This article was originally submitted for consideration by a forthcoming encyclopedia. Owing to format and length concerns, the editors requested a substantial revision but acceded to this draft’s publication in another venue. As a short survey as opposed to a substantive history, it is impossible to deny that there are gaps, including the absence of personages that might scandalize some readers. I can only respond with my deepest apologies for such offenses and suggest a consultation with The Cambridge History of Science Fiction, a far more substantial and thorough accounting. A word of deep thanks and appreciation to Paul Buhle, a pen-pal whose wisdom, memories, and openness models how the word comrade might truly be defined.
Science fiction, known by its shorthand abbreviation sci-fi, has a deep link with the socialist project dating back to the days of the Second International. Alongside the typical literary osmosis that occurs when authors absorb radical politics of their contemporaries, there is a distinct history of the genre’s texts serving as an imaginative laboratory for socialist/communist prepositions and/or propositions. The epistemological horizon of utopia invites these experiments in the imagination, sometimes resulting in practical consequences. For instance, Edward Bellamy’s 1888 novel Looking Backward: 2000-1887, one of the foundational time travel texts in the genre, catalyzed the creation of an entire political movement of clubs seeking to nationalize the means of production, hence their nomenclature as Nationalist Clubs. This trend has amplified in the last 140 years (though Bellamy might have been horrified to see how many forecasts have instead served a different side of class struggle).
A persistent trend that amplified in this half-century period was the multi-media nature of the genre. Prior to 1970, there were niches within literature, film, television, and other visual art forms that fostered cottage industries. By contrast, in 2020, it was possible to look at multiple platforms and media types to see each contained sci-fi genres that not only were well-established but quantified as the largest financial successes in that given media form ever, case and point the Marvel Comics Cinematic Universe and the Star Wars franchises ranking as the two highest-grossing film series in worldwide box office history. Video games, popular music, comic books, collectible statuary, fashion, children’s toys, and many more forms of art now have distinct and prominent sci-fi artistic expressions. An entire cable television channel, SyFy, launched in September 1992 as the Sci-Fi Channel, remains a programming staple nationwide and has generated its own award-winning media. While a historical survey of the first half of the century describes a niche audience, this period describes a major centrifuge of capital accumulation within an increasingly-consolidated and deregulated multimedia market system.
Furthermore, a distinct internationalism within the genre is impossible to avoid. Due to both capital’s globalization and human solidarities extending beyond nation-state borders, it is possible to honestly discuss American audiences that gave high estimation and reverie to worldwide authors. Simultaneously, expatriate Americans, like Norman Spinrad, made their home on foreign shores while building substantive bodies of work. These multinational authors found an orbit around the hub of unipolar American capitalism, distinctly different from how national literary genres held a provincial existence during the Cold War. While in 1920, Soviet science fiction would remain undiscovered by Anglophone audiences for several decades in some instances, by 2020 the distinctively dialectical novels of Chinese author Cixin Liu were bestsellers that President Barack Obama was endorsing within less than ten years of first publication and translation. This was emblematic of a booming Sinophonic import market with large readership that included both mainland nationals and expats. The academic study of science fiction became a popular disciplinary project that included substantial analysis of these nuances.
This period also saw the arrival of a new century and millennium that had long been forecast within the genre. As the anarchist anthropologist David Graeber quipped,
There is a secret shame hovering over all us in the twenty-first century. No one seems to want to acknowledge it. For those in what should be the high point of their lives, in their forties and fifties, it is particularly acute, but in a broader sense it affects everyone. The feeling is rooted in a profound sense of disappointment about the nature of the world we live in, a sense of a broken promise—of a solemn promise we felt we were given as children about what our adult world was supposed to be like… I am referring, of course, to the conspicuous absence, in 2015, of flying cars.
