What seems like centuries ago, and was in fact in the last century, after the fall of the USSR, I watched as the wheels came off Science Fiction short stories, in a sort of mini-fit-of-insanity.
I kept bouncing between being horrified and being amused, all of it worsened by my being pregnant/nursing/raising toddlers which, for those who have never experienced such a state is its own form of altered reality.
So, what happened from my POV was this — note that things might be different from how you remember it, due to how I experienced things. This is not to say (THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT) that reality was different for me, only that I experienced things in a different sequence due to spending some of the time in another country, and coming back and experiencing as new things that had gone on here for a while —
When I fell in love with SF/F in Portugal there were no magazines available in the language, and the books were available in jumbled ways. This is because Portuguese publishers always published things in such tight batches that — like now — older releases (particularly) by popular authors disappeared. Unless you could find them in used bookstores, in forgotten tobaconnists in tiny villages you were passing through (how I found Glory Road) and/or in the back of your friend’s grandfather’s closet, while helping people clear the house.
This means that not only didn’t I have a clear view (still don’t except very vaguely) of trends/currents in sf/f, but I came it all at once, from pulp to new wave, and read it all uncritically and without knowing which was more recent. (What this did to my science education and my understanding of world history is something different. You should have seen my teacher when she realized I thought WWIII (nuclear) HAD happened “about fifty years ago.”)
But I HEARD of science fiction magazines. And though this wasn’t my plan, exactly, on coming to the US and finding the little town in Ohio where I was an exchange student had an entire shelf of Sf/F, that I could buy Heinlein books I never heard of at the local(ish) Waldens, and that ZOMG Analog still existed and published every month, I immediately subscribed to Analog, Asimov’s and possibly others (look, it was 40 years ago and I’ve been busy.)
My months became determined by when those arrived in the mail. I.e. I’d grab the magazine from the mailbox and lose the next day as I read it cover to cover, which means I learned to do my homework early/late so that I could work around it.
A lot of the stories I read in those magazines were of the “the Soviets win the war/we destroy the Earth” nuclear war variety, and then we have to live/survive.
It didn’t strike me as wrong, precisely. I mean, we were “all waiting for the hammer to fall” right? I was a little upset there weren’t a ton of space operas and colonization stories, simply because I had enjoyed those, but not enough to be really upset. Just a “oh, I wish.”
At the end of the year I went back and after an epic bureaucratic battle with the college system in Portugal (they really aren’t set up for stepping out of the system for a year) I went to college, and taught part time, and developed a social life. So, things got rather busy.
Four years and a bit later, when I got married and came back to the US, I again subscribed to SF Mags, and at the time got irritated that all of the stories had a slant of “the west loses out”.
Okay this isn’t true and is a gross simplification, but I found myself little by little not reading those very expensive magazines, because they all seemed to me to paint a picture of the future amounting to “the future is worse than the present. Also rusty.”
There were still stories I liked, but not enough for me to remember this much later. (Though some of the authors stuck and I found their novels later.)
Over the next six years and fertility treatments (talk of hormonal insanity) I popped in and out of reading sf/f as the spirit moved. Some friends recommended epic fantasy series, but this was never precisely my thing, and I also found a lot of books I didn’t know were decades old and enjoyed those, while at the same time also reading a lot of mystery. Oh, and history. And– whatever.
But I remember the years after the USSR fell, because I had a kid that year, and another 3 years and change later, and we moved to Colorado, I joined my first writers’ group and subscribed to Writer’s magazine and Writers’ Digest.
These events are tied together because getting pregnant meant deciding not to work outside the home, moving to Colorado destroyed my nascent translation business (look, here’s the thing, pre-internet it was local contacts, which I was JUST forming) and anyway, I HATED translation (don’t ask. I don’t actually hate the work. I just hated doing the work necessary to establish as a freelancer. And it wasn’t QUITE my thing. I like puzzles, I just don’t LIVE to solve them. I’d met other translators and become aware I was an odd one for the profession.) and my husband had said “Well, you always wanted to write for a living, so why don’t you try it while the kids are little?” (It SEEMED like a good idea at the time.)
We won’t go into how green I was. Very. Let’s say that. So the ideas that you should a) first break into short stories seemed logical (it wasn’t) b) buy magazines to figure out what they published was mind-blowing (because I’d been raised with the idea of the genius around whom the world conforms. S, if I were good enough, I’d be published, no matter what the publisher wanted.)
