Norman Spinrad is among my all-time favorite scifi authors, just behind Ian M Banks. Spinrad’s book Child of Fortune is one of the best SF books I’ve ever read. It’s good precisely because the future is better than the present. Now how is that for novelty? This has been my chief complaint against the general state of SF the last 15-20 years, and especially the TV fare that passes itself off as SF these days – Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, etc. Can you honestly remember the last truly visionary SF on TV? Star Trek: The Next Generation, as far as I can tell was the last. Since then, its gone downhill towards more violence and warfare, more grit, cynicism and pessimism.
Here’s Spinrad’s take on it:
What’s wrong with science fiction is part of the same damn crisis, and I’m not kidding. What’s wrong with science fiction ultimately is an aspect of what’s wrong with conglomerate corporate capitalism, the publishing part, because in terms of how many good books are being written every year, there’s nothing wrong. The last ten years, there are 20 or 30 good-to-great novels every year, and you really can’t complain. The problem is, they’re buried in an avalanche of cynical commercial crap. That’s a dysfunction of the publishing industry, and it affects what writers write.
”There’s another thing wrong with science fiction, and I think it comes from the culture too. How much science fiction is being published now that’s set in worlds that are better than ours? Not that have bigger shopping malls or faster space ships, but where the characters are morally superior, where the society works better, is more just? Not many. It becomes difficult to do it, and that’s a feedback relationship with what’s happening in the culture, with science fiction being the minor note. People don’t credit it anymore! Not just better gizmos and more virtual reality gear, but better societies. People don’t believe the future will be a better place. And that is very scary.
“‘Providing hope is something science fiction should be doing. It sounds arrogant to say it, but if we don’t do it, who the hell will? One of the social functions of science fiction is to be visionary, and when science fiction isn’t being visionary, it hurts the culture’s visionary sense. And when the culture isn’t receptive, neither is science fiction. It’s a downward spiral.”