Science fiction and cultural focus

I’m a little late with this one, but the point bears making even if the link is a few days stale. The SFBC blog linked to an article at Seed Magazine about the rise of Chinese science fiction. The article also mentions in passing a similar boost in India and other Eastern parts of the world.

It mentions the hazards of state censorship, but suggests that this may become increasingly irrelevant. I tend to agree; the internet is making market forces a very hard thing to squelch, no matter how heavy handed a government you may happen to be. The overall thrust is this – Asia is getting into sf in a big way. If the people want the stuff, they’ll find a way to get it.

My point of interest is this – the nations mentioned are going through the first flush of a love affair with all things off-planet, just like the Western world was during the ‘golden era’ of sf. Science fiction is still popular here, but not populist – sf fans are considered to be endearingly geeky, and a little old fashioned. Sure, popular culture uses sf tropes, but they’re just stories, right? The idea of serious yearnings for a space-born future is considered a trifle passe by the average non-fan. It’s an acceptable thing to nod towards, but not to genuflect to. After all, one has to be realistic, doesn’t one?

So, does this add weight to the idea that a broad increase in the social appeal of science fiction indicates a new flowering of forward-looking tendencies in a culture? It is my belief that it does. All of a sudden, spaceflight (once the sole province of the ‘first world’) is within the grasp of nations that previously couldn’t even dream of it with any sense of realism. With the Indians and the Chinese working hard to get fresh innovative projects into space, the balance is no longer tipped to one side. The people on the ground are starting to look at the stars as somewhere they (or their descendents) may be able to go. They’re being realistic, too – just without the layers of cynicism and ennui that we have accumulated here in the West.

Dreams are powerful things – why else do we read fiction, of any type? It is my belief that most of us try to restrict our dreams within the scope of the marginally plausible. That margin is spreading rapidly. I see this surge of interest in science fiction as a sign of formerly impoverished nations starting to dream big.

The recent resurgence of space endeavours here in the West may hopefully bring a similar renewal of interest to speculative genres of writing. But even if it doesn’t, the spirit of science fiction will live on, in the hearts and minds of those who are still not too jaded to think beyond the confines of a tired and damaged ball of rock that gave them birth. It is my hope that the renewed interest in all things sf will be a global trend, as we move toward a realisation that we can all have a future if we all work together, and that the future is only limited by our ability to imagine it.

In the meantime, I’m glad to see the East being bitten by the bug. I believe that we’ll only have a future off-planet if we all agree to leave our petty disagreements behind. Maybe a global interest in sf will encourage people to look beyond the bitter present of factional politics, and to a future where we can spread out into the virtually limitless spaces that await us. Fingers crossed, eh?

3 thoughts on “Science fiction and cultural focus”

  1. I have concerns that space travel will only serve to increase global conflict. Who owns the moon? Does the American flag that supposedly still sits there mean that we have a Lunar America? Who owns Mars if people ever colonize it? The first guys to land?
    While I’m thrilled that a love of science/space fiction can unite people with such political differences, I’m afraid that the reality of spaceflight will not.

  2. trollop,

    I could write a lengthy rebuttal of your space conflict concerns but at the risk of sounding trite I’ll just sum it up in a word…. antarctica

  3. I’m afraid I’m going to sound a bit ignorant, but I don’t understand your reference to Antarctica. Could you please elaborate?
    You’re certainly entitled to your own opinion, but space travel during the Cold War did not help America and Russia get along at all. In fact, it provided another reason for the people of both countries to feel greater animosity toward each other. We no longer have the USSR as “The Great Enemy”, but America doesn’t seem to have trouble finding new ones. I still feel that unless major changes occur, some countries will have a hard time working together to achieve such a dream.
    Here is a link to a few interesting articles on the logistics of space travel. While it’s not completely relevant to the discussion, I think you might enjoy it anyway.

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