Sunday, April 7, 2019

A lot to answer for

Snippet from a work in progress.

It has been noted that we are already living in something like a cyberpunk dystopia (albeit one that is, of course, unevenly distributed). The 'soft' neoliberalism of the 1990s and 2000s has made way for a new wave, whose distinct features are still subject to debate. But it is certainly a neoliberalism shaped by its accommodation of far-right fascist agitation, and by a neofeudalist approach to the challenges of climate change. It is also the neoliberalism of platform capitalism and surveillance capitalism -- a neoliberalism profoundly shaped by big tech -- and it is credible that it has been ideologically influenced by science fiction. It is credible, that is, that key actors at key junctures have pursued science-fictional future for its own sake, letting the science fictional imagination fulfill the function of the moral imagination. So science fiction, we suggest, has a lot to answer for.

But which science fiction? Of course, there is a quantitative project there, the cultural consumption of Silicon Valley. But can we hazard a guess? It has not been the static, programmatic utopias or dystopias, thick with institutional detail, that have given big tech actors their lodestar. Nor has it been self-conscious design fiction or diegetic prototyping. It has been the critical utopia. Critical and the ambiguous utopias and dystopias, and the utopian impulse within the rich, intermingling subgenres of transhumanist, singularitarian, postcyberpunk, and new space opera science fiction. Exhilarating, freewheeling narratives that unfold unpredictably on a grand scale, that are often picaresque either spatially or temporally, that often gleefully trash the expectations of characters and readers about the limits of the possible, all the while fairly clear about one thing: 'science fiction is more about the present than it is about the future.'

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