Who wants “literary-culture values”?

John M Ford on the limitations of futurism, among other things:

And now we have a culture where many — though by no means all — people don’t need to be told that Tomorrow Will Be Different; they know that, and quite a few of them look forward to it. Now, there are degrees of this; technological change is easier to grasp than scientific change. The advantage of having a phone in your pocket with one-button 911 is obvious, even if you have no clue how cellular communication, or for that matter the 911 system, operates. Accepting the evidence for global warming is in a different mental department. Indeed, the connection between basic science and applied technology is vague in many people’s minds. And developmental time frames are all bent outta shape. There are still people who cannot comprehend why there isn’t a vaccine, or a morning-after cigarette, for HIV, and an awful lot of them seem to read The Economist.

I have great respect for Bruce Sterling, but I find it amusing that he claims that magazine SF is “worse than dull” because it clings to “literary-culture values,” when literary culture has been crapping on genre fiction for its entire history. If he means that it is constructed as prose, and not hypertext or a music video, I will take that as a valid point, but there are things that prose can do that visual media require both far more effort and vastly more artistic acuity to put across. What they are good at is transmitting extremely simple ideas; the villain kicks a dog, the hero grumbles at the outrage and shoots him. This is great if your goal is to sell a million movie tickets. It ain’t particularly good for the development of complex thought. Or, indeed, any thought at all.


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