... most science fiction these days bores me. It all looks the same, I’m tired of Stargates, would-be-treks, and other work that just seems to rearrange the pieces we’re used to. There’s nothing, in my mind, that I’ve seen to inspire people to make something new. If there is something “beyond” the rehashes we’ve seen, it often seems to be hard to relate too or way too far out, strange cyberpunk and transhumanism. Perhaps useful in some cases, but in a scale of decades or centuries, not right now, when it seems we’re terribly out of ideas. Also we need something to bridge any gaps into a future of, I dunno, immortality in cyberspace and the like.
I came up with two responses to this — one somewhat self-indulgent and the other more outward-directed. The first one is a naked sales pitch: most science fiction these days bores me too, which is why I wrote Flight of the Vajra. Let's see if my own attempts to cure my boredom work for anyone else as well. (I also had to wrestle in the book with the same problems of, e.g., having things too far-out for a reader to connect with emotionally. I think I told a friend at one point, "If you haven't cried by the end of this book, then I haven't done my job.")
#2, though, is the bigger and knottier problem of why this stuff seems to be so uninspiring. My current pet thesis (subject to revision, of course) goes something like this: as SF became more culturally prevalent, it became easier to create it by simply taking the previous generation of work and rejiggering it in some way. And as more of it appeared on TV and in the movies, it became easier to take those pieces and rejigger them as well. The soil grew correspondingly shallower. The art of taking something from one's own life and fusing that with real imagination fell out of favor, because it was just easier to plug into everyone's collective memory of shared popular culture.
Small wonder the biggest SF and fantasy products in the movies these days are derived from comics: yet another collective memory harnessed. The harnessing can be quite skilful and even entertaining, but they are still games being played with the same set of chesspieces.
Here, then, is my potentially alienating insight. SF — and fantasy — are duller because we are duller.
A more interesting future isn't something we see we have to work for anymore, except in the sense of making it happen technocratically. We're expecting to have it handed to us on the face of a smartphone or piped into our eyeballs via Google Glass. Even those who are happily making what they think is the future, in the forms of these products, are simply contributing to the delusion. It parallels the youthful perplexity Patrick Farley wrote about in "The Guy I Almost Was": all he had to do to inhabit that great EPCOT Center future he was promised endlessly as a kid in the pages of OMNI Magazine circa 1979 was to live long enough to get there.
Technocratic advances alone do not constitute a future. The future is ultimately embodied in and delivered by a new, better kind of human being, and we are palpably regressing on that front. We may be marginally more tolerant than we were fifty years ago, but we're just as susceptible to humbug and b.s. (if not more so), ever more indifferent to our own transformation into mere commodites, more willing to confuse spiritual insight with mere chiliasms, dogma, or self-indulgence, and not appreciably wiser or smarter (at least, not collectively) for having more information at our disposal. What we have is the illusion of a future, and our growing impoverishment of real imagination is the greatest testament to that.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind