Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Here's a commentator that understands the problem

A Cold Shoulder
Brian Zepp Jamieson
The Science Fiction community – in America, at least – has always had a strong representation from people who are either libertarians or free marketeers, or (for those incapable of seeing the built-in conflict between market demands and individual rights) both. The worst cases are Randroids, who are utterly convinced that government is the root of all evil, and that churches and corporations wouldn’t DREAM of taking over the power vacuum if government were to be somehow eliminated from human affairs. Aside from being rather poorly thought out, it also has a rather vile premise, that human greed can be counted upon to solve all social problems.

Like in Rwanda, perhaps.

It’s an ideology, an odd one that celebrates the individuality of humans while vociferously opposing any other viewpoints, labeling such as “socialist” and “authoritarian.” As if churches or corporations wouldn’t share such traits.

Holding this particular ideology doesn’t mean someone can’t write great science fiction. Robert Heinlein incorporated it in a lot of his novels, and usually did so in a way that didn’t interfere with the magic of the story one bit. I often most enjoyed the stories where I was most likely to disagree with the political philosophy that informed the story.

Larry Niven and James Pournelle (Pournelle in particular) wrote stories driven by a benign and efficient free market. Then they started writing together, and wrote a couple of SF classics: “The Mote in God’s Eye” and “Lucifer’s Hammer”.

They wrote some other books, but in general, the team hit a decline. They wrote one in the late eighties in which one or both writers decided it was high time someone gave those weak-kneed librul environmentalists the kicking around they so richly deserved. This was some twenty years ago, when there was a lot of room for legitimate debate about global warming. They posited a world gripped in a massive ice age, with glaciers spreading rapidly south of Minnesota. Characters in the book ruefully admitted that they could have avoided this disaster if they had only kept pumping CO2 into the atmosphere to stave off the next ice age. The book was written with the truculent anger of AM talk radio. It had a number of other flaws and might have been a failure in any event, but when reading fiction, science fiction in particular, suspension of disbelief is all-important, and it doesn’t happen if the writer is sitting between you and the printed word and making faces at you.

Let alone shouting “This [imaginary] disaster is all YOUR fault, you liberal bastard!”

They crossed a line between writing a story based on a philosophy, and tractor art. They blew right through that line that separates advocacy from propaganda.

So it stood to reason that a dozen years later, Michael Crichton, always behind the curve, would try something similar. He wrote a book “State of Fear.”

Now, truth in advertising time: I haven’t read the book. Crichton is uneven at the best of times, and reading a book that stems from an effort to promote a long-since discredited notion (in this case, that global warming is nothing more than fear-mongering from people who, Unabomber-like, are Luddites who hate technology and want us all back living in the trees.) It really doesn’t sound like a promising read. When Niven and Pournelle wrote their book [Fallen Angels], there was at least some credibility for their belief. Michael Crichton has come along and taken an Allen Drury approach to a topic that is, in the scientific community, no longer even faintly controversial. Global warming is a fact. Human involvement is regarded as a given. A lot of the major corporations that did so much to promote the ideas espoused by Crichton, Niven and Pournelle now admit those ideas are inoperative, and are working to stave off the coming disaster.

But True Believers don’t handle changes in dogma from on high very well. Ironically, Crichton includes a screed in his book warning of “Politicized science.” Presumably, as opposed to politicized science fiction.

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