Friday, February 2, 2024

On the Writing of Conservative Science Fiction

I dropped briefly into Threads a few weeks ago, which I don't tend to do often.  I already get more than my fill of picayune performative outrage on Ex, thank you very much, and the algorithms on Threads seem not to recognize that I have no interest whatsoever in that ish.

What Threads wanted me to see that day, apparently, was an argument about conservative science fiction.  

On the one hand, there were the Trumpy Neofascists howling about how "woke" and lefty sci fi tends to be lately.  On the other hand, there were the Triggered Neojacobins shrieking back with accusations of racism, sexism, LGBTQIAphobia, and the like.  It was the usual tribal cyberchimp poo-flinging festival, and not really worth any time or engagement.

It did make me wonder, though, about those two concepts.  Can sci fi be conservative?  

It's typically forward-thinking, after all, because of course it must be.  But does that mean that it must by necessity be progressive?

It does not.  Again, of course not.  Why should it be?

I understand conservatism, in its best sense, to be defined as "holding on to what is good."  Change is not always positive, and the embrace of change...for the conservative...comes only after it has been carefully considered.  Does it lessen the grace in the world?  Does it diminish us, or dominate us, or break us?  Then it is to be avoided.

Much of the greatest science fiction explores this theme.  

Fahrenheit 451, for example.  Or Brave New World.  Or Parable of the Sower.  Or A Clockwork Orange.  Or The Lathe of Heaven.  Or War of the Worlds.  In each of these seminal narratives, the world has changed, but in a way that threatens something fundamentally good about humankind.  Literature.  Liberty.  Not being gassed to death on the regular by Martians.  Those things.

In sci fi as dystopia, the assumption is that the timeline has arced in a maleficent direction, and these stories challenge both the present and the future against the creeping depredations of decay and decadence, fascist brutality and mechanistic inhumanity.  It is a critique of both a possible future and the bitter seed of said future in the present.

As an author, many of my novels explore this.  My postapocalyptic Amish fiction, for example, explores the place of a deeply-held and authentic faith as a bulwark against the collapse of the saeculum.  My AI uprising narratives...those that haven't already been dated by the great onrush of AI these days...explore how a culture that does not provide purpose and meaning can prime us for totalitarianism.  My current work in progress, which fits neatly into the Cyberutopian Regency Action/Romance genre?  Its core theme is the necessity of tradition and discipline for the maintenance of cultural and personal integrity.  

These are conservative things.

The issue, I think, is not the writing of conservative science fiction.  It's the publishing thereof.  Traditional publishers...and particularly the publishers of science fiction...have no interest in a conservative perspective these days, as the signs they have posted on their virtual doors so clearly indicate.  Literary agencies have, for the most part, followed suit, because they must follow the industry, anxious and fading though it is.

That is, of course, entirely their right.  Publishers may publish what they wish, and writing has always been a pauper's profession.  Whining and complaining about it is meaningless and unworthy.

If you want to read conservative science fiction, write it.

It's really quite simple.