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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Jonathan Lethem on the squandered promise of science fiction. Here's a taste:

Other obstacles to acceptance remain hidden in the culture of SF, ambushes on a road no one's taking. Along with being a literary genre or mode, SF is also an ideological site. Anyone who's visited is familiar with the home truths: that the colonization of space is desirable; that rationalism will prevail over superstition; that cyberspace has the potential to transform individual and collective consciousness. Tangling with this inheritance has resulted in work of genius - Barry Malzberg tarnishing the allure of astronautics, J. G. Ballard gleefully unraveling the presumption that technology extends from rationalism, James Tiptree Jr. (nee Alice Sheldon) replacing the body and its instincts in an all too disembodied discourse. But the pressure against heresy can be surprisingly strong, reflecting the emotional hunger for solidarity in marginalized groups. For SF can also function as a clubhouse, where members share the resentments of the excluded and a defensive fondness for stories which thrived in 12-year-old imaginations but shrivel on first contact with adult brains. In its unqualified love for its own junk stratum, SF may be as postmodern as Frederic Jameson's dreams, but it's also as sentimental about itself as an Elks lodge or a family.