While consumer-grade personal levitation vehicles have yet to appear on the market, a wide range of technologies originally foreseen in these fictions did become commercial enterprises. The internet, large-scale video-based communications, the digitization of millions of texts into libraries accessible across the globe (both for free and on basis of purchase/subscription), web-based social networking systems, artificially synthesized food with high nutritional value, educational courses delivered via computers, encyclopedias authored by millions of collaborators, and mobile communication devices that can reach the other side of the planet while fitting comfortably in your pocket all were prefigured by the genre before becoming a reality, much as theoretical atomic bombs populated texts decades before 1945. Generations of scientists in both the private sector and at public agencies like NASA were inspired by science fiction to create technologies we have become reliant upon in this new century.
And, just as many of the genre’s more progressive and radical authors predicted, capital has embraced these technologies not in order to better the collective standards of living for humanity but instead to generate new and unique forms of value extraction. Many of the more dystopian predictions from within the genre, such as an elite capitalist class ensconced in comfort while the vast majority of the population suffers in the face of economic precarity and ecological calamity, have become a reality.
In 2009, cultural critic Mark Fisher described an important emerging genre nuance:
Watching [Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film] Children of Men, we are inevitably reminded of the phrase attributed to Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek, that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. That slogan captures precisely what I mean by ‘capitalist realism’: the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it. Once, dystopian films and novels were exercises in such acts of imagination – the disasters they depicted acting as narrative pretext for the emergence of different ways of living. Not so in Children of Men. The world that it projects seems more like an extrapolation or exacerbation of ours than an alternative to it. In its world, as in ours, ultra-authoritarianism and Capital are by no means incompatible: internment camps and franchise coffee bars co-exist. In Children of Men, public space is abandoned, given over to uncollected garbage and stalking animals (one especially resonant scene takes place inside a derelict school, through which a deer runs). Neoliberals, the capitalist realists par excellence, have celebrated the destruction of public space but, contrary to their official hopes, there is no withering away of the state in Children of Men, only a stripping back of the state to its core military and police functions (I say ‘official’ hopes since neoliberalism surreptitiously relied on the state even while it has ideologically excoriated it. This was made spectacularly clear during the banking crisis of 2008, when, at the invitation of neoliberal ideologues, the state rushed in to shore up the banking system.)
Whether the antithetical rebellion envisioned by these authors as a response to this political economy will be victorious in Eugène Pottier’s “final conflict” wherein “The Internationale/Will be the human race” remains still in the forecast column as of this writing. Conversely, in consideration of the high mainstream media market share of texts fitting this genre designation, one can also trace a distinct and noteworthy trend whereby these fictions now reify and reinforce dominant capitalist ideological systems in a fashion that is distinctly different from Fisher’s diagnostic matrix. While Fisher was referencing a lack of imaginative horizon emerging in texts that otherwise contemplated forms of rebellion against the dominant order, it is necessary to further examine science fiction texts enforcing superstructural systems of capitalist hegemony.
Conversely, it is impossible to neglect the distinct impact of science fiction upon contemporary politics. There now exist several generations of radical adults and youths who have grown to political awakening in a culture saturated in science fiction multimedia. As just one instance, the Introductory essay to Marxian economist Michael Hudson’s 2015 Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy included a not-too-subtle reference to the Wachowski Sisters’ The Matrix. The internet meme as a form of political art oftentimes combines a still image from a sci-fi text with a witty quip about contemporary politics. The 2019 Verso Books title Fully Automated Luxury Communism by Aaron Bastani had a distinctly science fictional horizon. Activists and organizers have these texts as referents that are just as inspirational as the writings of Marx, Lenin, and Mao were for earlier generations. The slogan “We Are the 99%” of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the aesthetics of the worldwide digital “hactivist” Anonymous Collective carried a dimension indebted to dystopian texts of the prior two decades, with the eponymous Guy Fawkes mask, borrowed directly from the 2005 cinematic adaptation of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta graphic novel, popping up at rallies held by both movements. During the presidency of Donald Trump, “Wakanda Forever,” transposed from the 2018 superhero film Black Panther, became a slogan of pride and resistance that seems to be a synthesis of the Black Power era’s militancy with a distinctly utopian vision. While earlier authors brought scientific socialist references into their texts, we now seem to have reached a point of synthesis, a deeply-embedded science fiction socialist aesthetic.
