Astro-Jawhawk

McKitterick on the interwebs

Welcome to my blog. I've been doing this for a long time, so if you're new here, you might want to start with my bio and tags. I confess that these days, I spend most of my social-network time on Tumblr (because it's the most-positive place on the internets!) and Facebook (because that's where everyone is), so drop by one of those if you'd like to hang out.

Looking for my personal website?

You can also find me on:
        Academia.edu
        Christopher-McKitterick.com
        Dreamwidth (crossposts to LJ)
        Facebook (pretty active)
        Goodreads
        Instagram
        The Internet Speculative Fiction Database
        LinkedIn
        Patreon (new for 2019!)
        Pillowfort.io
        Tumblr (main online hangout, heavily curated via tags)
        Twitter
        Wikipedia
        YouTube

Almost all my posts are public. I hope you enjoy!
Chris
RenFaire Chris

I've started Patreon!

...where I post the kind of original content l post on my blogs (primarily Tumblr at the moment, keep meaning to visit here more!), plus a bunch more. Of course I’ll share it all with you fabulous lot!
Me from an interview piece
In addition to the types of things I post elsewhere, my Patreon includes original stuff that’s too long for Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and so forth. Like:
  • Short fiction (including work written from patron prompts!), both WIPs and (eventually) completed work.
  • Scenes and chapters from novels-in-progress.
  • Personal tales from Stories from a Perilous Youth, the memoir of how I survived ridiculous events I had no reason to, and what I learned from all that.
  • My YA science fiction series, The Galactic Adventures of Jack and Stella – the first book of which is nearly complete! I’ll be looking for patron feedback.
  • In-depth writing advice from my decades of teaching writing workshops and taking them with the most brilliant minds in the field.
  • Spacey astrophotos, cute animal pics, and other photos.
  • Maybe even some videos, if there’s call for it.
  • And more. See below for what I've posted so far.
Things that’ll add up to longer works, I’ll collect into books or novels or whatever format is best, and then make available to everyone as revised, finished, professional books as we meet the listed Goals to support free art for all.

Oh, and I’ll start each month by asking subscribers to provide input, if you want. Not only will that help me develop my work - I love brainstorming and hearing constructive feedback (even if it takes letting go to fully embrace criticism, a skill which all creatives would do well to learn) - it’ll also help make my work more the kind of thing you want to see.

I’ll always try to remember to post links here so you can come read stuff and interact if you want! I don’t want to stop doing the “give it away free and rely on the honesty of readers to give me back what they feel it’s worth, and they can afford” model that I’ve been doing and want to do more of.

But my virtual community is where my heart belongs! You won’t lose me to Patreon like some who started theirs and left their social networks. In fact, if you subscribe or become a Patron, you’ll get even more of my stuff. If you want.

I'm making everything I contractually can publicly viewable, so my Patrons are patron of the arts for everyone who wants to see my stuff. Here's everything I've posted so far, from oldest to newest, fully illustrated:

Update: I’ve continued posting more good stuff if you’d like to check it out. Because we’ve hit the “Unlocked for Everyone” goal for most stuff, everything I’ve posted so far is publicly visible whether you’re my patron or not.

Here’s what’s new on my Patreon since I originally posted this:

Thanks to my generous patrons for making this available to all! Lots more to come.Hope you like it!

McKitterick’s Patreon

Ad Astra,
Chris


RenFaire Chris

AnLab Award finalist!

WOOHOO! I'm a finalist for the AnLab Award for my novelette, "Ashes of Exploding Suns, Monuments to Dust"!



Analog Science Fiction & Fact magazine (Nov/Dec 2018 issue) posted the digital file, so if you'd like to read it (and the other finalists for the various categories who gave permission), check out the pdf: X

Winners are announced at a breakfast ceremony during Nebula Awards Weekend, so I guess I’m going to the Nebs this year. (If I win, this would be my first major writing award. SO EXCITED!)

(art by Eldar Zakirov - my edit of the original cover art with the banner overlaid)

write hard die free

Publishing News!

Analog just published my essay, “Literal Metaphors, Science Fiction, and How to Save the Human Species” on their Astounding Analog Companion (available online here: X).

