John C. Wright on the Last 4 Things in SF

John C. Wright has a fascintaing essay up, called The Last Four Things In Science Fiction. I think I read something similar to it in Transhuman and Subhuman that he published and it is well worth the time to read. I think he captures some of the idea of superversion in this essay, that future we aim for and why the four secular visions he points to miss the mark.

Most futures in most SF stories are monocultures, much in the same way, and for the same reason, most worlds visited by the starship Enterprise have but one culture. There is not enough room in a single novel, or a single movie, to do more than hint at complexity.

Indeed, complexity would destroy the mood and theme of the story. Imagine someone writing a realistic version of Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR or Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD. In both cases, the totalitarian dystopia cannot project an air of suffocating omnipotence if it is hinted anywhere that they will pass away in less than sixty years. The absurdly over-regulated world state in Huxley, realistically, would last even less time. Imagine if every baby born had to be decanted and birthed by the same bureaucracy that runs the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Post Office. The idea that they would produce the correct number of the different intellectual castes, Alpha to Epsilon, as conditions changed from year to year is absurd. Recall that one of the Epsilons is an elevator operator. When the book was written, every elevator had an operator the same way, now, every automobile has a driver. Science fiction writers have been predicting in vain for years now cars that would drive themselves, or fly, but Huxley did not anticipate elevators operated by a pushbutton. Realistically, the world-bureaucracy of the Ford world-state would have no more ability to predict the actions of the market place, or the needs of its wards, than Huxley himself. In the real world, the utter incompetence even of public servants who are not venal is legendary.

Obviously, the police state in Orwell would go broke the same way the Soviet Union did and communist China is (despite our heroic efforts to prop them up) going to. Perhaps it could last one hundred years, or two. But the whole theme of Orwell was that the state was like a boot that would trample a human face forever. The hopelessness is the core of the book’s message. Even Goldstein, the rebel against the system, is manufactured by Big Brother as part of the totalitarian control process.

As with Orwell and Huxley, most science fiction writers do not have the space on the page to invent a future as complex as the future will be. To introduce the reader to more than one idea takes more than one story.

This is one reason the Future History stories of Robert Heinlein were monumental in science fiction history: aside from Olaf Stapledon, no writer before had worked out over a number of tales placed in a number of eras the complexity realism requires.

Like his mentor Olaf Stapledon, Heinlein anticipated a future that was fairly complex, with ups and downs, its advances and its setbacks. After the theocracy of Nehemiah Scudder, a libertarian style Covenant government would become supreme in the world, ushering in the golden age called ‘The Maturity of Man.’

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