Sunday, December 14, 2014

When They Don't Know Their Own History

I've written before of the problems that happen when writers don't read the foundational works of their own genre in reference to the breathless praise being heaped upon certain recent works by reviewers who seem to never have read Ursula K LeGuin's award-winning The Left Hand of Darkness. But that's not the only area in which it's becoming abundantly clear that the new generation of writers are failing to read the works of the great masters of the genre, and as a result are re-inventing the wheel and making fools of themselves in the process of chattering about how wonderfully forward-thinking they are.

Take for instance the current push to write post-colonial narratives. As I was re-reading David Brin's Sundiver to get a review up, I realized that here we have a post-colonial narrative. It's a world in which humanity went blithely out to the stars, fully expecting to carry out the taming-of-the-west narrative that had been replayed In Space in so many science fiction stories -- and then thumping their noses hard against the discovery that the galaxy is occupied by a civilization of incredible antiquity, that even seemingly empty planets are in fact owned, and the penalties for trespass on fallow planets can be horrific. And it was published in 1980, before most of the current crop of Bright Young Things were born, or at least before most of them were doing much reading of grown-up books that are all words and no pictures.

And he's not even the first classic science fiction writer to posit a future in which humanity doesn't get to just go taking over every planet that takes their fancy. All the way back in the 1950's, Robert A. Heinlein was writing Red Planet, in which humanity has a presence on the Red Planet -- but it is very clearly at the sufferance of the ancient indigenous sapient Martians. And when crooked bureaucrats forget that, the Martian Old Ones are quite ready to kick every last human off the planet and kill those who won't evacuate.

I wonder what they'd say if you pointed these little facts out to them. Wiggle and squirm and try to find reasons that those books Don't Count -- because they're written by white males, because the indigenous populations aren't marginalized and weaker, whatever? I'd like to think that maybe someone out there would have the courage to actually read those books and appreciate them in the context of the time in which they were written -- but that would require work, not to mention an actual historical perspective, when it seems a lot of the current crop of Bright Young Things are adamantly presentist and don't want to hear it pointed out to them.

Which is a pity, really. Yes, old science fiction can be Zeerusty to the point of embarrassment at times -- but it can also be chock full of sense of wonder, not to mention ideas some people would claim have been absent from science fiction until just now.

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