:
I will agree with you on the first three Harry Potter books - but they have been rapidly going down hill in every respect including this one since Prizoner of Azhkaban.

Tony Fisk said...

...And it came to pass that the ways of the world changed, and the minds of men grew strange and wayward.
No more did they look up at the bright points in the night sky in wonder. Instead, they grew ever more fearful of the vast gulfs in between and, turning their backs upon the darkness, huddled round their tiny glimmers of faith, beseeching their shamans for protection.
And the shamans who had wrought this change looked upon their work, and found it good.

- proposed draft for NASA's new mission statement?

Welcome to your world, Nicq. I only hope that Master gives you a new hand, just like he did Wormtail.

Which is to say that I disagree with all that you say but, like Voltaire, will defend to the death your right to say it.

And hang around! Kate takes on many forms. Who are we mere mortals to pick and choose how she is to appear to us?

David Brin said...

Sayeth reason: “People have a sense of betrayal. The wonders that science has produced - are not the wonders that they feel they were promised.”

Hey, just because I was patronizing and rude to Nicq doesn’t mean that a part of me isn’t affected by the same frustration that he eloquently conveys... a sense of disappointment with a life that seems so packaged and homogenized and mass-produced and... above all... banal compared to the drama that we were promised in fable and song. I was promised space travel, time travel, flying cars, mind expanding stuff of all kinds (hey I’m from the 1960s!)... along with all kinds of sex. ( Let’s not forget THAT relentless promise! ;-)

Why do you think popular films emphasize suspicion of authority, rebellion, vengeance, danger and INTENSITY that seem so attractive... that is, until that kind of stuff actually happens to you.

But there’s another side to this. It comes from recognizing that David Bowie had a point about “floating in a tin can.” My astronaut pals laugh when they hear about the zenlike silence of space. “You mean if you can ignore the compressors and air conditioning and blowers and fans in your suit, and the sweat and itches, and fog on the faceplate....” Sure they love to stare as the blue vista,when they have moments between endless hard work.

And that’s the point! There is work to be done! We have it better than our ancestors precisely because they (the best of them) over rode their fantasies and got focused on tasks. The fantasies were important! But only when combined with a culling process that chooses the good bits! They took the best parts... and sweated and strove to make those parts come true. Dreaming should, at least partly, help generate ideas for how we can do this job better, during our own brief time in charge, before passing the long upward slog on to another generation.

Sure, I am disappointed not to be a transcendent demigod. On the other hand, I get to be a co-BUILDER of demigods. Frail and stupid and flawed and neurotic and distracted, I get THAT to be my job description. Wow. There is not one single “transcendant” thing that can compare with that.

Please, please, ruminate at:
http://www.davidbrin.com/2001article.html

Nicq, you and Stefan really need to be kinder to each other. (You too Reason! I WANT Nicq to stay!) Alas, nicq, while I agree with Stefan that you JUST DON’T get it... I believe you are an eloquent and thoughtful and deeply intelligent guy who is welcome here any time. We need romantics! I just wish you would accept the word of use scientists that your romanticism really does affect your whole zeitgeist. I repeat. You do not seem to grasp science. And I mean at... all.

At all.

“No; it merely takes the subjective reality of the working scientists themselves and projects it on to the world. It is yet another way of expressing the will to power...”
Yeah, yeah, the standard post-modernist dogma. Peyew. Dig it. Those are just words used by jealous platonists who see science doing what no other system of knowledge ever did, actually creating a bridge from human perception to the Objective Reality that Plato and Buddha and all the others claimed to admire so much. Oh, but once competitors started making a bridge to that objective reality, what do the mystics do?

Suddenly, objective reality isn’t so hot, after all! Suddenly, it is vital to start denying that it even exists! Because if Objective reality exists, and scientists are actually probing its borderrlands... well, then we’d have to admit its power.”

“You can't engage with a society that has lost its spirit and keep your soul at the same time.”

Uh huh. yup. That is the solipsistic line pushed by all romantics, from Plato to Shelley. It is based on innumerable flawed premises. Like that the first society in all of human history to preach tolerance is “lost its spirit.”

You make plain your desirte to be a Nietzschean uber-man, Nicq. Ah, I am an author and I will feed your fantasies. Orson Scott Card is even better at serving delectable fantasies of being a Slanlike super-being. Ah, but Nicq, what if you are a spear carrier? A bit of canno fodder for someone else’s glory? Someone less deserving than you, but then, YOU RULE OUT FAIRNESS AS A MEASURING ROD!

