(urth) Predictions Re: The Politics Of Gene Wolfe

Gwern Branwen gwern0 at gmail.com
Fri Jul 27 09:28:47 PDT 2012

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.)


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