The Future of the Future

John C. Wright predicts where SF/F is heading on the basis of its primary purposes:

Like all fiction, Science Fiction is an oasis of rest amid the wasteland of mundane life, a time between toil to lift our eyes to distant mountains and wonder what is beyond them, or to lift our eyes further, to the stars, and wonder.

Unlike other fiction, which contains imaginary places and events, science fiction also contains an imaginary cosmos that operates by different rules, perhaps one where men can be invisible, or fly to the moon in antigravity spheres, or suffer an invasion by hunger and superior beings from Mars. The bridge between the real cosmos and the science fictional cosmos is the speculation, either rigorous or lax, of scientific plausibility that connects them. If you have invisible man in a science fiction story, he must perhaps walk unclothed, for example, because that is a realistic extrapolation from the unrealistic premise; or if you have invaders from Mars, they must have physiology evolved by Martian conditions, they perhaps will be swiftly poisoned by the diseases their more advanced civilization long ago abolished from their sterile world, because again this is a realistic extrapolation from an unreal premise.

Fantasy also postulates a different cosmos with different rules, but the bridge that reaches to the perilous realm of Elfland from our world is one of dream-logic. If the wicked witch says love’s first kiss will wake the sleeping beauty, only the prince who did not die on the enchanted thorns hedging the haunting castle may kiss and wake her, and not Doctor McCoy with a hypospray of stimulant. Because that is the way dream logic works, or fairy tales, or myths: the arbitrary rules of Elfland can be trespassed only with draconian retaliation, and the rewards achieved by the bold or the cunning performance of the twelve terrible tasks or the answer of the riddle of the sphinx. These are the dreamlike implications of the unreal premise, based on the rules of a realm no man has seen, but which we somehow always greet with a start of recognition.

Why do we need dreams to come from a cosmos other than this one?

I propose that while somewhere, on some dark and moonless world of inky seas beneath a blood-colored sun, some Coleopterous race of pitiless logic and soulless energy toil and travail nakedly without joy, copulate without love, live without dreams and perish without regret, their corpses left to rot where they fall, or are eaten by their larvae, that these insectiod swarms are the true heirs to this cosmos, and, unlike Man, feel no discomfort at existence here. Birth is no miracle to them and death no tragedy, because they are at home here, and their emotions exactly suit and match the contours of the world.

Not Man. We are exiles.

Wright identifies the intrinsic flaw in mainstream secular science fiction and fantasy. Rejecting, as it does, the fundamentally religious foundation of fantasy, (for Wright is incorrect and George MacDonald, not William Morris, is the father of fantasy), modern fantasy cannot serve its primary purpose because it cannot slake a thirst its writers do not even realize exists.  This is why there so often feels like something missing from even the best modern fantasy, why it is lifeless, soulless, and limited to portraying shades of grey in the place of the full color spectrum.

Mainstream science fiction is affected by these problems too, but to a much lesser extent because it has a different purpose. If fantasy is meant to provide the exile with dreams of home, science fiction is supposed to provide a technological vision of the future. The problem is that science is increasingly beyond the comprehension of the science fiction writer to grasp its implications, has settled many of the questions to which science fiction once proposed answers, (and often in a way that renders more abstract the various possibilities of wonder), and is increasingly written by writers who have no interest in technology and can’t explain how their television’s remote control worked, much less present a technologically credible vision of the future.  Even as less science fiction is being published, there is less and less science to be found in what purports to remain of it.

It is hard to dispute Wright’s conclusion: “So look for a growth of darker fantasies in the future as the scientific
world view slowly gives way to a world view that does not believe in
science, nor in any over-arching narrative, nor in truth, nor in beauty,
nor in virtue.”

But that is neither fantasy nor science fiction.  What we are witnessing is the lingering death of two literary genres. What we are seeing is the subsumption of fantasy and science fiction by romance and horror.