from Globe and Mail

From: S Williams <>
Date: Sat, Sep 20, 2003

Why are our imaginations retreating from science and space, and into


I've recently returned from Torcon 3, the 61st World Science Fiction
Convention, held at the end of August in Toronto. I left it deeply concerned
for the future -- not merely of my chosen genre or my chosen country, but my

I served this Worldcon as its toastmaster, and presiding over our annual
Hugo Awards ceremony required me to make a speech. This being the 50th year
that Hugos have been given for excellence in SF, I devoted my remarks to the
present depressing state of the field. Three short steps into the New
Millennium, written SF is paradoxically in sharp decline.

My genre has always had its ups and downs, but this is by far its worst,
longest downswing. Sales are down, magazines are languishing, our stars are
aging and not being replaced. And the reason is depressingly clear: Those
few readers who haven't defected to Tolkienesque fantasy cling only to Star
Trek, Star Wars, and other Sci Fi franchises.

Incredibly, young people no longer find the real future exciting. They no
longer find science admirable. They no longer instinctively lust to go to

Just as we've committed ourselves inextricably to a high-tech world (and
thank God, for no other kind will feed five billion), we appear to have
become nearly as terrified of technology, of science -- of change -- as the
Arab world, or the Vatican. We are proud both of our VCRs, and our claimed
inability to program them.

I'm not knocking fantasy, but if we look only backward instead of forward,
too, one day we will find ourselves surrounded by an electorate that has
never willingly thought a single thought their great-grandparents would not
have recognized. That's simply not acceptable. That way lies inconceivable
horror, a bin Laden future for our grandchildren.

SF's central metaphor and brightest vision, lovingly polished and presented
as entertainingly as we knew how to make it, has been largely rejected by
the world we meant to save. Because I was born in 1948, the phrase I'll
probably always use to indicate something is futuristic is "space age."

There were doubtless grown adults at Torcon 3 who were born after the space
age ended. The very existence of the new Robert A. Heinlein Awards, given
for the first time at Torcon to honour works that inspire manned exploration
of space, proves a need was perceived to foster such works.

About the only part of our shared vision of the future that actually came to
pass was the part where America just naturally took over the world. But
while it's prepared to police (parts of) a planet, the new Terran Federation
is so far not interested enough to even glance at another one.

Inconceivable wealth and limitless energy lie right over our heads, within
easy reach, and we're too dumb to go get them -- using perfectly good
rockets to kill each other, instead.

The day Apollo 11 landed, I knew for certain men would walk on Mars in my
lifetime. So did the late Robert Heinlein -- I just saw him say so to Walter
Cronkite last weekend, on kinescope.

I'm no longer nearly so sure. The Red Planet is as close as it's been in
60,000 years -- and the last budget put forward in Canada contained not a
penny for Mars. (Please, go to and sign the
protest petition there.)

At Torcon 3, I caught up with Michael Lennick, co-producer of a superb
Canadian documentary series about manned spaceflight, Rocket Science. His
next project examines the growing phenomenon of people who refuse to believe
we ever landed on the moon. Not because he sees them as amusing cranks . . .
but because they're becoming as common as Elvis-nuts. And it's hard to argue
with their logic: It beggars belief, they say, that we could possibly have
achieved moon flight . . . and given it up.

On the other hand, I take heart that SF still exists, 50 years after the
first Hugo was awarded. My wife's family are Portuguese fisherfolk from
Provincetown, Mass., where every summer they've held a ceremony called the
Blessing of the Fleet, in which the harbour fills with boats and the
archbishop blesses their labours. The 50th-ever blessing was the last.
There's no fishing fleet left. For the first time in living memory, there is
not a single working fishing boat in P-town . . . because there are no cod
or haddock left on the Grand Banks. For all its present problems, science
fiction as a profession seems to have outlasted pulling up fish from the

I believe with all my heart that the pendulum will return, that ignorance
will become unfashionable again one day, that my junior colleagues are about
to ignite a new renaissance in science fiction, and that our next 50 years
will make the first 50 pale by comparison, taking us all the way to
immortality and the stars themselves. If that does happen, some of the
people who will make it so were in Toronto.

People still believe that men fished the Grand Banks, once. Some even dream
of going back. SF readers have never stopped dreaming. We can't, you see. We
simply don't know how.


From: nenslo <>

S Williams wrote:
> Why are our imaginations retreating from science and space, and into
> fantasy?

That damn guy is always going off on some soppy wail about something
or other. Crikey.


From: "Proud Baby Mudfoot" <>

> Incredibly, young people no longer find the real future exciting.

Huh. Maybe young people have a fair grasp of what the future could be like.

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