Science Fiction Since 1970

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      While consumer-grade personal levitation vehicles have yet to appear on the market, a wide range of technologies originally foreseen in these fictions did become commercial enterprises. The internet, large-scale video-based communications, the digitization of millions of texts into libraries accessible across the globe (both for free and on basis of purchase/subscription), web-based social networking systems, artificially synthesized food with high nutritional value, educational courses delivered via computers, encyclopedias authored by millions of collaborators, and mobile communication devices that can reach the other side of the planet while fitting comfortably in your pocket all were prefigured by the genre before becoming a reality, much as theoretical atomic bombs populated texts decades before 1945. Generations of scientists in both the private sector and at public agencies like NASA were inspired by science fiction to create technologies we have become reliant upon in this new century.

      And, just as many of the genre’s more progressive and radical authors predicted, capital has embraced these technologies not in order to better the collective standards of living for humanity but instead to generate new and unique forms of value extraction. Many of the more dystopian predictions from within the genre, such as an elite capitalist class ensconced in comfort while the vast majority of the population suffers in the face of economic precarity and ecological calamity, have become a reality.

      Conversely, it is impossible to neglect the distinct impact of science fiction upon contemporary politics. There now exist several generations of radical adults and youths who have grown to political awakening in a culture saturated in science fiction multimedia. As just one instance, the Introductory essay to Marxian economist Michael Hudson’s 2015 Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy included a not-too-subtle reference to the Wachowski Sisters’ The Matrix. The internet meme as a form of political art oftentimes combines a still image from a sci-fi text with a witty quip about contemporary politics. The 2019 Verso Books title Fully Automated Luxury Communism by Aaron Bastani had a distinctly science fictional horizon. Activists and organizers have these texts as referents that are just as inspirational as the writings of Marx, Lenin, and Mao were for earlier generations. The slogan “We Are the 99%” of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the aesthetics of the worldwide digital “hactivist” Anonymous Collective carried a dimension indebted to dystopian texts of the prior two decades, with the eponymous Guy Fawkes mask, borrowed directly from the 2005 cinematic adaptation of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta graphic novel, popping up at rallies held by both movements. During the presidency of Donald Trump, “Wakanda Forever,” transposed from the 2018 superhero film Black Panther, became a slogan of pride and resistance that seems to be a synthesis of the Black Power era’s militancy with a distinctly utopian vision. While earlier authors brought scientific socialist references into their texts, we now seem to have reached a point of synthesis, a deeply-embedded science fiction socialist aesthetic.

      Authors like Harlan Ellison, Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia E. Butler, Kurt Vonnegut, Phillip K. Dick, and many others embraced and expressed themes common to the New Left critique of the American social contract, such as antiracism, anti-imperialism, opposition to gender/sex/sexuality norms and discrimination, drug experimentation, ecological degradation, the Frankfurt School’s critique of consumerism, and antiauthoritarianism. (Ellison, for example, dedicated a 1971 anthology titled Alone Against Tomorrow to the students at Kent State shot by National Guard troops the year before.) Their writings not only engaged with tabooed story topics, such as blatant non-hetero-sexuality, but also challenged forms and norms of narrative structure in ways that went far beyond the traditional limitations to first-/third-person narratives typical of mainstream American Romantic literature.

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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