Sam Thompson in the LRB, reviewing The Steep Approach to Garbadale earlier this year:

When Fielding tells him that ‘history is finished . . . Capitalist democracy has won and the rest is mopping up,’ Alban replies: ‘Bullshit. You need to read more science fiction. Nobody who reads SF comes out with this crap about the end of history.’ Much of Banks’s own science fiction features an anarchist paradise called The Culture, a galaxy-spanning, ‘post-scarcity’ civilisation in which everyone harmoniously does just as they like, thanks to transcendentally high technology, infinite productive capacity and the benign supervision of prodigiously powerful artificial intelligences. It reads as the utopian solution to the wrongs that enrage Alban, an alternative set of rules by which humans might play. No wonder science fiction readers are right-thinking people – they have seen the answers. But the problem, back at the beginning of the 21st century, is that there is no obvious way of getting there from here. The other side of SF utopianism is something close to despair, with Alban denouncing the shortcomings of the present: ‘Stupidity and viciousness were rewarded, illegality not just tolerated but encouraged, lying profoundly worked, and torture was justified – even lauded. Meanwhile the whole world was warming up, getting ready to drown … Everybody should know better. Nobody did.’

Brian Aldiss, writing in the Guardian, today:

For a while after the second world war, a spirit of optimism prevailed in SF magazines. It was a time of great projects, when rockets reached Mars, or we held what wars were available on Pluto, or we even dreamed of fleets of ships reaching far into the galaxy. […] But then the future went the other way – a duller, yet more dangerous way. The cold war began to blow instead. The lights went out in Cybernetics City.

Here is today, 2007, with its diseased ideas of drugs, Darfur disputes and suicide bombers. The truth is that we are at last living in an SF scenario. Little wonder the tiger is almost extinct, the polar bear doomed. How do you think the algae feel, in the great wastes of warming ocean? Can you not hear the ecosystems crashing down? Ideal fodder for SF, one might think. However, one might not if one was brought up on Isaac Asimov and AE van Vogt. SF is not designed for realism but for imagination. Our new and creepy scenario is already in the hands of the scientists, if not MGM.

One thought on “Quotes

  1. On the getting there from here front, I was always hoping that there was something buried in the Garbadale book – in the maths perhaps – that I just wasn’t getting. As it is all I managed to devine was that the steep approach was downhill rather than up as might have been expected.

    As to whether we are living in sf and, if so, that means that sf can’t function as it used to by positing a future which makes us focus on the present – well you can see that in, say, Ballard. Recent Ballard is set in the sf future of earlier Ballard and as a result lacks the millennial utopianism of something like ‘The Unlimited Dream Company’ – instead it is stuck in a sort of interaction between fools and nihilists. But then maybe that is exactly how you do get to the future? By round about and accidental ways.

    In both Ballard and Banks (Garbadale at least), it is no longer quite clear what the protagonists are actually struggling for, but it is clear that they need to struggle, because that is what actually drives the narratives. Fredric jameson’s Archaologies of the Future suggests that the appeal of Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time encapsulates (by comparison) the appeal of all utopias: the fight of the Mattapoisettians to be the future that happens. The struggle today is for any sort of future, for the idea of the future itself. The late capitalist present we have at the moment will be quite content to go on forever if we let it.

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