It’s a companion piece for my novella - “Ashes of Exploding Suns, Monuments to Dust” - out right now in the November / December issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact magazine (available on newsstands for a few more days, or digitally from the publisher).

I’m very interested to hear what people think of the piece (and the story if you read it!), particularly the Sad and Rabid Puppies, because it’s ostensibly just the kind of thing they like: A space opera spanning vast distances and times, packed with super-tech (I invented a new method of moving stars!), interstellar war, and other elements of hard SF - even a protagonist who’s a spaceship captain….

But it subverts the conventional space opera and military narrative to tell an (ultimately) optimistic tale of social justice and hope for humanity. Plus (though I only provide clues and see no reason to call this out in the text) the ace protagonist’s gender is never revealed, because they’re the first-person narrator in a non-patriarchal society (so why bring their gender into it at all?) and there’s no romance, plus aces need better representation in hard SF and I feel the metaphor performs double-duty for this narrative.

Gender only plays an important role in the imperialist “Original Man” humans of Sol System - that’s our Earthly culture projected into the far future, clinging to obsolete social and political concepts while the “Descendent Species” scattered across the stars have moved on in varying ways.

What prompted the essay was getting a letter from a reader who wrote a deeply insightful, thoughtful, and kind analysis of what I was hoping to do with my story. He asked if I’d intended for the protagonist’s struggles with their parents to parallel the narrative of the Descendent Species to Original Man.

[Read on for more non-spoilery excerpt, or see the full thing at The Astounding Analog Companion]…

Ever since reading Iain M Banks’ Consider Phlebas - a novel that helped launch the vessels of the New Space Opera - I’ve believed that the science-fiction mode of inquiry offers the most effective set of tools for examining ourselves and our creations, providing fresh perspectives while opening new dialogues about everything it means to be human encountering change.

One of SF’s greatest tools is the literal metaphor, where an actual, literal thing in the story can stand in metaphorically for something in our world, as a means to critique that thing without immediately throwing up defensive walls against admitting we’ve failed in some way or otherwise need to improve [spoilers trimmed].

This is exactly the quality response every author hopes to hear from readers – when people “get it”—so of course I’m delighted! He was absolutely right about what I was hoping to say through the various layers of literal and metaphorical elements and relationships [spoilers trimmed]. Through these parallels, I hoped to show how each generation passes down the worst—also the best! but also the worst—aspects of themselves to their children. And so on, and so on, until humankind eventually destroys itself.

Unless we can change.

The point of the story isn’t just that we must change to survive the ever-increasing burden of terrible cultural diseases we seem to always pass down—the things that’ll lead to our demise if we don’t—but also that we can change. Even those squeezed by society’s most-oppressive systems, and their forebears’ worst and most-destructive inherited ideas, and their own parents’ worst traits… even those collapsing under the burden of all that awfulness, who are most filled with repressed anger and guilt and need to prove themselves—even suffering the horrific tragedy of losing every single person in their entire world—even such a person bent on revenge to the point they’re about to commit genocide, one most deserving to fulfill their revenge, can change. And learn. And grow. And… maybe not forgive, but accept the offered (genuine) amends.

And then to move on to create something better. To choose hope for the future for humankind, one where we accept the best our parents’ culture—even the best of whatever our earliest ancestors still have to offer, for they surely had some good ideas, too, or else we’d never have formed the first tribes and confederacies. We can accept some things, and discard others that we determine to be destructive to the self, those closest to us, or to the larger culture we love and which brought us into the world and nurtured us. And especially to those yet to be born, generations in the future.

This reader also asked about whether I was trying to say something about how age leaves the Karalang [the protagonist's culture] more vulnerable to primal emotion. This I wanted to address less directly, as I’m only part-way through life right now and cannot fully answer the question for decades yet to come - or centuries, if I were Karalang! But I’ve witnessed enough during my years and through studying human history to observe that many resist change, whether or not it’s good for them or even necessary to remain valuable, contributing members of society. We’ve all seen how many people give in to despair and fear.

