Something broke for me the other day. I was reading the latest explosion of anger and hate against a science fiction author for doing what SF authors are supposed to do and I realized that the genre I love and write in—the science fiction dreams which expanded and shaped how I see the world—are dying.
In this case, said explosion came at Alex Dally MacFarlane for writing about desiring "an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories." Specifically, MacFarlane writes:
"Post-binary gender in SF is the acknowledgement that gender is more complex than the Western cultural norm of two genders (female and male): that there are more genders than two, that gender can be fluid, that gender exists in many forms."
MacFarlane is correct, and I urge people to read the essay. And if you want to know what MacFarlane is speaking about, read the novel Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, which deserves to make all of this year's major SF award short lists. Ancillary Justice is an amazing story and a mind-bending read, especially with regards to how the novel deals with gender issues.
The novel isn't the be-all and end-all on gender complexity—hell, what could be?—but it shows so clearly what an author can accomplish when we move beyond our staid ideas of what the present and future must be. When we actually realize that the universe isn't modeled after any one of us, and that the diversity of our existence is the diversity of us all.
And that's my problem with the attacks on MacFarlane's essay. That's why something has finally broken within me with regards to the science fiction genre.
The science fiction of today suffers from an extreme case of nostalgia, a nearly fatal case, to be quite blunt. Nostalgia for a white-bread 1950's Golden Age of SF which never really existed quite as everyone longing for it believes. Nostalgia for a future which doesn't even look like our diverse present-day times, let alone how the future might actually turn out to be.
Instead of celebrating new outlooks and ideas, today's SF regurgitates spaceship-filled Happy Meals complete with a side of forgetful fries—forgetting that the Golden Age of SF wasn't golden for so many people. Forgetting that science fiction without true speculation and insight into life is a dead, dead thing.
I'm tired as hell of all this. And I'm not the only one. Jonathan McCalmont has written on this very topic in Interzone.
I understand that many people don't like change and want to stay snuggled in their warm dreams of a past which never happened. But if you're reading science fiction, you must on some level be interested in expanding your horizons. On some level you must want to see beyond your own limitations. You must want the future to be more than a forever template of the past.
At least, I used to think this about science fiction. I'm no longer so sure it's true.