[ExI] Defeatist Science Fiction Writers

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sun Jun 15 20:40:31 UTC 2008

Stefano wrote

> On Thu, Jun 12, 2008 at 5:35 PM, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:
>> I think that I know what happened to Arthur Clark, Greg Egan,
>> and many more (but didn't happen to the earlier Heinlein or Laumer).
> Arthur C. Clarke? Which novels to you refer to?

and Günther added, in regard to that same remark,

> Could you share your thought, I would be interested? :-)

Sorry for the late reply.   I've been busy.   But I've also been thinking a lot.

I suspect that my conjecture, above, is *wrong*.

I believe that I was thinking of Childhood's End, which had, by far, the most
impact on me of any of Clarke's novels. (What was the golden age of science
fiction? see answer below [1])  I was also thinking of a recent discussion with
a friend about Rama.

But Childhood's End shows a kind of final *triumph* of mankind, over the
Karellan (i.e. the Overlords).  But not by *our* efforts, that's for sure. By
our very nature, it turns out.  Perhaps here and in "Fountains of Paradise"
the most that Clarke could be charged with is a relentless "putting humankind
into its place", i.e., showing we're not such great stuff.  I have always had
a good explanation for just why he and probably other British SF writers
are wont to do that. (See caveat below.)

But even in Rama, Clarke can, I think, at most be charged with the old
hideous "want to see? want to see?  Want to see  what's behind the curtain??
Sorry! No will do!".  That had happened to me so often, especially on TV
where in every episode of some series (long, long before the X-Files)
we *almost* find out something interesting about aliens.  I was already
so incensed by this that by only seeing the advertisements on TV,
I *knew* that "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" would be just
more of the same frustrating shit, and I refused to go see it, and have
not seen it to this day.  (The movie "Final Countdown" (1980) was
perhaps the worst. More about that if anyone is interested.)

No, I must reserve my accusation of "Defeatist Science Fiction Writers"
to certain novels of others, I guess. The worst example of all time was
probably H.G. Well's "War of the Worlds", in which a very enterprising
man wanted to never submit to the Martian invaders, form resistance
parties, develop new methods, and fight them to the very end. But the
protagonist and the author dismiss him as a crackpot.  H.G. Wells was
definitely no Horatio Alger (in more ways than just one, of course),
and no Keith Laumer, or many others that could be named.

Even in the 1960's I was struck by Keith Laumer.  In some of his short
stories, instead of having an ironic or neutral outcome, amazingly *great*
things would happen to his characters.  See his "Hybrid", the story about
the Yanda Tree, for the best example. It was almost H+ science fiction,
so positive and affirmative it is about the possibilities and potential for
individual acquisition of new powers and perspective.

Isn't there a discernable tendency in British and Australian SF writers
against the "gung ho, can do"?  Of an almost relative passivity? I explicitly
exempt Damien Broderick's novels. The ones that come to mind show
the protagonists overcoming obstacles and triumphing most gratifyingly.
If I am right about this issue, then of course that could be explained by
his allegiance to general extropian or transhumanist philosophy.

Now three caveats are quickly in order. One, by no means are *all* British,
Australian, or New Zealand writers so indicted by me, and neither are all the
stories of any one of them. I'm only speaking of a notable tendency, that's all.

Two, very often a depressing, sad, and horrific failure is an aesthetically
preferable and even necessary outcome. I will only mention the name
of a great example SF book in a footnote [2] to avoid spoiling it for any
reader. If you think you know what I mean, or have read books by
Disch, then study the footnote.

Three, defeatism is a general literary phenomenon. Something very bad
happened to western culture around 1900. An example is Joseph Conrad's
novel "Victory".  I think it's a great story, superbly told. But in the very
last scene, Joseph Conrad deliberately and without any evident reason
destroys the life of one of the two major protagonists, and snatches away
any hope of happiness from the other.  It's just sick. The novel would be
basically unchanged if he had made just this one tiny change. In at least
one 1891 novel he is also, perhaps, exhibiting this unfortunately phenomenon.
Defeatism stinks.


[1]  The golden age of science fiction is, of course, 12.

[2]  The science fiction novel I'm thinking of is  "sediconeg eht", by
       Mr. samoth m. hcsid.

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