Only when people make a habit of constantly becoming better can we build something new and beautiful on the (solid portion of the) foundations poured by those who came before. Only then can humankind reach for the stars without condemning our children’s children’s children to suffer the consequences of and fallout from our pride or honor, bigotry or hate, shame or jealously, selfishness or revenge, or any of a thousand other human faults and frailties. Only then can humankind grow into the best possible version of who we can be, and build a better future than we could before, because humankind becomes better people than we are today.

This goes for our species, yes, and also for each and every one of us, every single day. Becoming better is an endless project—renouncing the flawed people we’ve been before, confessing to and apologizing for the harms we’ve caused, and then making amends to those who must live with the world we’ve created and trying hard to never do those wrongs again.

The very least we can do is treat others, especially the young, better than we’ve been treated. The least we can do is hand tomorrow’s people a cultural and intellectual inheritance that’ll provide them with the tools and resources they can use to shape their future and themselves into something better than we could have imagined or done. And then to get out of the way and trust them to do better.

That’s why I was so moved when another reader wrote, “This is a story that believes in humanity and our future.” Yes, thank you!

As much as I’ve witnessed humans being terrible—and often worse with age, not because of any inherent aspect of aging, but because so many resist change and growth (embodied in the literal metaphor of the long-lived, rigid-minded Karalang culture in the story)—I’ve also gotten to know the younger generation just stepping onto the world’s stages and command centers, and as a group they are the best human beings I’ve ever encountered.

I work with dozens of new students every year, and the trend I see is toward ever-better humans who are ever-more aware of how others feel and want to do something to help. At a very young age, they’re aware of how they (and society) need to always grow and change, to not only tolerate others but love them as kin, to accept and be kind. And to speak out against hate and intolerance. They’ve been handed an inheritance of ashes and dust, yet rather than let their (well-deserved) anger drive them to react with righteous hatred, they choose to let go of the worst aspects of human nature once they become aware of them, and move on when they’re allowed.

Sure, we’re also seeing actual Nazis walking our streets. Humankind remains infected with all the old hatreds and cultural diseases, courtesy of our ancestors. But the cross-cultural, internet-fostered solidarity we’re seeing among today’s youth proves that we as a species are worthy of hope. Because we can be better—the proof is that we (as a species, embodied in today’s youth and many older folks who with generosity adapt and change as needed) are becoming better.

Humankind’s greatest strength arises from cooperation. We didn’t survive the age of saber-tooth tigers by arming ourselves with devastating weapons; no, we thrived despite such dangers because we cooperated with one another and other species.

The ever-increasing power of our technology and other creations combined with the destructive personal and cultural memes we’ve inherited from our forebears threatens the very survival of our species. The only way we save humankind from itself is through solidarity and growth. Not by banding together against a common enemy until it’s defeated, but by joining together to build a better tomorrow.

When we respect our children and the other youth among us; when we ourselves learn how to be our best and how to build a better society, then share with others how we can all become better, always; when we respect but critically evaluate our elders and the knowledge, wisdom, and so-called truths they offer or impose upon us, accepting the good and discarding the bad; when we seek to build a better future, we as a species will get (and deserve) to inhabit a better world. That’s cooperation making us healthy and happy and strong.

I believe in humankind. I believe in people. And I believe in the future. That’s why I’ve always loved science fiction so much, why I’ve read and studied and taught it for most of my life, because I believe SF provides the new perspectives we need to more clearly see ourselves and the world around us, study it, identify the good and bad, and then create new narratives for better ways to live.

In a Summer 2011 Paris Review interview, Samuel R Delany said, “Science fiction isn’t just thinking about the world out there. It’s also thinking about how that world might be—a particularly important exercise for those who are oppressed, because if they’re going to change the world we live in, they—and all of us—have to be able to think about a world that works differently.”

No wonder SF is more popular today than ever among the people poised to take the reins of society. Yes, all the recent controversy in the field has been hugely disruptive. But change is always disruptive, and if nothing else science fiction is the literature of change, not only reflecting and projecting scientific, technological, and cultural change, but also itself ever-changing. This is not our first bout of internal strife.

