There are a few ways to look at science fiction.
You may think of it as pure entertainment – as flights of the author’s imagination, which signify nothing, other than creating an immersive, alternative world in which to spend a few imaginative and entertaining hours. In this world view, the author is a skilled storyteller, in the long tradition of folk storytellers, who is able to weave and conjure a believable and consistent world into existence, which we can temporarily and harmlessly inhabit, just for the fun of it. None of it is real, however. This is the “face value” model of science fiction.
Others see science fiction as a warning about things that haven’t happened yet, but could, if things turn out that way. They see the author as a predictor of dystopias, which we still have time to avoid. In this view, the author is somebody with a conscience and great prescience, who is helping humanity turn away from a path that leads to something highly undesirable. This is the “science fiction author as hero” model.
Another way to interpret science fiction is as carefully crafted propaganda, introducing dystopian ideas ahead of their actual implementation, so that they are accepted passively, as unremarkable, when they eventually do come to pass. In this model, the science fiction author has an agenda and is setting the stage for execution of that agenda, by forces unknown. They are writing about the future, so that the future doesn’t seem disquieting or unexpected, once brought into being. What they are doing, in effect, is laying the preparatory groundwork, so that ideas that would ordinarily be rejected by humanity are instead accepted. We are being programmed to receive. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
The Fabian society, dedicated to social change and engineering over a long, gradual period of time, believed some pretty whacky and wholly unacceptable things. They were named in honour of the Roman emperor Fabius, who ground down his enemies in wars of attrition, starving them out and relentlessly attacking them in minor ways, until they were easy to vanquish. One of the Fabian society’s favourite ideas was needing to annually justify your continued ability to go on living, to a committee of the wise (another bleeding hierarchy of self-appointed worthies, who are actually just fallible and ordinary mortals, like the mortals they sit in judgement of), so that you remained a net contributor, rather than drain, on society’s resources.
Their spokespeople, such as H.G. Wells, who believed that we should all wear uniforms at all times and openly proclaimed that, were he leader, he would be harsher than both Stalin and Hitler, wrote science fiction. To entertain, to warn or to programme? Another Fabian, George Bernard Shaw, also produced art in the service of idea dissemination. There are Fabians all around us, in parliament, today. Has their agenda changed, or like Fabius, are they just biding their time and waiting it out?
Some say that music acts, such as David Bowie, performed that same function of normalising what would become prevalent in the future, through their art. The future may or may not have been planned, ahead of time, by concealed forces, or it may be that the artists made the whole thing up, by themselves, and their predictions just happened to come to fruition. Random chance is like that. You can never distinguish a random event from a carefully and stealthily planned one.
If science fiction is just a branch of behaviourist conditioning, so that we all do as we are programmed to do, when the time comes, manipulated by forces we aren’t able to see and are barely even aware of, then it raises some interesting questions. Should we passively play the role of Pavlov’s dog, salivating on command, or should we bite Pavlov?
Incidentally, any reading into the history of the experiments Pavlov performed on those poor dogs will reveal a heartless, cold, cruel, thoroughly unpleasant man, quite content to inflict prolonged, painful suffering, on sentient beings that could not fight back, in the interests of building his fame and renown, as a scientist. I wouldn’t have him over for dinner, whether or not I had a dinner bell.
Ever notice how few science fiction stories have a positive outcome for humanity? Ever notice how few portray the human race as anything other than slaves to a superior master, helpless against the forces of a much more powerful oppressor and with very few life choice options? Every damned story seems to revolve around some sort of rigid hierarchy, as if those are the only societal structures possible. Why are there so few science fiction stories that don’t involve transhumanism, cyborgs, bionics, incessant war, isolation, the extinction of human emotional connection and a bleak, technocratic future, where everybody obeys? Is this just what we’re being programmed to accept?
You can count on the fingers of one hand the science fiction utopias that are written about, which involve collaborative and equitable human endeavour, environmental restoration, sustainability, peace, harmony, anarchy (in the sense that there are no oppressive overlords or rulers, or arbitrary, hierarchical power structures) and a general oneness with the planet and the universe. Fewer still write about the flourishing of human freedom, of widespread good health and nutrition, the end of poverty and appalling living conditions, of art and culture blossoming and people developing to their fullest individual potentials, by genuinely being able to pursue their dreams, without worrying about sustenance or the repayment of debts. Where are those utopian, futuristic stories, in the science fiction canon?
Which view of science fiction do you hold? Benign entertainment, prescient warning, or preparatory programming?