If science fiction does die off, what might kill it?

A follow up to the last post: I should have been more clear that science fiction rests on futurism, and that if the future does not itself contain a culture enamored of futurism, science fiction will have limited appeal. I was not trying to argue that the future would be or even might be millenarian in tone.

Futurism and Millenarianism are not the only two options, merely the only two with which we are familiar. My point is merely that if audiences in the future have an attitude toward their future that is something other than futurism (a curiosity about a future changed from yet as natural as their own) science fiction will have no further appeal.

There are several things that might kill off science fiction as a genre. 

First, and most likely, technical change and progress will become such a commonly accepted part of life, that stories can no longer rest for awe and wonder at the changes of the future as their primary appeal.

Science fiction includes more than this, but this is the heart of science fiction. Books written for an audience bored with or simply nonchalant about futurism may well take place in the future, but they will no more be science fiction than NAPOLEON OF NOTTING HILL (written in 1903, taking place in the far future year of 1984, but the men still wear top hats and travel in horse-drawn handsome cabs.)

Second, the Party or the Umma or Political Correctness might decide that investigation into scientific phenomena is distressing to the social order, an insult to Islam, or a narrative oppressive to women and blacks. One needs a certain degree of freedom and imagination to maintain a scientific and technological culture; if that freedom is not present, the literature which celebrates changes to the social order might not be present.

Third, science might be solved. We might get a unified theory of everything, and technical changes become a matter of changes in technique, not fundamental and radical changes to the nature of human life. The Industrial Revolution and the Information revolution changed many things, even institutions as basic as Church and Family are dazed and reeling from the shock of modernism, in much the same way that the institution hunter-gatherer band was dazed by the agrarian revolution and the rise of the permanent farming village. The implications were wide-ranging and deep. But then followed a long period of stability.

A long period of stability following a sudden and exhilarating period of change would spell the end of science fiction as a separate literature. After the Singularity, when all the Faithful are downloaded into the mainframe of the Earthbrain, there is no reason for the dynamism of an expanding, revolutionary society to linger. The immortals might not have the same feelings about a future that they will live to see that we have about a future we will never see.

Fourth, a change in the theory of art. If society ever comes to the consensus that mere escapism is shameful, science fiction, which has strong elements of adolescent power-fantasy and mere escapism at its core, may be denatured: changed beyond recognition or killed entirely. Science fiction, by and large, is a playground of ideas, a youthful bull session of may-bes and why-nots and what-ifs. A tired or exhausted culture would have no patience for youthful daydreams. We are only now getting into an age touched by the tinge of disappointment with science fiction–I cannot speak for other writers, but when the year 2000 passed, and there was neither flying car nor moonbase nor manned expedition to Jupiter overhead, it influenced my thinking and, yes, my writing. Where is my jetpack? Now imagine a future where one hundred years has gone by, or two hundred, and there is still no moonbase. Science Fiction tales about Dan Dare, space ace, would begin to take on a retro-future bittersweetness that would soon pall. No one would believe it. No one would take it seriously.

Fifth, Christendom might fall. Men of the West, science fiction is your unique brainchild. The scientific revolution and the scientific world-view are compatible with and spring out of the historical and metaphysical roots of Christendom. A bold statement, I agree, but it will have to wait for another day to support. I am not saying that the great literate cultures of the East have no science fiction writers! I am not saying technological civilization could not exist without a Christian world view to support and nourish it. But I do notice that attempts to place civilization on an allegedly scientific foundationI am speaking of the economic science of Russian Communism and the Darwinian biology of German Naziismhave been the most grotesque and notorious failures of the Human spirit since the dawn of time, exemplars of unparalleled dishonesty, madness, and cruelty. Western thinking without Western religion has so far produced no admirable nations.

I do opine that a civilization based solely on Hindu resignation to the eternal cycle of time, or solely on Buddhist rejection of the material world, or even based solely on Taoist or Confucian notions of a properly-ordered society, would be poorly suited to nourish scientific enterprises or scientifictional imaginings. There is a rebellious dynamic in Christendom that is absent from Oriental quietism, noble or logical as these philosophies might be in other ways.

Islam happens to have rejected the role of reason in human life since the Middle Ages, but I am not sure if this in innate to the religion: perhaps a further prophet or radically different school of interpretation could usher the faithful Mohammedan into philosophical harmony with modern science. They have copied much else from the Jews and Christians in the invention of their religion, there is no reason they cannot copy that. Their famous medieval advances were found in areas where Roman civilization had ruled the south and east of the Mediterranean for centuries: I leave it as an exercise for historians to say whether the Roman or the Islamic component of the conquered territories provided the admired dynamism.

These observations do not lead me to conclude that Christianity  is necessary for science and science fiction; but no historical event bears out the notion that science necessarily must survive its absence, either. Westernized oriental nations could keep science alive if they continued to follow Western models and institutions, but the failure of the West might disincline these Eastern thinkers to follow us. The prestige the West currently enjoys is tied to our honor, glory, wealth, and might. If that fails, why should our ideas be taken seriously any longer? Who wants to chase a lemming over a cliff?

Sixth, if science fiction comes true, the sensawonder might be a matter for newspapers, not pulp magazines. We have seen the beginnings of that all ready, but extrapolate this to a conclusion: The Singularity might happen, and the Jupiter Brain might be so well content with its current situation, that it devotes no resources to idle speculations about the future. The Utopians are all nudists and vegetarians, and are so content with life that they have neither fer nor curiosity about the coming years.

It is as much true if dis-utopian SF comes true as if Utopian SF does. Suppose the Martians invade: it will be no great fun to write about the future once that future consists of being herded and drained of blood by creatures composed entirely of brain. If the  human beings have been reduced by the Matrix into mere battery sources, there is not much fun in future speculations, because there is no future. I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords, and point out that a fiction writer might be able to lull the human serfs toiling in the sugar mines–but somehow I do not think my latest optimistic spacewar saga is what they will be in the mood for.