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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Living In The Future

Every futurological scenario an ad. Every techbro a PR-guy.


jimf said...

> Every futurological scenario an ad.

But for what? Things I didn't know about SF back in the mid-60's
when, as an adolescent, I was consuming issues of _Analog_ magazine.

(via )
Science Fiction's White Boys' Club Strikes Back
By Jeet Heer
April 17, 2015

Science fiction often achieves the remarkable feat of being both futuristic
and reactionary at the same time. . .

. . . [T]here's perhaps no better illustration of [science fiction's
historical lack of diversity] than the career of Samuel R. Delany.

In early 1967, Delany, an ascendant star in the science fiction field,
sent a manuscript of his novel _Nova_ to _Analog_, the leading magazine
in the genre, to see if they were interested in serializing the work.
Although only 25 years old, Delany was already considered a prodigy,
having already published eight novels, two of which had won the
Nebula Award given by the Science Fiction Writers of America.
Delany was also a black man in an overwhelmingly white literary
community. . .

John W. Campbell, the contentious and influential editor of _Analog_,
claimed he enjoyed shaking up his audience with outrageous ideas, but
_Nova_ proved too much for him. According to Delany, Campbell
called the author’s agent and said that while he liked the novel
“he didn’t feel his readership would be able to relate to a black
main character.” . . .

Campbell used his audience as cover for his own racism. In 1968, he
penned an editorial endorsing the segregationist George Wallace for
president. Earlier, he had published editorials arguing that slavery
was a perfectly sensible system for pre-industrial societies, championing
the racial theories of William Shockley and asserting, “One of the major
reasons the Negro people are having so much trouble gaining acceptance
is, simply, that the Negroes are not doing an adequate job of disciplining
their own people, themselves.” Tellingly, among the few occasions that
Campbell did allow fiction with black protagonists, it was in a series
involving race war in Africa.

In the universe of science fiction, Campbell was no fringe kook: He was
the most influential science fiction editor of the last century, whose
vision of rule-based, scientifically informed fiction shaped the careers
of such canonical writers as Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon,
and Frank Herbert. For more than three decades, until his death in 1971,
he was one of the pillars of American science fiction, a field which
indulged his various pseudo-scientific enthusiasms, which included not just
racism but Dianetics (he was a pivotal early promoter of L. Ron Hubbard’s
claim to be a scientific innovator), a perpetual motion machine, and
an ESP-enhancer.

Amid the strife of the 1960s, which polarized science fiction no less than
the rest of culture, it was easy to cast Campbell and Delany as diametric
opposites: Campbell as the old reactionary apostle of heroic, manly tales
of space cowboys, and Delany as the young subversive practitioner of
cutting-edge speculative fiction that challenged certitudes about identity. . .
Certainly this polemical divide can be seen in the many polemical battles
of the late '60s and early 1970s between partisans of New Wave science
fiction and those who loved traditional Campbellian adventure fiction. . .

“Today if something like that happened, I would probably give the
information to those people who feel it their job to make such things
as widely known as possible,” [Delany] wrote in 1998 in The New York
Review of Science Fiction. “At the time, however, I swallowed it --
a mark of both how the times, and I, have changed.”

jimf said...

So after hearing about the SyFy Channel's upcoming 6-hour TV miniseries
of Arthur C. Clarke's _Childhood's End_
(Trailers: )
I found an audiobook version of Childhood on YouTube and "re-read" it
after I don't know how many years. One thing that struck me is that
there was a really strong desire, among a lot of the SF writers of Clarke's
generation, to believe in parapsychology. That's the generation
that gave birth to L. Ron Hubbard's "Dianetics", initially promoted
by both John W. Campbell and A. E. Van Vogt. There's a strain of that
persisting to this very day, at least among the old farts who grew up reading
that stuff. But I do wonder how the business of "psychic powers" will
sound to modern ears, if it carries over unmodified into the TV production.
(Maybe they'll invent a sciency explanation, like "midichlorians". ;-> ).

But moving right along Clarke's trajectory of sci-fi mysticism, I also
listened to an unabridged audiobook of _2001_ (again, it's been many
years). I enjoyed it anew, but I was miffed (anew) about how the end
had to be retconned to dovetail with the subsequent books and movie --
Dave Bowman as the "Star Child" had to be radically demoted and marginalized
in the sequels (of course, the first book, as written, simply could not
have had a sequel).

So then I watched _Vision of a Future Passed: The Prophecy of 2001_
( ), a short documentary
from 2007, which contained the following amusing quotes:

(Dennis Muren
Visual Effects Supervisor,
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones)
"I think the movie suffers from the great optimism of the 60s
that we all had, and Stanley was there too, thinking "Boy,
you know, this is gonna progress, and we're gonna have all
these things in place by 2001, which was -- what? -- 25, 35
years later."

(John Baxter
Author, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography)
"Science fiction has a terrible record of predicting the future.
It didn't predict the personal computer, it didn't predict
feminism, it didn't predict international terrorism. And many
of the things it did predict, like androids and domestic robots
and so on just never happened."

At the end, the 2007 documentary makes its own stab at predicting the near
future, springboarding off HAL:

(Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles
Author, Almost Heaven: The Story of Women in Space)
"Well, this was a fantasy in the 60s. But now, it's no longer
really a fantasy."

(Douglas Trumbull
Special Photographic Effects Supervisor, Blade Runner)
"Within probably 25 years from now, we will have intelligent machines,
as intelligent or more intelligent than a human being."

(Richard Edlund
Visual Effects Supervisor, 2010)
"By 2009, your laptop will have the same memory as a human being.
And by 2019, your laptop will have the same memory as **all**
human beings. So the question is, at what point do these machines
start -- become sentient?"

Or not. ;->

Dale Carrico said...

> Every futurological scenario an ad.

But for what?

A question I ponder quite a bit. At one end, tight-focus, I think there is a lot of self-promotional shilling in futurology, of course -- money/attention for pseudo-scientists quasi-experts guru-wannabes failed-sf writers. At the other end, wider-focus, I think there is a peddling of scientistic reductionism/ techno-triumphalist/ inevitable progress to side-step terrorizing contingencies of a mysterious world for aging vulnerable error-prone finite beings.

But I strongly suspect that there's a whole lot of detail happening between tight-focus and wide-focus here. Not always sure my training in philosophy/theory is very good at getting at all this stuff. Always working at it, however. Critics, questioners, gadflies, friends help, tho.