The Readings Will Continue Until Morale Improves
Someone asked whether forcing everyone to read “science fiction” would make the world a better place. I have a suspicion that the questioner’s definition of science fiction and my definition is radically different. For instance, there are the epistolary, picareasu, and travelogue science fiction of the 17th and 19th centuries. There is the adventurer, utopic, and dystopic social realism fiction of the 19th centuries, the electromechanical fetishism of the pre-Golden era, the Golden Era’s militarism, optimism, and hegemonic certitude, the New Wave’s dystopianism and inner space obsession, the 1970’s preoccupation with immanentisation and sexual identities, the 1980s’ peculiar fascination with cultural and species relativism, and the 1990s’ solipsism. And these represent just some contemporaneously dominant strands in Anglo science fiction amid a malestrom of countercurrents, diversions, and by-ways. I suppose one common theme that unites them is a firm belief in the primacy of technological determinism as the organizing and evolutionary principle of cultural and economic development.
To be of worth, the question really needs to be rephrased in terms of specific authors, and whether the determination of a “Canon” of science fiction would be a good thing. For example, the Canon of English Literature developed quite recently, within the latter part of the 19th century, and came about as a deliberate policy of cultural regulation. It maintained an unassailable hegemony for several generations and produced significant effects on the perceptions of generations of students and educators as to what constituted “English Literature”, and what constituted the “Great Authors”. Postmodernism and a post-literate society seems to have signiticantly weakened its grip on university education to the point where even students specialising in a liberal arts education can obtain undergraduate and advanced degrees by concentrating only on cultural epiphenomena and ephemera.
One of the most exceptional science fiction writers of the 1970s, Joanna Russ, even managed to write an illuminating book about the process: How to Suppress Women’s Writing. It’s an object lesson in how to create a Canon to serve a political goal.