Thursday, February 13, 2014

War never changes

The lovely and gracious Desiree commented to me the other day that my current literary tastes favor tales of survival in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Part of that is due to my replaying Fallout: New Vegas recently, but I admit the genre has always fixed my attention. How would most of us function if we were suddenly deprived of our creature comforts? I myself probably wouldn't do well at all. In "World War Z" terminology, I'd be assigned as a gravedigger. And it appeals to my expectations that we're headed for a fall. Much of the literature suggests that we'll go out with a bang: nuclear warfare, a plague of zombies, the return of the Old Ones, and so on. I think Mike Judge's Idiocracy is what it will be like in real life. There was no single disaster that caused the fall of the Western Roman Empire. It was just a long slow decline into anarchy and barbarism.

Vox has written a lot about the decline of science-fiction in the last few years, as has the great John C. Wright. One problem is that there's less science in the fiction. They've become regency romances in space. Science fiction has always been less about the future than the present. We use it as a way to imagine a society where traditional human problems have been solved: there are no more wars among human beings because we have a one world government; there is no more capitalism because we've created a post-scarcity society; and so on. We were supposed to have flying cars and moon colonies by the twenty first century. We should have hoverboards next year. Science fiction was created by optimists.

But some problems have no solution. And if there's no solution, there's no problem. I think my science fiction would involve fancier gadgets and space travel, but human beings would be the same as ever. There will probably never be a one world government, even if extraterrestrial life exists. The singularity will never come, nerds. Of course there's nothing wrong with imagining these things. Many authors have created some compelling stories from these ideas (although in the end, Star Trek had to abandon its "no capitalism, no warfare" setting.) But the future is going to look a lot like the present. Because war... war never changes.

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