All we need do is look back over the generational shifts from Proto-SF, through the Pulp Era, the Golden Age, the thematic and literary growth of the Sociological SF period, the New Wave, the diversification and novel-heavy period of the ’70s, Cyberpunk, the New Space Opera, the New Weird, and now the explosion of non-Anglo speculative fiction that’s finally seeing print in the US and other major markets—as if SF has only ever been a European creation.

What’s next? Something great I bet, and certain to be different, reflecting our genre’s heritage of incorporating change at our core so what we produce continues to be true to expressing the human condition experiencing change. Not just surviving it, but finding new ways to thrive.

To be true to what SF has always been and continues to be—that is, to remain relevant—our community of writers, editors, readers, scholars, and everyone else who cares about the genre must embrace change and guide the genre into an ever-changing future. If not, we’ll end up a historical footnote.

Thankfully, I’m confident that won’t happen. Why? Because I contend that what we’ve recently seen in geek subcultures reflects larger cultural changes:

First came Gamergate, which ended with the Gamergaters losing face and much of their influence, because the vast majority of gamers can’t stand playing with jerks—and most game companies don’t want to be associated with them. The gaming community voted with their dollars and creativity against hate.

Then the Rabid Puppies yelped onto science fiction headlines. They tried to erase women, LGBTQ folks, people of color, non-Anglos, and others they see as “not real SF” people from the genre. But the majority of SF readers defeated them so thoroughly in the first year that most Hugo Award voters preferred “No Award” over permitting any nominee to win that was forced into their laps by bigots, racists, and women-haters. We’re still feeling the repercussions of this, but soon things will settle down.

Now American society’s broader #metoo and social justice movements are exposing the misogynists, white supremacists, and other hate- and fear-driven people (studies show represent only 6% of US citizens) who would steal this country from the majority of decent people who only want to help each other build a stronger, healthier place to live, who only want to create a better future. And not just in the USA! Sure, business and politics at the highest levels—exemplified by the kleptocrats in the US Capitol, the Kremlin, and other seats of power—seem to have the upper hand plus vocal support from screaming bigots. But the recent US election demonstrates that most people reject egocentrism, hate, and regressive politics, even though so many have been taught these and other harmful ideologies by previous generations. I predict we’ll see them fail soon, too.

Those derogatorily called “Social Justice Warriors” by the haters might come across as intolerant of intolerance. To which I say, Good! We must never tolerate hate. You can’t fight actual, literal Nazis using only flowers and free love. It took a devastating world war to stop them last time. The social-justice movement is far from militarized; its only tools are persuasion and cooperation. Do they sometimes come across as angry, even irrational? Who wouldn’t, especially after spending a lifetime suffering bigotry, hate, and violence without the support of or comfort from their own communities, government, or even family?

I hope the current rise of the extremist Right fails before we’re forced to endure another dystopian period: Look what it took to defeat the Third Reich. The repercussions of that misstep were horrors beyond most of our imagining, and correcting it took generations. And in regards to this particular conversation, it ended up starving the roots of SF’s Golden Age, ending that blossoming period and throwing the next SFnal generation into an era of despair centered around the New Wave’s metaphor of entropy. I mean, everything has worked out for SF, and it’s become much more diverse in terms of race, gender, and other cultural representation, but let’s not go through that again, okay?

I believe justice and freedom will prevail. Eventually, and always. Sometimes the transition is quick and (relatively) painless. Other times it’s brutal and wrecks everything for a while. But I believe in humankind’s resilience and basic redeemable nature, that most of us want what’s best for the future.

At its finest and most admirable, science fiction is much the same. We’re going through some rough change right now, and many of our most-respected creators and editors are suffering because of it (some needlessly, and others because they’ve not grown as human beings and earned their callouts). I admire and respect those with the greatest cultural privilege who’ve responded to criticism with grace, accepted the error of their ways, and seek to improve themselves, no matter how they were raised, or their age, or other excuses some offer for resisting necessary change and growth.

Adapt, change, grow: That’s how humankind remains the dominant life-form on Earth. And it’s why I believe SF is the dominant literary form and mode for expressing the human condition encountering change—not just surviving, but thriving as we, ourselves, change.

