[ExI] Defeatist Science Fiction Writers

Tom Nowell nebathenemi at yahoo.co.uk
Mon Jun 16 12:51:03 UTC 2008

With regards to defeatism being common amongst British and Australian SF writers, it might be down to a difference in character:


about the 1:18 mark "I love Americans, cos you're DREAMERS, ain't'cha?"

I disagree with the idea that literature became more pessimistic around 1900 - what we in modern times consider "classics of English Literature" are full of pessimists. Shakespeare's Tragedies are usually regarded as his greatest works, and Charles Dickens reflected the worst of Victorian London. Great Expectations - what a happy title for book, suggesting positive outcomes, as Pip gets a scholarship so he can make something of himself. Alas, he ends up loveless, Miss Haversham is bitter to the end, and Magwidge gets sent back to jail for the crime of returning from Australia. 
 Certainly, the world wars each spawned generations of pessimist writers. I sometimes wonder why our modern age has so many pessimists, when we live in a time of greater material satisfaction than any other, and with the ingenuity to find a way out of the holes we dig for ourselves. Maybe people find it hard to believe in techno-optimism after nuclear power (From "too cheap to meter" to "the costs of decommisioning will be big, and who wants the storage facility in their backyard"), space (from "a brave frontier" to that place where people stick their communication satellites, and occasionally a shuttle crew dies in the course of duty) and modern pharmaceuticals (from a promise of colossal health to things like thalidomide, and suicides from fluoxetine).

I think there's always been a pessimist strand in SF. Certainly, the proto-SF of "Frankenstein" is based on a nightmare of a creation going wrong, and "Gulliver's travels" (which I've seen labelled as proto-SF) has a long strain of weariness at human folly throughout. While Jules Verne was optimistic, HG Well's wasn't. Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" is a dystopian vision of human biotechnology, and Carel Kapek (the man who gave us the word "robot" from the original Czech usage) used "RUR" and "The War with the newts" to portray a bleak future if people continued to exploit those they saw as "Other" or lesser. These examples are all before world war II, and the ensuing explosion of SF magazines and books. After WWII, SF was bigger, but the atomic bomb brought to SF visions of world annihilation. 

I suspect in the longer view of things, it may be that the techno-optimism of the 50s and 60s may be seen as an aberration against a long term trend.


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