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bear by san

March 2017

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bear by san

Hammers

There's been a lot of portentous talk lately in SFnal critical circles about the irrelevance of serious speculative fiction, its descent into mediocrity and media tie-in-dom, the Future of Genre lying in slipstream or technofantasy or magic realism. There's been a lot of talk about a purported lack of clear auctorial and editorial voice and authority, of a lack of a "movement."

Pish.

Tosh.

Those clear voices are already among us, forging identities and finding themselves... and they seem to say with ringing sincerity, "Why categorize? What's the big deal? Hurry up and evolve!"

More precisely, the clearly-defined eras of the genre past--the cyberpunks, the new wave, the Golden Age of Science Fiction--may be much closer in the proverbial rear-view mirror than they ever appeared in the windshield. To wit, things change. Speculative fiction grows, encompasses, becomes more challenging--and, frankly, better written. But through it all, a Literature of Ideas survives.

Science fiction has never been for the future, after all, or even an attempt to accurately predict the future. It is and has been about today, seen through the lens of time and distance. "If this goes on...." has always been its driving mantra.

It is natural, then, that speculative fiction (under all its names) has focused on the interaction of technology and man... and seen technology as a monster, as a master, as a savior, and as a metaphor. From cautionary tales to visionary ones, the history of speculative fiction is the history of how technology will change us, change our lives, change our very relationships. Profoundly, in fact, changing the very nature of what it means to be human.

And that's where the current crop of young writers and editors seem to agree. These women and men in their twenties and thirties, currently coming into their voices, are children of technology. Children of the global village, of the neverending sussurrus of conversation, a world that reinvents itself with the fluidity of CGI. They've discovered their generation's truth about technology, and they proclaim it.

It don't mean a thang.

In a high-stress world, under a barrage of conflicting information, where ever-increasing numbers of mortal men and women find themselves alienated from their families, relying on medication to cope with stress, distanced from their friends, we have learned. Technology cannot save us. technology cannot destroy us. Technology does not have the power to dehumanize us.

We can only dehumanize ourselves.

As if facing the goblin king, we are forced to declare, "You have no power over me!"

The hammer, the wheel, the steam engine, the starship that changes our world and our culture and our outlook and our morality and our ideology.... it cannot change us. Technology can challenge us. It can force us to adapt. It can be used injuriously, or it can be used to protect, or both. The hammer shapes the hand, indeed. But it can only shape us in the ways that we use it.

And, historically, new technology is used in a very few ways: to improve reproductive or sexual success, to improve living conditions, to fight over scarce resources and, most humanly, to talk. To communicate with more people, faster, over a wider area. The history of humanity is the history of conversation. And the history of tools.

And in the end, the hand that wields that hammer is eternally, beautifully, wonderfully, fragilly, awfully human. And in the face of our seething world we remain who we always have been. A people, a species desperately trying to find new ways to communicate with each other, and our world. Ideocentric, egocentric, alone in the dark--but shouting into it.

And that's the message of the current generation of SFnal writers. In the face of everything, humans remain humans. People are people. And the sins of the fathers are still visited upon the sons.

Comments

(Anonymous)

Very nice

You write a good essay. :)

Cath