The science fiction genre has developed across a multitude of media forms since the 1970s and the advent of the so-called “New Wave” (itself a dubious appellation). The conjunction with radical politics in this half-century period is likewise complex and multi-faceted, due in no small part to the collapse of traditional partisan-style organizing. As was the case with radical scholars in the academy that embraced ideological examination and a turn towards cultural studies, radical currents within texts have manifested in a multiplicity of formations that defy simple categorization. What follows is an attempt to profile currents which emerged in a contemporaneous fashion, with some overlap, that describe developments in the genre.
A-THE NEW WAVE PERIOD
For these purposes, the designation “New Wave” will reference a generation of writers born shortly before, during, or after the Second World War that came to prominence after 1960 and shared several contrarian stylistic traits. While the appellation has a more formal consistency as pertaining to British writers, the term is much more plastic in America, not unlike a similar function for the phrase “New Left.” Writers in America who are commonly grouped under this heading would beg to differ with the categorization in several instances. Furthermore, some were old enough to have written for the traditional pulp magazines decades earlier and did so. As such, this phrasing will instead reference a group of authors that were known for dissatisfaction with preexisting genre conventions and norms that dated back to the so-called “Golden Age” of interwar pulp romances. Literary critic Shannon Davies Mancus writes “New Wave writers, though they varied in age, were part of a cohort on an ontological precipice. A key part of this shared consciousness shift was the perception that enlightenment era thinking and ‘rational’ politics had failed.” The porous membrane is further complicated by the distinctly American nuances that inflected the genre. For instance, while Robert A. Heinlein was a conservative libertarian-inclined Republican with overt racist themes in his writings, his 1961 Stranger in a Strange Land had an undeniable impact on this cohort. This can be explained by the ideological convergence shared by radicals and reactionaries in the high estimation of Jeffersonian liberal democratic philosophy.
Authors like Harlan Ellison, Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia E. Butler, Kurt Vonnegut, Phillip K. Dick, and many others embraced and expressed themes common to the New Left critique of the American social contract, such as antiracism, anti-imperialism, opposition to gender/sex/sexuality norms and discrimination, drug experimentation, ecological degradation, the Frankfurt School’s critique of consumerism, and antiauthoritarianism. (Ellison, for example, dedicated a 1971 anthology titled Alone Against Tomorrow to the students at Kent State shot by National Guard troops the year before.) Their writings not only engaged with tabooed story topics, such as blatant non-hetero-sexuality, but also challenged forms and norms of narrative structure in ways that went far beyond the traditional limitations to first-/third-person narratives typical of mainstream American Romantic literature.
During the Vietnam War, the writer’s community was evenly split. In a June 1968 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine, on a two page advertisement there appeared oppositional statements, one featuring writers signing an endorsement of the war and the other a denouncement and call for withdrawal from combat. David M. Higgins interestingly notes “Cold War SF often, therefore, thrives on the pleasures of imperial masochism, or the enjoyment that comes from imaginatively occupying the position of a subaltern victim,” a tendency that includes individuals who either did or would have signed both sides of the 1968 Galaxy advertisement. “This is one of the strangest legacies that the Vietnam War has created for American SF: American audiences, who are the privileged beneficiaries of imperial globalization, are constantly invited to identify with anticolonial guerilla [sic] freedom fighters (like the Viet Cong), despite the almost total absence of any attempt whatsoever to understand actual Vietnamese perspectives concerning one of the most brutal and devastating wars in either Vietnamese or American history.”
In many ways, Ellison played an outsized role in this generation’s prominence. His two acclaimed anthologies, Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972), much like pulp magazines for several earlier generations, established in public consciousness membership in this contentious designation and what could be expected. Perhaps the most popular overtly political novel was Le Guin’s The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia, wherein the author sought to outline the functional methods of an anarcho-communist society.
