SF and the Post-Cold War

Jan 7, 06:58 by IROSF
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Jan 8, 01:38 by Joe Prisco
Part of the myth of Western civilization is the myth of progress; the past is worse, because things are (on the whole) always getting better And yet, if we define "quality of life" by how much time we spend doing things we don't like, this is not necessarily so. The trappings of civilization take a lot of work, and have slowly accumulated for many centuries; as yet, we don't even know for sure that the present level is the greatest ever achieved -- just that no evidence has yet been found to prove otherwise. What Stewart shows in EARTH ABIDES is what's apparent to anyone who has ever lived in a trailer park -- poverty and make-do-ism is a vastly more common way of life than city-building and civilization. And that ain't bad. But it's also not the stuff of what we call science-fiction ;-)
Jan 8, 18:09 by Bluejack
Although there is a countervailing myth, that of the "good old days" -- from Greek times to ours there is a parallel notion that progress is sapping us of something important, that "kids these days" aren't cut from same cloth as their forbears.

Science fiction, as a genre, tends to look favorably on the myth of progress, and even distopian fiction can be seen as approving the myth of progress with a caveat that our own time, these days, are the good days. I wonder if there is science fiction out there that honors the myth of the prior Golden Age?

(Certainly science fiction the community is quite caught up in the greek concept of the golden age: we even call that early time of science fiction writing the golden age, and bemoan the loss of sensawunda in our own jaded time!)
Jan 8, 19:31 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
Another fantastic article by Mr. Elhefnawy. The movies and novels he points out would make superb source material for a year long course in science fiction and late 20th Century history and politics. High quality work, to be sure.

I will have to digest all this before I can make any kind of germane comment on it. If Nader put together a reprint of his science fiction articles, I would be first in line to buy it.
Jan 8, 20:51 by Nader Elhefnawy
Again, thank you very much errant371! I'll definitely keep that in mind should I ever have the chance to pitch the idea to a publisher.
Jan 9, 17:50 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
I also find it interesting how some post-Cold War S/F, in particular from Britain, experiments with alternate political organizations. Reynolds technology mediated Demarchists in his Revelation Space novels, specifically The Prefect presents us with a direct democracy, which is more or less anarchy. Eric S. Nylund's 1998 Signal to Noise also presents us with a direct democracy where social prestige is afforded those who spend more time voting. The works of Ken MacLeod offer a variety of political systems ranging from anarcho-capitalism to neighborhood based citizens' councils. Ian Banks's Culture novels posit a post-scarcity, post-capitalism communism (if that is the right word).

With the end of the Cold War, Soviet style communism was bankrupt, and by the mid- to late-nineties, the cracks in American style capitalism (and its pseudo-democracy) were beginning to show. I would hazard that the coming political changes in the near future will also begin to experiment with alternate forms of politics (such as Chavez's so called 21st Century Socialism) as the frustration and effective disenfranchisement in our (and others') current political systems becomes more widespread. The election of Obama in the United States can be seem as a symptom of a much wider and less articulate desire for political and social change.

The effects of the end of the Cold War (I was in high-school when the Berlin Wall came down) has had a large impact on our entertainment as Nader has so well pointed out, even if younger generations do not (and perhaps cannot) notice it. The multi-polarization of our formerly di-polar world is mirrored in the anarchic and experimental political systems in some of the top science fiction writers recent (within the last 10-15 years) works. I would also say that the effect is more pronounced in Britain and Europe than in America, for a number of reasons (the frontier mentality, militarist leanings, lingering belief in American exceptionalism etc).
Jan 11, 13:57 by Nader Elhefnawy
I think there's no disputing that the range of political ideas that can get a wide hearing in the U.S. is narrower than elsewhere; and that the "end of history" argument enjoys less currency overseas than it does in the U.S.. One can list plausible historical explanations for that all day, some of which you named, but the condition is pretty much agreed on by everybody, regardless of how they feel about it. (Some think it's great, part of the country's magic, if you will; others see it as much more problematic.)

And yes, serious scholars in international relations are writing more often about how neoliberalism is facing more challenges abroad, in South America, especially, but some look at Putin's statist approach in Russia also, or even at some of Nicholas Sarkozy's remarks. (He recently denounced "speculative capitalism" in no uncertain terms, though I don't think the Sun King wanna-be will go further than talk; and while we're on that subject, I think anyone who wonders about monarchy in the future-an issue that came up in a recent IROSF article-would do well to look at the man's jaw-dropping statements and assertions of his status.) There was a big article on the revival of different forms of state capitalism in the well-known journal Survival last year, for instance.

And yes, some read the Obama election in the same way, not unreasonably, though as you said, it was a less broad-based and less articulate expression than elsewhere, and furthermore, I find myself thinking of how people who'd hoped for change in '92 were disappointed by Clinton at every turn. And that's something that observers should keep in mind. Yes, a lot of people are saying a lot of things, but whether or not one is a supporter or opponent of the teachings of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Von Hayek, there have been lots of flashes in the pan before. What comes of the current mood is something all should be watching; and it will certainly be interesting to see how science fiction writers deal with it (or in some cases, whether they deal with it at all).
Jan 12, 21:13 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
Indeed. It would also be fascinating to see how they will deal with the changing economic situation as well. There was a lot of expectation of change with Clinton's election in 1992; hope that the end of the Reganesque conservative policy in all spheres, hope that the sweeping changes in the former Soviet bloc would be mirrored in the West. Instead, we coined terms like balkanization. Change did come, but not the kind that we had expected. Whether Obama can bring the kinds of needed economic, social and military reforms necessary remains to be seen. He might genuinely wish to, but he may not be able.

It might sound pessimistic, but The Execution Channel seems less like science fiction and more like tomorrow's headlines. Science fiction will have a rich, rich mine of ore to delve in the next five years. I hope that they will.
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