The narrator of “Ashes of Exploding Suns, Monuments to Dust” muses at one point [spoilers trimmed]:

What is honor? Perhaps it’s the satisfaction of knowing that the world ahead will be better than what lays smoldering in your wake. That you’re part of shaping a new path.

Whatever it is, honor only blooms after making peace. With one’s self, with others, with the uncaring Universe. For all our history, humans were driven to make peace when the cost of fighting grew too dear. Despite what Original Man long believed, empire bestows nothing. You cannot win honor; it cannot be taken. It must be earned. It’s also not other-directed, like [the story’s concept of fidalguia]. That was only selfishness and fear masquerading as social concern.

The most difficult peace to negotiate is within. No smiling lie can deceive the person aware of their own mind. There is no greater achievement than learning how to forgive yourself.

Like the people at the end of this story, I look forward to the day when we are finally worthy of respect. When we can look up at the stars and see countless bright futures for the children of humankind. When we as a species finally reach adulthood. Not the rigid adulthood of the past, but something new. Wiser. More honorable. Hopeful.

At least for a little while.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed this snippet! If you read the essay on The Astounding Analog Companion (or the story in the magazine!), please comment there or here to let me know what you think. Thanks!

- Chris
meteor

Aliens!

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft scientists announce that a form of chemical energy that can feed life appears to exist on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and Hubble researchers report additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter’s moon Europa.



“This is the closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA’s science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are alone or not.”

Hydrogen gas could potentially provide a chemical energy source for life, and it’s pouring into the subsurface ocean of Enceladus from hydrothermal activity on the seafloor. Ample hydrogen means that microbes – if any exist there – could use it to obtain energy by combining the hydrogen with carbon dioxide dissolved in the water.

This chemical reaction, known as “methanogenesis” because it produces methane as a byproduct, is at the root of the tree of life on Earth, and could even have been critical to the origin of life on our planet (see deep-ocean life that’s billions of years old).

Life as we know it requires three primary ingredients: liquid water, a source of energy for metabolism, and the right chemical ingredients - primarily carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur.

With this finding, Cassini shows that Enceladus – a small, icy moon a billion miles farther from the Sun than Earth – has nearly all of these ingredients for habitability. Cassini has not yet proven that phosphorus and sulfur are present in the ocean, but scientists suspect them to be, because the rocky core of Enceladus is thought to be chemically similar to other bodies that contain these elements.

“Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL).

ALIENS.

Full story: X

Lots more Cassini photos of Enceladus: X

Chris Clone Trooper

Beware LJ's new user "agreement"

For the few old-school Internet die-hards still on LiveJournal, I share this from [personal profile] clevermanka's Clevermanka.net blog:

LJ's new user agreement is a giant crock of shit and what you sign might not even be the actual agreement. The language of the English version says “this translation of the User Agreement is not a legally binding document. The original User Agreement, which is valid, is located at the following address: http://www.livejournal.com/legal/tos-ru.bml.” Which is, conveniently, not in English so who knows what you’re actually signing.

So I'll be deleting my LJ soon. Sadly. Man, all those years of journalling... At least DW is kind enough to let us back up our LJs.

If you want to stay connected in the New Home for LJ (aka Dreamwidth), connect with me via my [personal profile] mckitterick Dreamwidth blog (this is x-posting to LJ, so if you're reading this here on DW, hello!).

Best,
Chris

write hard die free

"Why so little socially progressive speculative fiction?"

This post couldn't have appeared on my Tumblr dash at a better-timed moment:


…because I’m working on a question someone posed during Karen Joy Fowler’s KU talk last week on feminism in SF and the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award. The question was why does the supposed literature of change appear - at least from the outside - to be conservative or non-imaginative in its projections of the future, especially in terms of gender, class, and so forth compared to the literary mainstream.

That’s a fair and interesting question. I mean, if you’re aware of the Sad and Rabid Puppies and what they’ve been trying to do to science fiction, particularly the Hugo Award, and not an avid reader or scholar of SF, you’re unlikely to know the best that the field has to offer is much more diverse and socially progressive than what you typically see in movie theaters or on best-seller shelves.

