Is Science Fiction Getting More Conservative?
Two legends and two newcomers weigh in.
January 25, 2011 - 12:00 am
I am a complete science fiction geek.
It started when I was little more than a toddler. One of my earliest memories: sitting in the basement with my parents as they watched Walter Cronkite narrate one of the Apollo missions as it rounded the moon. (Which one? I couldn’t have been more than three or four, and I was born in 1971. You do the math.) It left an impression. I’ve been a fan ever since.
In the last few years, I’ve noticed more and more that science fiction has taken a bit of a turn to the right. I’ve also seen more than a few reviews lambasting those authors for their views — which seems to matter not a whit to their sales.
So I emailed four of them — two relative newcomers and two legends — and asked why.
The legends, Dr. Jerry Pournelle and Orson Scott Card, need no introduction. But it bears mention that Ender’s Game, Card’s best-known work, is on the Commandant of the Marine Corps recommended reading list as a treatise on what it means to be a leader. The newcomers, Lt. Col Tom Kratman (Ret.) and Larry Correia, both write for Baen.
I asked them all three simple questions: Why do you think there has been a trend toward conservatism in mainstream SF over the last few years? What does this mean for the future of the genre? And: is this a good or a bad thing for science fiction, and why?
Being writers, their answers roamed freely — but revealingly.
Suggesting that part of the problem is defining “conservatism,” Dr. Pournelle isn’t sure there’s been such a drift.
“The problem here,” he said, “is that ‘conservatism’ means many things to different people — and many of those you call conservative would not call themselves that, nor would many conservatives call them that. There has certainly been a move toward the concept of freedom as a good thing, but that was always true of most science fiction writers.
“Meanwhile, planetary history has shown that vast powerful central bureaucracies don’t generally produce either general welfare or freedom or wealth, and science fiction writers have sort of noticed that — even as welfare liberalism has become a consensus among a large part of the literary elites in academia.”
Card noted that he wasn’t at all sure where the trends even stood in science fiction these days — because he had long since stopped paying attention. “I left SFWA [the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America] in 1987,” he said, “and haven’t looked back. I have very few friends among sci-fi writers and have no idea at all what their politics might be.”
“Back when I cared,” he continued, “most of the writers of my generation were so extremely leftist in their formal opinions, and so extremely elitist in their practices, that it would be difficult to discern where they actually stood on anything. It’s as if the entire Tsarist aristocracy fervently preached Bolshevism even as they oppressed their peasants. But that view is based on observations back in the mid-1980s. Since then, my only exposure to their views has been the general boycott of mine. In short,” he said, “I’m their Devil, but I have no idea who their God is anymore.”