The ripples around the blogosphere caused by John Gray’s New Statesman article have been rather interesting, though a little depressing.
Laurie Penny’s original response was spot on when it said that Gray had completely ignored women writers. That’s a valid point regardless of what you might think of Gray’s argument.
Some of the follow-up on Twitter (necessarily limited by the format) appeared to ignore Laurie’s points about women and instead cast her piece in the form of “ignorant outsider dares to write about SF and is slapped down”. That’s terribly fannish, but not very helpful.
The debate has now been taken up by Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber. Much of the discussion is, I think, being carried by Socialists who are upset with Gray for suggesting that it is no longer possible to speculate about a better world to come. That’s understandable, and it is a valid political discussion that the Left has been having with Gray for some time. However, it doesn’t necessarily address the point about science fiction.
The trouble is that everyone is arguing by example. To a large extent that’s Gray’s fault because his reading in SF appears rather thin, and by relying on a few high profile writers to make his point he opens himself up to citation of counter-examples by those better versed in the field. But none of this makes any sense. Gray points to a few writers and says “science fiction has developed in this way”. Other people point at different writers and respond, “no it hasn’t, you are completely wrong.” It is the old blind men and the elephant story yet again.
Instinctively the point that Gray makes has a certain validity. Science fiction no longer routinely points to a glorious, gleaming chrome technological future in the manner so beautifully parodied by Donald Fagen’s song, “IGY”. That doesn’t mean that no SF writer predicts a better world to come, but equally the fact that some do doesn’t make the general trend wrong. Of course to prove the point you’d have to make a fairly comprehensive survey of the field, and that’s something that neither I nor Gray have the time to do.
Still, at least this discussion is generating lots of mentions for interesting political SF.