But I also think it’s a flawed premise, because you can’t pick the best of any other genre (say, the college-literary-journal genre) and compare that to the worst of another (in this case, SF).

The first part of my answer to the question is, if science fiction is, as Sir Arthur C. Clarke repeatedly said, “the only realistic fiction,” that’s in part because of his love for what SF can do, and in part because its practitioners are held to a (often ridiculously) high level of realism, necessary for maintaining the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief - while at the same time developing alien or future or worlds otherwise  utterly different from our own. I mean, I’m working on a story right now where the editor’s only revision request revolves around working out the punishingly challenging math of some new physics I’ve proposed (for Analog SF magazine, naturally). Why? Because we can’t have the highly educated audience being distracted from the main drive of my story (how poisonous traditions and sense of communal honor combined with conflict can lead to tragedy) by faults in the reality of this future alien world-building.

It’s a real challenge to create, for example, an anarchist utopia populated by humans that’s believable (though I was deeply influenced by Le Guin's The Dispossessed). But it’s easy to write yet another dystopian future, because so much of human history provides examples of the horrors humans bring upon the world. It’s not difficult to imagine a future with increasing power differentials between rich and poor, and the power of our technologies suggests that the world is more likely to look like a gritty cyberpunk vision than a Kim Stanley Robinson future.

One of the drivers of my series of Jupiter stories (which will accumulate into an eventual novel) is that I wanted to experiment with how we as a species could evolve human civilization beyond capitalism (at least as practiced today in our culture) to an egalitarian, socialist society - and to transition in a natural and realistic way, co-existing within a broader capitalist society.

The best answer to this question is to refer the questioner to Sturgeon’s Law. Theodore Sturgeon (known for his urging everyone to “Ask the next question” - his signature included a stylized Q with an arrow through it; more here if you’d like to see his essay on this) had grown weary of defending speculative fiction for so many years and pointed out that SF was the only genre evaluated by its worst examples rather than its best.

“When people talk about the mystery novel,” he said at the World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia in 1953, “they mention The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. When they talk about the western, they say there’s The Way West and Shane. But when they talk about science fiction, they call it ‘that Buck Rogers stuff,’ and they say ‘ninety percent of science fiction is crud.’

“Well, they’re right. Ninety percent of science fiction is crud. But then ninety percent of everything is crud, and it’s the ten percent that isn’t crud that is important. And the ten percent of science fiction that isn’t crud is as good as or better than anything being written anywhere.”

SF authors are and have been for a long time addressing progressive social concerns right now. I could point to some of the biggest contemporary names, such as Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, Elizabeth Bear, Cory Doctorow, Ann Leckie, Ian McDonald, Seanen McGuire, Linda Nagata, Nnedi Okorafor, Kim Stanley Robinson, and a thousand others who might not be published through major presses but which, nonetheless, have a major impact on the genre.

I posed these thoughts on my Tumblr blog and my private SF-workshop alumni group, who quickly engaged in vigorous discussion of the topic. A few very smart insights from their responses:

A theater-program director and author added more authors to my abbreviated list: Daniel Jose Older, Malka Older, Nisi Shawl, Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, Amal El-Mohtar, Ted Chiang, Delia Sherman, Ellen Kushner, Sarah Pinsker, China Mieville, and Samuel Delany. We could go on for days, but that list, alone, is solid argument against the notion that progressive-change-oriented SF isn’t being written or published.

The Tumblr blogger @saffronhare​ says, “I’m commenting here not as a literary scholar or even as a person who reads a wide variety of SF, but I am a professional communicator. Part of what I think happens is that storytellers bring an audience through certain levels of agreement and acceptance in the process of world-building. Before we can get a person to believe in what a better future could look like, there is the work of getting that person to agree on the extreme effed-up-ness of things.” Great point! I suspect this is a major reason we see so many more dystopias than utopias.

A former NASA geologist and professor (now SF author) adds, "many of these stories are indeed being written. They just can't get published. Many of the stories appearing in mainstream lit are in fact written by self-proclaimed SF folk that couldn't get their stuff published by the supposed SF publishers." This suggests that the age-old problem of publishing's conservatism is part of the problem, rather than the genre-mindset itself.

