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Traditionalist and libertarian themes in science fiction and fantasy: Part Seventeen -- Conclusion

By Mark Wegierski
web posted December 14, 2009

It could be argued that, what the science fiction genre offers, in contrast to the usually intellectually lighter efforts of fantasy and similar subgenres, is a possible glimpse into the future of humankind. As can be noted from the descriptions of the last few weeks, the genre of the fantastic in American cinema tends toward lighter productions. (Many of the more serious productions were mentioned in earlier installments.) Although such less serious works can give an indication of the social attitudes of a certain period, they usually do not engage in theorizing about the future, often basing themselves rather on the emotions of people looking for some kind of escape from the world of late modernity.

It may be noted that science fiction in print form is usually rather more subtle and intellectual than most film or television productions. In the more subtle works of printed science fiction, there are indeed raised the perspectives of humankind in the future – an evolution toward "something better", decline and decay, or even the possibility of human extinction.

One of the not too frequently discussed topics in regard to the future is the so-called "overreach" of the West. It is possible, that there is a very deep trend in Western history toward the desire of "crossing boundaries". It would seem that much of social and technological advance in human history is based on this "overreach" aspect of the West, its desire to "transcend limits". It could be noted, for example, that rocket ships are an example of the expression of this "overreach" of the West (also sometimes called "Faustianism"). It could be said that "Faustianism" has the tendency to raise up incredibly high "cathedrals" or structures, which are raised so high, they will eventually collapse into catastrophic ruins.

The excessive valorization of this "overreach" has probably in the end carried Anglo-American and northern European societies, as well as Germany, to a state of being close to collapse. It could be argued that the Celtic, Latin, and Slavic nations – which could be seen as more "balanced" between "activist" and "passivist" tendencies -- may have a greater chance of long term survival.

It is interesting to consider that the Soviet Union, although it left millions of corpses in its wake, had incredible achievements in technology. Indeed, the Soviet Union was a colossus of technology. For example, one can see during the World War II period, the almost unbelievable amounts of military hardware, which the Soviet Union was able to produce. Apparently, in June 1941, just one Soviet armored army had more tanks than the entire German armed forces. The launching of Sputnik in October 1957 enormously frightened America. It is difficult to deny that the schooling in scientific and technical disciplines in the former East Bloc was at a very high level.
 
It could be noted that both the Soviet Union and the Third Reich were, to some extent, regimes that could have been derived from the "science-fictional" visions of that time period. In both regimes, propaganda films showing great dams, power plants, machines, and so forth, were very popular. The ultra-extremist vision of the Third Reich was finally suppressed in the wake of a massive conflict, which the regime itself had brought about. After a certain return to "normality and quiet" (at least in North America and Western Europe), there occurred in the 1960s, something which could be characterized as "the great revolt". It could be argued that the post-Sixties' Western societies are in a state of constant "disturbance" and "agitation" – and life is once again taking on "science-fictional" aspects – albeit of somewhat different science fiction subgenres than in the 1930s.

Perhaps the West in particular, and maybe even the world in general, is in the phase of an approaching collapse of almost everything into ruin. Perhaps there is now needed an incredibly powerful breakthrough effort. To put this into the science fiction idiom, either we will elevate ourselves to the stars, or sink into the swamps.

It's also possible, that we may have to, in the end, reject this overreach, and find satisfaction with living within limits on Earth itself. It can be pondered whether the image of elevating oneself into space seen in many science fiction works, is not shown there as being simply too facile. It may indeed be possible that, "… the stars are not for man."

Generally-speaking, it could be argued that science fiction offers us certain possibilities of clearing blocked paths of perception and a wide canvas for thinking about the future. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

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