Because that is what modernism uses as the grist for its vast cornucopia of market-created stuff, including knowledge. Fairness. Not just because fairness is good, but also because fairness is the fundamental ingredient for democracy and markets and science and law and justice and decency to operate well! BUT YOU ARE OPENLY STATING CONTEMPT FOR FAIRNESS.

You call it enslavement, when it brought the most tolerant culture of all times, the one that is most kind (by far) to would-be Nietzschean uber-men... letting them wallow in fantasies of superiority... when 99% of them would (in any other time) be somebody’s meat.

“The point is, certain people are meant for certain stations in life, and the people that would have been the priests and shamans in ancient societies- us "manic-depressives", "bipolars" and "psychotics"- are completely useless to modern society and are medicated, jailed and institutionalized into submission.


Alas, this is malarkey too, nicq.

First, I am saddened if this was done to you. I have a nephew who is over-drugged and his father won’t listen to me. The War Against Boys is also a topic worthy of discussion. Moreover as a shaman, I certainly “get” how hard that can be, how lonely and frustrating to have the magical mind set. And let there be no mistake, I was born as a shaman.

But I girded myself to learn the incantations of the era that I am in, and to appreciate their power... and to GRASP that the bridge to objective reality is important!

Yes, it is hard to be a shaman. Others may point out to you that your odds of success were vastly LOWER in all other cultures, where, instead of drugs, they normally used FIRE on guys like you and me. Still, I know what you mean. The odds mean nothing. You KNOW what you were “meant for” and no logic or reason is needed. I feel that too.

Still and all, it’s bullshit.
I respect you, but not the whining.
You were dealt a hand and it’s better than your ancestors had.
There are MILLIONS of ways to be creative in this “sick” society. Find one!

Oh, but now I see you are calling me a liar.

Okay. Enough. That’s it. Go bugger off and nurse your resentment. Come back when you have manners.

All others? Look up Nicq’s etiology at:
http://www.davidbrin.com/addiction.html

Too bad, he was entertaining and bright. But nastiness is something I do not put up with, even from bright putzes.

===

Mark W, thanks for the citokate!

David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stefan Jones said...

Wow . . . a heartfelt thumbs-up for Ahnold and the California legislature:

California set to cap emissions tied to warming

Interesting facts:

If California was a country, it would be the 12th largest contributor of CO2 . . .

. . . but among the states, it has (last I checked) the third LOWEST rate of electricity consumption per capita.

Christopher Roe said...

Sci-Fi, as far as books, may be in decline, but I would venture that it is simply the technology of books themselves. Having grown up with them as a major form of escapism I fully enjoy losing myself in them, but to many of the younger ones they do not offer enough excitement--or interactivity!!
Fear not Mr. Brin, Sci-Fi is merely going to evolve it form -- as it should.
Fully immersive interactive Sci-Fi is simply the next wave of modernism for Sci-Fi.
The opportunity that presents to not just entertain but also educate is incredible.
This will be Sci-Fi enjoyed at all levels of the senses, see it, hear it, read it, get involved with it, affect it and learn from it.
I think it’s very exciting. It will be a deeper, richer experience. You should be jealous as a Creator Mr. Brin, for what the Next-Gen will be able to create.

Most importantly, I think, is that the attraction for it will be so strong to the younger generation that the numbers of modernists will explode.
I think today’s woes are merely the death throws of the anti-modernist attitudes. They struggle to remain relevant in a world that proves them inadequate at every turn.
It isn’t going to be pretty for awhile and the potential for great horror and sorrow IS there -- but we will win.
Add the potential of all those future candidates to create the new in all forms of Science and thought, Michelangelo with a CAD program. Newton with a supercomputer and of course Einstein unleashed.
We are nowhere near utopia but I think we are on our way, finally, to the new worlds once dreamed of in the 50’s.

Rik said...

You can rant all you want at feudal fantasy instead of SF, but you're missing the real question: why was fantasy (re)born as fantasy around 1880 or so? Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso" is fantastical, but not fantasy. What happened? What if people got the "God is dead and we did it" meme completely wrong? God isn't dead, in Western religion he's the Dying God, his death is the point. What if it's culture that crashed? A critic once described Ravel's Bolero as "orchestra without music". I think all modern classical stuff is like that, powerless screeching. And pop/rock even more so. Why is every fantasy book stuffed with gods and myths (not the myth-of-democracy-in-the-middle-east or whatever), but not LOTR, which is the most popular? Excuse me, dr. Brin, but you're the smart guy - I'm not - and all the while the problem is staring you in the face and you do not see it.

Stu Dent said...

Orycon 28 will "have children's programming and some educators programming focused on using Science Fiction in the classroom."