The author who blogs under @copperbadge sent a link to this fantastic piece on the subject, addressing the importance of empathy in SF, and “meditating on why so many scifi writers appear to be so conservative.” From near the conclusion (my bolding):

“You can’t control the future. There are too many variables. And if you can’t control the future, but you desperately want to, the next instinctive, illogical step is to prevent it from happening. Keep things the way they are. Maintain the status quo and you don’t have to worry. Ray Bradbury likened social justice to censorship, and was violently opposed to his book about censorship being turned into an e-book that literally could not be burned. Orson Scott Card is terrified that legalising gay marriage is going to screw up the social fabric of the entire country, despite the fact that gay people were happily cohabitating with each other long before he was born and will be long after he is dead. Science fiction writers don’t automatically want to see the future. Some want to script it. Some think the only way to do that is to prevent it from happening.” A great read!

Along those lines, I’d like to share a book that does strive to provide visions of a positive future: Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future (I mean, it’s even in the title), put together by Kathryn Cramer and Ed Finn, the founding director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, which provides great support for their SF center (and one of members of our new International Science Fiction Consortium). That project proves it’s possible to write excellent future-leaning SF that isn’t dystopian.

Another alum wrote, "One of the problems is the intersection between forward-thinking literature and experimental literature. Often the best examples of literature of change are the least accessible. Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice was a tough read for me. Because I've lived my life in a society mostly dominated by men, but making space in language for women, reading her book with the default of female pronouns was difficult. [...] I presumed that the most exciting literature of change, the most progressive in the genre, would not be best-sellers. Then I looked up Ancillary Justice and Slaughterhouse Five. Both were best-sellers. [...] When the majority of writers are the ones in positions of privilege (who list no women writers or writers of color as influences on their work), we are not going to see as much writing exploring gender, race, class, etc."

This last observation points to the problem rests on societal issues rather than the genre. In fact, the genre has often been the first to call out those very problems: How often do we use “Orwellian” these days? Or refer to Fahrenheit 451? Or any of the vast back-catalog of speculative fiction which has shaped how we view not only the future but also the world we live in? We cannot accurately predict which of our contemporary works will endure the test of time, or shape the future.

Back to the original question: Why does SF so often appear to not address (especially in utopian ways) progressive social change? Partly it’s because it’s really tough to create realistic worlds that demonstrate such change, partly because humans are kind of terrible. But largely it’s because, like anything humans do, 90% of it is crud. And unless you’re deeply involved in any genre, you only encounter the best work by accident.

I believe it’s safe to say that SF doesn’t shy away from the tough questions, the big criticisms, or exploring all aspects of change. It is the literature of the human species encountering change.

In "How America's Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future" (May 2014 Smithsonian), author Eileen Gunn writes, "Science fiction, at its best, engenders the sort of flexible thinking that not only inspires us, but compels us to consider the myriad potential consequences of our actions. Samuel R. Delaney, one of the most wide-ranging and masterful writers in the field, sees it as a countermeasure to the future shock that will become more intense with the passing years. 'The variety of worlds science fiction accustoms us to, through imagination, is training for thinking about the actual changes - sometimes catastrophic, often confusing - that the real world funnels at us year after year. It helps us avoid feeling quite so gob-smacked.'"

She quotes MIT professor and engineer Sophia Brueckner, who "laments that researchers whose work deals with emerging technologies are often unfamiliar with science fiction: 'With the development of new biotech and genetic engineering, you see authors like Margaret Atwood writing about dystopian worlds centered on those technologies. Authors have explored these exact topics in incredible depth for decades, and I feel reading their writing can be just as important as reading research papers.'"

In her speech at the National Book Awards, when she was awarded the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, Ursula K. Le Guin said, "Hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality."

This is what science fiction does, and why it has remained at the center of my life for as long as I’ve been a self-aware being. And why I made it the Gunn Center’s mission to “Save the World Through Science Fiction!”

Now that I feel this is complete enough to blog here, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this discussion, as well!