So somewhere, while pregnant with #2 son I re-discovered sf/f magazines. (We’d also just popped out of a phase where we could barely afford to eat, and finally had money for mags.)
Dear Lord, what was I reading?
What I was reading was the same stories I’d read as an exchange student, now with a very thin veneer to explain why the nuclear war had happened and the USSR had won.
I remember being somewhere between horrified and amused.
It all culminated in a short story called The West Is Red, which was very well written and I THINK (I can’t be assed to look, actually) won all sorts of awards, and whose central conceit was that economics in a parallel world worked differently and therefore the Soviet model worked better.
I read the story — it was well written — and then sat there, mouth half open, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
And decided the field had suffered a psychotic break.
Look, economics COULDN’T work differently, because economics, while a science, is a science influenced by a bunch of other sciences and the reality we live in.
While I can see that SF/F does that a lot, and have done it myself, with say alternate history, because history is too complex to say “if this didn’t happen that that would.” (There are always a million factors, some of which we don’t even know.) So we write high-level and ignore the details and dance really fast before they see what we’re dancing in front of….
Positing that top-down planned economies would be superior in another universe demanded…. a lot of things, starting with a species so different from humans that we wouldn’t understand them period. It also demanded different arithmetic and mathematics, all of which (behavior and math) are parts of economics that cannot be changed without changing the very fabric of the universe to such an extent you couldn’t have A story, let alone that story.
But I understood why the story appealed, and why it had become popular (besides being well written.)
I had at around that time come across something that said that after 45 people don’t change their fundamental view of the world, and I understood that was the problem. You see, the generation before mine, the boomers who were then in charge of cultural institutions and academic institutions had grown up not just convinced that the USSR was superior, their economy better than ours, but that they WOULD WIN.
This was true on both sides of the isle, which is why eve republican presidents tinkered with price controls and regulations, but didn’t change the system. One way or another, planned economies won out in the end, right? The future had less freedom. The USSR won. It was all a matter of how we got there.
And then Reagan. Reagan and his crazy ideas, which if you remember, couldn’t work. But did. And the USSR fell. And we found what a hollow, sad thing it had been, because PLANNED ECONOMIES and central control don’t and can’t work.
Only the people who’d bet their lives on it, the cultural vanguard of the generation that made “come the revolution” a saying couldn’t change. They were too old and had bet their entire lives on this believe system.
So instead of changing they found various excuses for why reality was wrong, history was wrong, and they were still going to win.
That short story, now that I look back, is perfectly emblematic of that psychotic break, that primal scream of irrationality.
They took the fight to watermelon “ecology”and bizarre implementations of language controls which were supposed to become thought controls. They came up with the idea of making Marxism apply “of course, not to macro society and economics, but to specific fields” and applying Marxist analysis to literature and art and all sorts of crazy things.
And they raised their kids, the echo boom, that way.
In many ways, locked in their primal “but it can’t be true” scream, they started an attack on reality itself. And taught their kids that reality was optional.
Of course it’s not. Which is why every field they controlled then is now in a state of total collapse, or being replaced.
But they haven’t given up because they — and the kids they raised to be quite literally reality-denying-psychotics — can’t give up. To give up is to admit their view of the world was wrong. They can’t do that. And their kids couldn’t find reality with two hands and a seeing eye dog, because they’ve been told it doesn’t exist, and if it did, it would be oppressive.
Which is why we find ourselves facing people who tell us that math is oppressive and colonialist.
And also attempting to institute a system of apartheid and racial castes under the impression these are civil rights.
None of it makes sense, unless you realize that the “luminaries” of “intellectual” life might as well be locked in a padded cell screaming in a non-existent language at the oppression of reality.
The entire insanity that is 2020 was foretold by the fact that the science fiction establishment saw nothing wrong in positing that economics could work differently in another universe, so that they could have been right all along.
They’re not the majority. They still, largely, have control of the “official” culture, though frankly they’re so bloody incompetent that we’re starting to do things under/over/around that actually count for more.
They’re also not really effective, in any way.
But they have enough power to give everyone the impression the universe is coming apart at the seams.
It’s not of course. THEIR universe is coming apart at the seams, because it was never the real world, but a construct of pseudo-intellectual-superiority, unearned smirking and USSR agit-prop.
Reality is that which doesn’t go away no matter how much you wish it to or scream at it, or denounce it as evilracistpatriarchaloppressive!
Which is why in the end we win, they lose.
But dear Lord, the screams and the literal poo-flinging is getting irritating.