(urth) Predictions Re: The Politics Of Gene Wolfe

Allan Anderson rubel at goosemoon.org
Fri Jul 27 10:59:56 PDT 2012

On Fri, Jul 27, 2012 at 9:28 AM, Gwern Branwen <gwern0 at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Fri, Jul 2, 2010 at 7:50 AM, Gwern Branwen <gwern0 at gmail.com> wrote:
> > I've read through most of _Starwater Strains_ now, and my initial
> > belief has hardened: Gene's writings are definitely getting more
> > political. In his older works like _Peace_ or _Book of the New Sun_
> > (pre-90s), I didn't notice anything political, or at least,
> > contemporary. But in stuff from the last 2 decades? My suspicion has
> > become certainty.
> >
> > The stories in SS though are absolutely littered with
> > libertarian/conservative plots or asides. Some stories do nothing but
> > push such ideas. "Viewpoint", for example, has a dystopian government
> > which claims to own all money and which suppresses all weaponry, the
> > better to oppress its citizenry; the protagonist, who is a heroic
> > moral wilderness survivalist fellow, spends most of the story trying
> > to get a weapon. His great victory is to murder a government agent.
> > "Has Anyone Seen Junie Moon?", when it's not trying to channel
> > Lafferty, ends with best wishes for a rebellion that will kill 'the
> > big important gangs with suits and guns' (the government). "The Fat
> > Magician" ends with a rant about totalitarian governments. Another
> > story seems to implies that the government is responsible for taking
> > away everything interesting and handing over power to machines and
> > rules ("Petting Zoo"), while in "The Dog of the Drops", the government
> > seems to engineer the extinction of dogs because dogs don't pay taxes
> > and don't love the government but their owners. (I'm speculating a
> > little with this one because the dialect is so hard to read.) And so
> > on.
> >
> > I haven't even finished, but it's all far more blatant than _An Evil
> Guest_
> Today on Hacker News I saw a link to
> http://www.writersofthefuture.com/time-capsule-predictions "1987 Time
> Capsule Predictions" for 2012 (25 years in the future; HN discussion:
> http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4299337 ). It included some
> predictions from Gene Wolfe. I will take the liberty of quoting them
> in full:
> >
> >
> > But the Writers of the Future Contest has asked me to read your palm,
> nevertheless. Twenty-five years is not great length on the scale of the
> history, and thus I am conservative, limiting myself to the following five
> predictions—one for each finger. And indeed, they are less prediction than
> certainty.
> >
> > - The Thumb—Power: America and the U.S.S.R. preserve an uneasy accord,
> each testing the other's will within well-defined limits. No major nuclear
> war has taken place. Soviets are more like Americans (and Americans more
> like Soviets) than anyone else.
> > - The Index Finger—Learning: Vestiges of reading, writing, and spelling
> remain in the curricula of the public schools. Those who can read a few
> hundred common words are counted literate. The schools train their students
> for employment—how to report to computers and follow instructions. (Called
> interaction.) Fifty million adult Americans are less than fluent in English.
> > - The Fool Finger—Entertainment: Sports and televised dramas are the
> only commonly available recreations. The dramas are performed by
> computer-generated images indistinguishable (on screen) from living people.
> Scenery is provided by the same method. Although science fiction and
> fantasy characterize the majority of these dramas, they are not so
> identified.
> > - The Ring Finger—Love: There is little sex outside marriage, which
> normally includes a legal contract. A single instance of infidelity is
> amply sufficient to terminate a marriage, with damages to the aggrieved
> party; this is a consequence of the two great plagues of the past 25 years.
> (I do not include the one we call AIDS, because it began well before this
> was written.) The population of the planet is below six billion. People
> live in space and on the moon, but their numbers are not significant.
> > - The Little Finger—Minority: A literate stratum supplies leadership in
> government and most (though not all) other fields. Its members are
> experimenting with sociological simulations that take into account the
> individual characters and preferences of most of the population. Its aim is
> to increase the power of the literate class and further limit literacy,
> without provoking war with the U.S.S.R. or alienating the rising
> powers—China and the Latin American block. A literate counterculture also
> exists.
> >
> >     Its products, too, are largely science fiction and fantasy; it tries
> to broaden the literate base, in part in order that its output can be read.
> It is of course to you of this counterculture that I write to say, take
>  heart! Twenty-five years is no great length upon the long scale of
> history. In my time too, the age was dark. But we are summoning the sun.
> What is striking about these is that they are all wrong. Of the dozens
> of discrete predictions here, there are perhaps 4 which are correct
> (no major nuclear war, Soviets more like Americans, widespread use of
> simulations, the rise of China), and a few more which are debatable
> (rise of genre fiction, SF/Fantasy in TV & movies), and the rest are
> blatantly incorrect or if correct, correct for the wrong reasons (eg.
> I haven't looked up whether 50m adults are functionally illiterate in
> English, but if there are that many, I bet much of that will be due
> not to the educational system - which continues as it usually has -
> but due to immigration and other such factors).
> It's hard not to see what ideological trend characterizes Wolfe's
> wrong predictions.
> (On the plus side, some of the others made some remarkably prescient
> predictions: Benford on shale oil and Wolverton on the Men's Right
> Movement, for example.)
Regarding the "wrong predictions," I wonder if Wolfe was trolling his
readers, hoping to get them off their rears. I think he wrote them to
perturb current readers, not to accurately prognosticate.
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