Following the cult success of Blade Runner, a futuristic neo-noir directed by Ridley Scott, Phillip K. Dick’s work experienced a posthumous rediscovery unlike any other. Dick was published by the pulps starting in 1952 and had a continuous output of work until his death in 1982. For several decades, his name alone constituted a small sub-genre of existentialist sci-fi pictures that are deeply suspicious of the status quo (and sometimes reality itself). A Scanner Darkly, later adapted into a powerful and technologically-groundbreaking film by Richard Linklater, offered an eerily prescient critique of America’s public health and carceral methods of addressing substance use disorder. After the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, the Amazon Studios television adaptation of his alternate history The Man in the High Castle, about a fascist United States ruled by a victorious Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, attained a new resonance unforeseen when premiered the year before.
While not necessarily categorized in this New Wave group, horror author Stephen King, who named one of his sons after martyred Wobbly organizer Joe Hill, penned several novels that clearly overlap with science fiction while exploring similar ideological territory. The Long Walk and The Running Man deal with hyper-consumerist futuristic societies, Hearts in Atlantis contemplates the fate of the New Left generation, 11/22/63 is a time travel story centered on President Kennedy’s assassination as a pivotal event that determined the fate of the world, The Stand is set in a post-apocalyptic landscape, and the nine volume Dark Tower cycle fuses elements of fantasy, inter-dimensional/time travel, and Spaghetti Western narrative tropes. His repudiation of Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic adaptation of The Shining was underwritten by a New Left feminist critique.
A slightly younger author with a more hard sci-fi inclination, Kim Stanley Robinson, member of the Democratic Socialists of America, used his works to explore ecology, colonization of the solar system in response to population growth, and economic/social justice themes. His Ph. D thesis in English was advised by Fredric Jameson and dealt with the writings of Philip K. Dick.
B-THE SPACE OPERA BLOCKBUSTER
With the exception of television shows like Dr. Who, Star Trek (which broke new ground by featuring the first ever televised interracial kiss between William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols), The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone (both of which embraced the anti-nuclear arms proliferation movement of the Cold War era), as well as few and far-between films like Planet of the Apes (including as writers several survivors of the Hollywood Blacklist) and 2001: A Space Odyssey, science fiction cinema was designated a genre for children and low-budget B movie production companies, with a subsidiary cottage industry of imported Japanese kaiju monster movies such as the Godzilla series.
This was changed permanently in 1977 following the surprise success of George Lucas’ Star Wars, which remade both what was possible within the confines of the genre and the Hollywood film release calendar. Along with the earlier success of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, the summer was changed from a season of low-grade fare to the time when studios would release films with high production values catered to youths and teens. The Lucas picture over the next four decades inspired the release of high-cost space operas, including 13 cinematic adaptations of Roddenberry’s Trek that increasingly borrowed stylistic and narrative tropes from Lucas, much to the chagrin of older fans. (The 1996 First Contact film in fact admitted the political economy of the Trek universe was a Marxian pure communist one, complete with the abolition of the money commodity.) While it limited for many years the storytelling boundaries to the soft sci-fi realm, it also led to critical examination of major New Left ideas and causes. The Alien series, combining horror with blue collar shipping industry ethos in outer space, offered a thorough (and at times frightening) feminist politics personified by the tough-as-nails Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) and a subtle critique of the neoliberal prioritization of profit over human welfare. Issues like racism and genocide, homo/bi-sexuality, HIV/AIDS, and other topics would migrate from protest movement literature into the multiple rebooted Trek television shows, J. Michael Straczynski’s Byzantine Babylon 5, and other franchises. Lucas’ much-maligned prequel trilogy of Star Wars films held as a central conflict a dispute over (intergalactic) free trade and deregulation, the first screenplay having been begun just a year after President Bill Clinton’s passage of the onerous North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) that accelerated the deindustrialization of the United States’ manufacturing core.
As an auxiliary of this development, these franchises have each generated novels that now compose significant shares of the book sellers market. Under the banner of Star Wars/Trek, novelists have subtly injected critiques of late capitalism that have flown under the radar and become bestsellers. While certainly unable to reach for the levels of innovation akin Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren (very few of the Star Wars novels have ever featured anything except third person omniscient narration), authors have been afforded a space to popularize progressive and radical politics that might not otherwise find such a large audience.
