The best far-looking SF is always rooted in the conflicts of the moment -- especially the things we think we will someday outgrow.
... the reason that it is important to include diverse characters and diverse voices in speculative fiction would be because the assertion “we’re all in this together” is not, in fact, a pure, shining, unimpeachable truth, handed down by the gods of speculative fiction for our enlightenment. The statement “we’re all in this together” is, instead, an ideological presumption which is not supported by most of the extant facts.
I'd put it more this way: "we're all in this together" is a dormant truth, one which can emerge one of two ways: either as an evident fact of life, becuse we are all in fact in the same boat and pulling together; or as a grim specter, in which the connectivity of each to all is expressed despite this and not because of it.
We need dystopia to know how things can fall apart.
The gap between what we are and what we can be is also the space in which utopias are conceived. Utopian literature, at its best, may document in detail our struggle with personal and societal failure. While often constructed in worlds of excess and plenitude, utopias are a reaction to the deficits and precariousness of existence; they are the best expression of what we lack most. Thomas More’s book is not so much about some imaginary island, but about the England of his time. Utopias may look like celebrations of human perfection, but read in reverse they are just spectacular admissions of failure, imperfection and embarrassment.
... it is crucial that we keep dreaming and weaving utopias. If it weren’t for some dreamers, we would live in a much uglier world today. But above all, without dreams and utopias we would dry out as a species.
I'm big on the idea of the space we create with our imaginations as a kind of sandbox -- in both the sense of "playpen" and the sense of "protected code zone" -- where we can try out different stuff and see how they fly. Most of the time, though, such thought experiements seem to be work best when they deal with how things fall apart. We read and think about our dystopias far more often than our utopias.
Man of Steel understands Superman well enough to know he should be taken seriously, even if it doesn't always quite know how to make that understanding real.
The problem with comic book movies is that it's too easy to give people what they think they want, instead of what they need. Man of Steel is a case study in such a contradiction. For the great majority of its running time, it's a dazzling and thought-provoking exploration of the Superman mythos, where tough questions are raised about what it would mean to be Clark Kent in a world that would almost certainly mistrust and fear him. Then it turns into a PlayStation game, mostly as a way to shut up all the fans who wanted to see Superman punch things, and while the fun didn't end there for me, it did get dialed down a whole lot.
Maybe it's just the Superman fan in me talking when I say the movie still works despite all that. But if there's one thing I've learned in my time as both a fan and a critic, it's that some of my favorite films are not the perfect ones, but the ones that struggle against their own very evident flaws and still somehow deliver. Man of Steel is flawed in ways that draw me back to it, because when seen in the right light those flaws are also revelatory. They say at least as much about our attitudes towards this sort of material as they speak of any shortcomings in the film itself.
The mysticism of the future by way of technology is no improvement over the mysticisms of the past.
... science fiction often leads the way in science, but that's surely compatible with keeping clear the distinction between serious theoretical inquiry and fantasy, and recognizing that the singularity theories exemplify the latter and not the former.
... I believe that the rise in popularity of singularity mysticism is symptomatic of our uncertainty with respect to the nature and future of artificial intelligence, and the fear that it has become increasingly important to our lives and yet beyond our control. Singularity theory has become popular in these conditions partly because there is no real alternative theory in the popular discussion for thinking about our technological condition, and insofar as it helps people understand their circumstances at all it is preferable to treating technological change as wanton and chaotic.
Plainer English: The default mode for thinking about where all our technological progress will take us is the Techno-Rapture, because it seems faintly silly to think of it any other way. Isn't it better to believe we'll just all go to heaven, and (in the words of Steven Spielberg) be handed a laser gun and a hovercar?
On appreciating the new without wearing the blinders of the old.
More from Professor Dijkstra. Pardon the longish quote:
It is the most common way of trying to cope with novelty: by means of metaphors and analogies we try to link the new to the old, the novel to the familiar. Under sufficiently slow and gradual change, it works reasonably well; in the case of a sharp discontinuity, however, the method breaks down: though we may glorify it with the name "common sense", our past experience is no longer relevant, the analogies become too shallow, and the metaphors become more misleading than illuminating. This is the situation that is characteristic for the "radical" novelty.
... Coming to grips with a radical novelty amounts to creating and learning a new foreign language that can not be translated into one's mother tongue. (Any one who has learned quantum mechanics knows what I am talking about.) Needless to say, adjusting to radical novelties is not a very popular activity, for it requires hard work. For the same reason, the radical novelties themselves are unwelcome.
E.W. Dijkstra Archive: On the cruelty of really teaching computing science (EWD 1036) The usual way in which we plan today for tomorrow is in yesterday's vocabulary. We do so, because we try to get away with the concepts we...
The usual way in which we plan today for tomorrow is in yesterday's vocabulary. We do so, because we try to get away with the concepts we are familiar with and that have acquired their meanings in our past experience.
This insight is a big part of why I'm convinced most any attempt to talk about "the future", especially in SF, is always going to be some form of talking about the here and now. When I wrote Flight of the Vajra I didn't really think the future I was imagining was the future we were going to have, or even a future we were likely to inhabit. It was a future, one I used more as a way to muse about where we're headed or even where we are right now. Such is the way of skiffy.
What I don't think we should ever do, though, is settle for only that. Today's tomorrow shouldn't look like yesterday's tomorrow if we can help it.
This page contains an archive of posts in the category Science Fiction Repair Shop for the month of December 2013.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind