Thursday, October 23, 2014

Faith in the Infinite Future

I have been writing about the question Is science fiction dying? Here is Donald A. Wollheim on the subject:
The essence of science fiction is that this is a changing world. . . .
If we are to survive into that Infinite Future that science fiction writers of previous decades have managed to insinuate into the mental background of the world's dreams, then we are going to have to pay close political attention to what we have done with the products of science and their undesirable biproducts [sic]: pollution, overpopulation, and atomic warfare.
Of course science fiction does not play solely the role of Cassandra. It cannot afford to. It must, in occasional stories, point to these evils, but to rely on its enlarging audience, to keep the contentment of its constant readers, it must continue in the main to maintain a belief in human infinity. . . . To do otherwise would very soon cause science fiction itself--as a marketable category--to disappear. A steady diet of foreboding and horrifics would be palatable only to the misanthrope.
Wollheim wrote those words more than forty years ago in his introduction to The 1972 Annual World's Best SF. Did he sense then that science fiction was in trouble? Maybe not. Nonetheless, he diagnosed a problem and predicted a course for science fiction, perhaps without knowing it.

I don't know whether science fiction is dying or not. If it is, it could be because we have given up on what Wollheim called "that Infinite Future" and "a belief in human infinity." There is reason to believe that science fiction has in fact become "[a] steady diet of foreboding and horrifics." Does that satisfy the current science fiction readership? If so, does that mean the science fiction readership has turned into one of misanthropes? My contention is that you can't be against something and succeed. You have to be for something. If science fiction is not for something, it can't survive, let alone succeed. If it isn't hopeful, if it doesn't have faith, if it doesn't look to the future with excitement and enthusiasm, it can't very well carry on.

Again, if science fiction is dying, the dying seems to have begun during or after the 1970s. So maybe we have narrowed the timing of the onset of disease. But what of the cause? Did Donald A. Wollheim make the diagnosis forty-two years ago?

The 1972 Annual World's Best SF, edited by Donald A. Wollheim and with cover art by Frank Frazetta. The imagery comes from fantasy rather than from science fiction. The mood however, is hopeful, confident, forward-looking, and triumphant, all hallmarks of classic science fiction. 

Text copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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