C-CYBERPUNK AND THE END OF HISTORY
Cyberpunk developed following the publication of William Gibson’s 1984 Neuromancer. It combined a nihilistic critique of neoliberalism, a skeptical moral ambiguity of psychological medication, and the novelty of the world wide web into a potent mix clearly indebted to Old Left detective noir genre conventions. Frederic Jameson described it as “the supreme literary expression if not of postmodernism, then of late capitalism itself.” Over the following three decades, cyberpunk (and spin-offs like steampunk, dieselpunk, and biopunk) were extremely popular. The Terminator (1984) was seen as a substantial examination of gender roles and misogyny at the time of its release. The Matrix (1999-2003), arguably the most successful cyberpunk film series (featuring a cameo by Democratic Socialists of America éminence grise Dr. Cornel West), combined a number of mystical notions indebted to Eastern religious traditions with a cinematic seminar on ideology, including references to Marx, Gramsci, Foucault, the Frankfurt School, and Baudrillard. Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentleman graphic novel series published by New York-based DC Comics, seen as a foundational steampunk text, used a postmodern pastiche of Victorian Romantic literary heroes repurposed as a superhero team to express Moore’s anarchist critique of early 21st century society. The Mad Max series, a progenitor of the dieselpunk genre, included an anti-nuclear and feminist critique of patriarchy. In a January 2019 article for Slate magazine, however, Lee Konstantinou wrote “I have come to suspect these punk derivatives signal something more than the usual merry-go-round of pop culture… These new subgenres often repeat the same gestures as cyberpunk, discover the same facts about the world, and tell the same story… The 1980s have, in a sense, never ended; they seem as if they might never end.” Perhaps this is reflective of the hegemony of neoliberalism and therefore an unintentionally-powerful critique of contemporary political economy. In contrast with the previous half century, this 50 year period has featured only two economic paradigms governing America, the close of the postwar Pentagon Keynesian epoch and the ascendancy of neoliberalism. This relative uniformity might explain the limitations of horizons within certain sectors of science fiction and the repetition of the –punk metier, a variation on Francis Fukuyama’s claims about “the end of history.”
D-SCIENCE FICTION THEMES IN POSTMODERN, MAGICAL REALIST, AND OTHER LITERATURE
While Jameson designated cyberpunk as “the supreme literary expression” of postmodernism, it is simultaneously impossible to claim that all cyberpunk and its various progeny can be classified as postmodernist. As it became a mainstream sub-genre, the -punk projects absconded adherence to the literary qualifiers for postmodernism in the name of commercial appeal. However, sci-fi themes began to migrate into other modes of literature. Postmodern author Thomas Pynchon’s novels all included sci-fi elements, noted in 1973 when his Gravity’s Rainbow was nominated for the Nebula Award. His 2006 Against the Day was a meta-commentary on sci-fi’s history and its aforementioned intersection with radical politics in America, featuring pre-World War I anarchists that collaborate with hydrogen airship piloting teams in globe-spanning adventures in formulating an implicitly-contemporary critique of “anti-terrorism” a century later. Kurt Vonnegut, who began his career in the pulps with less-sophisticated novels and short stories, graduated into the literary canon with novels such as Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle, both of which were staples of high school and college curricula by the close of the century. Tony Kushner’s “Gay Fantasia on National Themes” Angels in America, an epic two-part drama about the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, included angels, psychic journeys, the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, and a Brechtian script rebutting the neoconservative onslaught. Canadian Margaret Atwood found an unexpected renaissance in the later 2010’s around her feminist dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale, about a patriarchal theocracy that relegates women to a feudal procreative utility and little more that was originally written in 1985 as a meditation on the Evangelical Christian element of the Reagan coalition. It was later adapted as a television series that was released shortly after the inauguration of Trump and the historic 2017 Women’s March. Throughout Trump’s four year term, feminist activists would sport T-shirts and costumes referencing the drama while opposing assaults on reproductive rights and other feminist causes.
