reply to post by Ian McLean
Hmmmm..."speculative fiction" too often turns into mere fantasy, which is NOT science fiction. What distinguishes science fiction is that it
proceeds from the known to the known possible to the supected possible, building a chain of intriguing logic to make you think "You know....that
work, if you....", from which we get satellites, cell phones, robotics, and the Internet. That's "hard SF", based on physics,
chemistry, and engineering. Most early SF was of this type, and it bred a generation of rocket scientists.
The next type to emerge in the fifties and sixties dealt more with social issues and how new technology interacted with the old social orders and
mores. The physics and chemistry and engineering were still there, but the effects they had on society were explored more than the tech was, and this
in turn led to a generation of social engineers, mainly because what with the lunar program and all, the then-current tech seemed to have outpaced SF
tech, or at least caught up: writers seemed to be awaiting fresh discoveries to play off of and extend. Social engineering seemed to hold great
promise, both as a literary field and as an honest-to-goodness way of uplifting humanity.
Then things began blurring into fantasy/speculative fiction: magic, dragons, mental powers, but precious little science. But you could see the effects
of steadily diminishing educational budgets and priorities: fewer hard science offerings, dumbed-down curriculums, shortened school hours (mostly the
result of trying to "run government like a business", a very bad idea, by the way: remember, in business, everything's
for sale, including
the business itself; a bad mindset for government leaders). Science fiction went into a long, slow, decline into the current state we find it in: few
great authors and books, the best (imho) working the alternative history fields, like Harry Turtledove.
But I think NASA went downhill when the wimpy robotics guys won the argument over manned space flight versus robotics. Besides the fact that they
killed a whole field of endeavor and the ideas and technologies that would emerge from meeting the challenges of putting people into space in a big
way, they were wrong
: it wasn't cheaper, and you didn't get more and better science out of it. The failure rate of robotic missions was
nearly 50% the last time I checked, and a lot of the science would have been done better, faster and more comprehensively with "boots on the ground"
than with limited little robots. But the worst part is that the robotics program is dry, lifeless, and uninspiring to anyone outside of a computer
lab. Who wants to go to space when all it means is looking at a bunch of numbers in a printout in a cold windowless lab somewhere? No one goes to Mars
merely for information, no one goes to Mars to save a robot, but the whole world would mobilize to save a human crew. And what passes for SF in the
current time reflects this disappointment and lack of engagement on the vast space frontier. Instead of exploring how to build Luna City, and what
technological and social effects that might have upon the world, writers' imaginations are stunted and limited to shallow explorations of old
cultural mythologies: pretty infertile ground for true SF.
But it could be I'm wrong and just missed the current great authors: I'd be much obliged if someone could point out the current Heinlein or Simak or
Clarke. I truly miss being swept up in a great new idea.
[edit on 23-1-2009 by apacheman]