SF as Wish Fulfillment
Skimming through the science fiction blogs on WP today, I came across a statement that struck me, as such statements usually do, with how far outside the norm I am in almost any area of life. “At some point in their lives, all readers of science fiction and fantasy have wished, however fleetingly, that they could leave their mundane world behind and enter the world of their favourite book. That is, after all, why so many people read: to escape reality and go someplace else, be someone else, even for a little while.”
That’s probably true of most, or many, science fiction readers, but I can’t remember ever reading about a place or time that I wished I could explore in person. Of course, it isn’t only science fiction that appeals to readers in terms of wish-fulfillment. But it’s a state of mind that’s foreign to me. The lack, like many other lacks, does sometimes make me ask what kind of person I am.
From John Michael Greer’s latest blog post, A Time for Retrovation: “Not all that many decades ago, SF authors routinely spun future societies as radically different from ours as ours is from, say, the ancient Maya, but such visions are rare now. I don’t think that’s accidental.”
For the most part, those societies were somewhere in outer space — alien societies that allowed writers to be as outrageously imaginative as possible. Or they took place in a far distant future that allowed the time for a complete overturn of everything we know, plus the possibility of humans having mutated or evolved into something quite different from us.
So, it isn’t surprising that most attempts to create a radically different kind of society tend to be nothing more than variations on the patterns that constitute our idea of “normal.” Those, in turn, divide into two mutually exclusive realities: a world which has regressed to random violence, war, and the brutality of trying to survive at the cost of other humans. Or a world in which our best characteristics immediately or eventually come to the fore and new cooperative enclaves are built.
Both depend almost exclusively on a catastrophic event: an instant ice age, the sun suffering a major glitch, a worldwide pandemic wiping out a good portion of humanity, nuclear war, etc. The alternative is the frog in the pot on the stove, which I’ve mentioned before. That really offers a lot more leeway for innovative thinking about society than defaulting to the either/or choice of cooperate or kill.
I’ve given this a lot of thought and I have to say I can understand why a gradual slide into a dramatically different kind of society hasn’t been tackled. Maybe it has, by someone, but I’m just not aware of it. I imagine a book like this would probably fall into obscurity pretty quickly, even though it would be more likely than the others to offer hope for the future.
Is it even possible to write such a book?