Magical realism, which includes fantastic themes and conventions expressed in more subtle, less Romantic methods, emerged as part of the Latin American literary tradition before being absorbed worldwide. Writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a close friend of Fidel Castro, and Isabel Allende, niece of slain Chilean president Salvador Allende, were extremely popular in English translation. Toni Morrison, whose first career as an editor at Random House included shepherding the publication of autobiographies by Angela Y. Davis and Muhammad Ali, authored a number of Magical Realist classics that grappled with African American life and politics, including her ghost story Beloved and the fantastical The Song of Solomon. Other similar instances of this sort of osmosis can be seen in the poetry of Anne Boyer, an adamant Marxist who contemplated the “dismal science” in conjunction with her own health struggles.
The growth of the Young Adult subgenre, thanks in no small part to the success of the Harry Potter fantasy series and its imitators, has included a large staple of science fiction novels, such as the dystopian Hunger Games. An auxiliary of this has been the explosion in popularity of graphic novels, made up of compendiums reprinting earlier standard comic books as well as original narratives.
Perhaps the most intriguing development in the genre over the past few decades has been Afrofuturism. Addressed explicitly to the representational disparities and flawed characterizations of African Americans in these texts, the project seeks to envision a future of Blackness that is celebratory and joyous in the face of contemporaneous struggle and hardship. Pointing to the fictional writings of W.E.B. Du Bois (especially his short story “The Comet”), Octavia Butler, Ralph Ellison, and Samuel R. Delany, the music albums of Sun Ra and Parliament Funkadelic, films like Brother from Another Planet, and Marvel’s Black Panther comic book serial, it emerged into mainstream media prominence with the #BlackLivesMatter/Movement for Black Lives developments of the 2010s. In this sense, it has an organic radicalism that is grounded in a critique of political economy. It also directly confronts arguably the most successful scientifically fictional discourse in American history, race and racism, and how it pervaded both the genre and wider society as a factual notion, including ways that sci-fi novels and stories both overtly and inadvertently reify racialist ideology within the framework of extraterrestrial inter-species contact. (This topic was also addressed in the 1972 alternate history novel The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad, which imagined if Adolph Hitler had become a pulp author expatriated to America rather than a politician in Weimar Germany.) One of the most prominent new writers, N.K. Jemisin, engaged readily with the legacy of the New Wave generation as well as the social gains of the Left over the past century, perhaps most hopefully in her provocatively-titled How Long ‘til Black Future Month? (2018)
This development was simultaneous with a series of events in the fan community that demonstrated a simmering political divide within. From 2014-17, reactionary members of the World Science Fiction Convention formed a voting bloc within the polity that awards the annual Hugos, one of the major industrial accolades of the genre, as a result of alleged “biases” that “favored” multicultural authors and texts. The Sad Puppies and various progeny sought to promote right wing militarist fictions, some with explicit misogyny, racism, and homo-/trans-phobia. This bloc seemed to in hindsight be a microcosmic augury of the aggrieved Euro-American working class and petit bourgeois voters that flocked to Donald Trump’s explicit nativism during the 2015-16 presidential election. As these two currents came into contradiction with one another, it suggested a set of novel developments that would break with stale conventions, such as a pedestrian and sclerotic mainstreaming of postmodernist irony in high-grossing but otherwise superficial films like Disney/Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
With the coming of the new century’s second decade, multiculturalism and feminist ethics infused the genre alongside a distinctly new forecast, the impending impacts of cataclysmic global warming. A significant theme within not only dystopias but any texts dealing with the future includes contemplation of what climate change will mean for the species. Major motion pictures, such as the 2012 Cloud Atlas (dirs. The Wachowski Sisters and Tom Tykwer), 2017’s Bade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve), 2020’s Tenet (dir. Christopher Nolan), and multiple other texts envision a future where coastal flooding, food depletion due to crop loss, and social consequences of these developments play across the screen. Remaining pulp magazines, such as Asimov’s and Analog, regularly feature authors that include these themes in their imaginings. As the event that may become the prime concern of the homo sapien over the next half-century, ecological themes will continue to grow in prominence. It is possible to foresee a polarization that was articulated originally in the writings of Vermont’s eco-anarchist Murray Bookchin. On the Left there will appear a plea for egalitarian principles and radical emancipatory redistribution as basic resources, such as habitable land, potable water, and food supplies, decrease exponentially. The Right will take on features Bookchin detailed succinctly in a polemic about reactionary “deep ecology:”
It was out of this kind of crude eco-brutalism that Hitler, in the name of ‘population control,’ with a racial orientation, fashioned theories of blood and soil that led to the transport of millions of people to murder camps like Auschwitz. The same eco-brutalism now reappears…among self-professed deep ecologists who believe that Third World peoples should be permitted to starve to death and that desperate Indian immigrants from Latin America should be exclude by the border cops from the United States lest they burden ‘our’ ecological resources… Deep ecology is so much of a black hole of half-digested, ill-formed, and half-baked ideas that one can easily express utterly vicious notions…and still sound like a fiery radical who challenges everything that is anti-ecological in the present realm of ideas. The very words deep ecology, in fact, clue is into the fact that we are not dealing with a body of clear ideas but with a bottomless pit in which vague notions and moods of all kinds can be such into the depths of an ideological toxic dump.
