December 30, 2004

Bad news for science fiction writers...

Radly Balko has an excellent column at FOXNews on the many ways that things are getting better in the world. (via InstaPundit) Fabulous tidbits. I've heard most of them, but it's cool to see them listed together. And bizarre, when you think also about the huge number of people who claim the world is in terrible shape, and sneer at anyone who is trying to make it better.

Here's one item I had not heard; the lowering of the "green ceiling."

—The world is getting cleaner. Most economists now endorse the concept of a “green ceiling,” which means that although the transition from a developing economy to a developed one requires some environmental exploitation, there is a point at which a country becomes wealthy enough that its citizens will begin to demand environmental protection.

The key is to get each country to that point as quickly as possible. And as noted earlier, that’s exactly what’s happening. The good news is, the “green ceiling” is getting lower every day. Right now, it stands at about $5,000 per capita GDP, but the World Bank reported in 1997 that poor countries begin turning the corner on water pollution, for example, at as low as $500 per capita

My title comes from many depressing experiences while looking for SF books to read. I find myself examining one book after another, and they ALL depict some future earth where pollution and Global Warming are unchecked, 30 billion people are starving, corporations (evil of course) have replaced governments, industry is gray and grim and needs masses of uneducated poverty-wage workers... you get the picture. There's no hope. And it's all utterly stupid and wrong. Almost all the trends are just the opposite.

I know of course that writers need problems and catastrophes. It takes unusual skill to make a story out of a happy situation. But I suspect many SF writers learn about the "future" only by reading SF or talking to each other, and are quite out of touch with the real world. Also, they want to be out of touch with reality for another reason, because they are Liberals. That's another group that needs a world of misery that can only be helped (but never cured) by the actions of Big Government, and needs masses of wretched victims without hope. One tip-off in SF is the frequent "good guys" role given to the UN. Anyone connected to current reality knows that this is just goofy, that the UN is an utter catastrophe, corrupt and dedicated mostly to maintaining the world's miseries...(and fortunately too incompetent to have much success.)

I remember back in 2002 hearing that one of my favorite writers, Michael Swanwick, was taking a break from writing to do "anti-war activism." Which was to say pro-Saddam activism. And I speculate that what he was doing should really be described as a case of Baby-Boomer-preserving-smug-world-view-from-Vietnam-era activism. I think a similar case is Greg Bear, whose recent books have included shadowy right-wing conservatives tending towards fascism and restricting civil rights and imposing theocracy. The usual DU litany, John Ashcroft as Godzilla. To someone like me, who is IN that conservative milieu, these fantasies are pitiable.

But SF writers usually preen themselves on thinking out-of-the-box! And the conspicuous new (even science-fictiony) feature of our time is that it's conservatives and religious believers who are now the ones who are fighting for freedom and democracy and choice, who are now the Internationalists and the reformers. And it is now the liberals and secularists who are the crabbed and pevish reactionaries without hopes or dreams or optimism.

We are living in a time of astonishing change, with many reasons for hope. And SF writers should have been canaries in the coal mine, sniffing these changes ahead of the rest of us, instead of plugging their ears and singing La La La. I shouldn't have to pick up SF books and frequently say, "Oh Gawd, not another one."

I predict we will see the SF crowd now leap boldly into the future with tons of stories about hapless villages swept away by tsunamis. And ignoring the rapid deployment of warning systems that will save thousands of lives in the next disaster. And also ignoring the spread of prosperity and democracy in Third-World counties that will enable them to do much more to help themselves in the future.

Posted by John Weidner at December 30, 2004 10:49 AM
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