Friday, December 20, 2013

Science Fiction's Designs for the Future

In the New Yorker online (Dec. 12 posting), Tim Kreider examines science fiction's fondness for social commentary. Through depictions of the future (which cannot be anything but fictional), SF writers provide possible-world design for better societies, a better Earth. From obvious utopias to hard-science tales of space exploration that seem written for 15-year-old boys and their adult equivalents, alone, the genre has always been a showcase for the imaginings of society's critics. In more recent years, the criticism has been leveled at environmental problems more than anything else - and with good reason.
If only these ideas were not restricted to flights of fancy. Wouldn't it be wonderful if more scientists could conduct symposiums with SF writers - and that attendance for political leaders would be mandatory?
Kreider spotlights bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson, whose environmental bugbear of choice (and there is plenty of choice) happens to be anthropogenic climate change. More than few politicians are "climate skeptics": they could certainly do with reading his books, at very least.
The major platform planks these methods lead him to in his books are:

  • common stewardship—not ownership—of the land, water, and air
  • an economic system based on ecological reality
  • divesting central governments of most of their power and diffusing it among local communities
  • the basics of existence, like health care, removed from the cruelties of the free market
  • the application of democratic principles like self-determination and equality in the workplace—which, in practice, means small co-ops instead of vast, hierarchical, exploitative corporations—and,
  • a reverence for the natural world codified into law.

Depending on your own politics, this may sound like millennia-overdue common sense or a bong-fuelled 3 A.M. wish list, but there’s no arguing that to implement it in the real world circa 2013 would be, literally, revolutionary. My own bet would be that either your grandchildren are going to be living by some of these precepts, or else they won’t be living at all.
Hmm, these do sound familiar! 
Robinson is hardly the only such concerned SF writer. Margaret Atwood's recent triology, which concluded with Maddaddam, deals with a dystopia full of genetically modified organisms. Countless other books warn us of the hazards of an overly technological society. Yet others talk about a more corded planet, where people become little more than numbers. The list is long and fascinating.
But it remains to be seen if we will listen to any of these prescient authors - or simply go on treating their thoughtful and thought-provoking prose as anything other than entertainment.
Have you read any books that hope to bring attention to an important issue by setting a story in the near or distant future? Please share the titles (and summaries, if you like).

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