Diversity in Science Fiction, Two Examples

I’ve noted here and on Facebook that science fiction generally aligns with progressive values; science fiction is typically about speculating how things might be different, celebrating discoveries of what is new and celebrating conceptual breakthroughs of understanding, rather than reflexively rejecting anything new and different as a threat to traditional, conservative values. But science fiction is not a monolithic subculture any more than any other subculture is. A couple examples turned up today.

Here is an essay in today’s Guardian by regular reviewer Damien Walter, Science fiction needs to reflect that the future is queer, which recalls adventurous 1960’s and ’70’s work by Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, and others about variants in heteronormative human sexuality [which when I read these books, back then, greatly expanded my understanding of the subject], and then cites reactionary responses to a recent essay on the subject:

When author and historian Alex Dally Macfarlane made a call earlier this year for a vision of post-binary gender in SF, her intelligent argument was met with predictably intractable ignorance from conservative sci-fi fans. For writers and fans like Larry Correia, whose virulent attack on MacFarlane was excellently dissected by Jim C Hines, sex is a biological imperative and the idea of gender as a social construct is a damn liberal lie! But Correia boils it down to a much simpler argument. However accurate a queer future might be, SF authors must continue to pander to the bigotry of conservative readers if they want to be “commercial”.

I cite this only as an example of the diversity of thought among science fiction writers and thinkers, and make no attempt to address that particular issue, except to note I am probably (since I haven’t read all the arguments) not on Correia’s side.

Coincidentally on two counts –- since I’ve started rereading some early Arthur C. Clarke, as I mentioned on Facebook, and since it reflects a similar divide in the SF field, though along completely different lines, no wait, three counts, since it’s also in the Guardian –- is a vintage book review column reposted at the Guardian site a couple days ago, a column from 1965, in which J.G. Ballard dismisses a volume of Clarke reprints thusly:

An Arthur C Clarke Omnibus (Sidgwick and Jackson, 30s) contains two novels, “Childhood’s End” and “Prelude to Space,” and a short-story collection, “Expedition to Earth.” Reprinted after a ten-year lapse, they illustrate the failure of traditional science fiction. Wholly concerned with an outer space seen in terms of the crudest extrapolations, these stories are dated not only by their superficial scientific gimmickry, but by the trivial dialogue and characterisation. The difference between the old and new science fiction is the point where invention ends and imagination begins.

The issues here are also vast and I won’t try to address them right now. Suffice to say for the moment there are various standards for what constitutes success or failure in any kind of artistic field, especially literature, especially science fiction.

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