Will textual authors evenly subdivide as they did around the Vietnam War half a century ago? Will progressive formations, bearing some resemblance to Popular Front assemblies of authors in the Depression and Second World War, devise a unified framework to profess opposition to this resurgent ethno-nationalism?
The other challenge that the genre will confront is the digital paradigm and its re-formulation of text distribution networks. While the internet was originally formulated in science fiction, the systems of publication and distribution, as has been the case for all text genres, have encountered an adaptation challenge, with a large fraction of the industry still arrested in the analog traditions. Intellectual property and notions of textual ownership only form one half of the challenge. The other is a massive saturation of markets that render older distribution forms, such as periodicals and books, not so much obsolete as proportionally less valuable. What does it mean for a professionalized industry when it is flooded overnight with websites that feature free content, including fan-authored fictions about franchise characters that were previously exclusive to authorized writers and artists? How does one utilize the internet to generate profits for publication when the forces of monopolization, consolidation, and privatization of essential communications networks are concentrated so significantly in such powerful tech firms? The web-based magazine Clarkesworld, founded by editor Neil Clarke in October 2006, has explored a subscription paradigm heavily-dependent upon the e-book format with print issues as an auxiliary function that could point in one direction. Simultaneously, multiple periodicals have embraced the free podcasting system as a method of distribution, allowing readers to experience stories in an audio format that was previously a much more cost-prohibitive one.
Perhaps there is a synthesis to be gleaned from the radical movements of the people in the new century. As a response to the American Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTEL-PRO) operated by police agencies, radicals in the new century have developed an innovative network of decentralized, horizontal systems of base-building and mobilization that provide strategic versatility. While these systems do carry their own challenges, such novelty might occasion a further fusion of the genre and politics in a way reminiscent of Edward Bellamy.
Bookchin, Murray. “Social Ecology versus Deep Ecology: A Challenge for the Ecology Movement.” Green Perspectives: Newsletter of the Green Program Project, 1987. Anarchy Archives, dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bookchin/socecovdeepeco.html.
Butler, Andrew M. “Riding the New Wave.” The Cambridge History of Science Fiction, edited by Gerry Canavan and Eric Carl Link, Cambridge University Press, 2019, pp. 323–337.
Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Zero Books, 2010.
Graeber, David. The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy. Melville House Publishing, 2016.
Higgins, David M. “New Wave Science Fiction and the Vietnam War.” The Cambridge History of Science Fiction, edited by Gerry Canavan and Eric Carl Link, Cambridge University Press, 2019, pp. 415–433.
Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Duke University Press, 1991.
Konstantinou, Lee. “Something Is Broken in Our Science Fiction: Why Can’t We Move Past Cyberpunk?” Slate Magazine, 15 Jan. 2019, slate.com/technology/2019/01/hopepunk-cyberpunk-solarpunk-science-fiction-broken.html.Print