Jon Mollison discusses a Podcast about Science Fiction by the SETI institute. He’s very right to point out the bias here – emphasizing the Campbellian Trinity, leftist leanings, and a penchant for the boring stuff (though I’m not so harsh on the boring stuff – you just need to be in the right mood for it). I think it’s all pretty interesting and worth a listen, though the limitations of the interviewer’s knowledge of the field are a little cringe-worthy. And you might be triggered by certain of these gaping holes, as was Jon.
Most of the interviews are taken up with discussing the relation of science and science-fiction. The genre, for obvious reasons, has a pedigree of inspiring young men to be scientists and of scientists using the genre to explore ideas. It struck me how many of these connections were almost purely about the technology or man’s response to technology. Then comments denigrating “simplistic” black and white morality, well, triggered me.
My own preferred brand of science-fiction is Space Opera. I like stories about new technologies, but unless it’s grounded in some human plot I tend to think “Huh, that’s interesting…” then promptly forget it. My proclivities make it so I’ll generously forgive certain logical inconsistencies (like the questionable military prowess of the Amazon culture in Wonder Woman) if a story magnifies certain distinctly human traits or struggles (like the glory of fighting for the good even in the face of insurmountable odds). This also extends to Science-Fiction, where I’ll ignore the wrong or now outdated science if the real thrust are the eternal things (John Carter, Star Wars, EE Doc Smith).
The stories I like are, by and large, the stories which encompass the “Golden Age of Science Fiction” – you know, the stories you read “when you were 13”? I think we could do with more of those stories. The thirteen year old, just entering the age of reason, is trying to grasp what he is to become – he is seeking to understand man and how to be a man. The stories he craves and consumes with abandon are those which give him those models – heroes, self-sacrifice, overcoming great odds, adventure, romance. They unconsciously seek to navigate the realm of reality which unites abstract qualities with individual instances.
Something, I contend, is very screwy with the adults of the modern world in the way they denigrate this. There’s nothing wrong with having one’s taste change, arguably mature, to prefer the writings of a Walker Percy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, or Haruki Murakami. I’m fine with things getting complex, nuanced, and deeply self-reflective. But I’m not okay with this becoming a denigration of that earlier literature and, by extension, a denigration of eternal truths in favor of some ambiguous relativism about morality and reality.
In fact, the best literature is that which can both fire the imagination and passions of a 13 year old boy and ensnare the reflective intellect of a 50 year old scholar. Shakespeare is perhaps the perfect example of this – works made for action and bawdy loving plebeians now enshrined in academia and high culture. And I think the best of Science Fiction, especially the Space Opera from the early to mid 20th century, can do this as well. I know Burroughs can, if people gave him a chance. Guys like John C. Wright are definitely doing it today. And if Jon Mollison keeps going the trajectory he’s going, he’ll probably be helping it happen in the future as well. Get your 13-year old boys to read this stuff and cherish it. They’ll better be able to wade through the mess of adulthood for it. Heck, you older folk could probably do with reading some of it as well.