Monday, April 14, 2008

Terrible Speculative Fiction

Maybe it is unfair to say that The Jetsons is the worst science fiction ever created. After all, it is an early-60s cartoon. But I persist.

George Jetson lives in a house perched high in the sky upon a slender stalk with nothing underneath but, presumably, the ground. George is no patrician who can afford to throw away money; but is a futuristic working stiff. But every building is inefficiently perched in the sky for no good reason. This would uselessly multiply the cost of the structure.

Good speculative fiction should make sense. The author should formulate some technological changes and show how they would logically affect the world. Bruce Sterling, for instance, examines the effect of technological extension of the human lifespan on the culture in Holy Fire. Sterling posits that people who are super-old with a super-long financial investment time horizon would be the predominant consumers of the wonders of technology--including health care wonders, since only the ancient billionaires could afford these wonders.

Sterling's poor young subpopulation gives birth to a poor young subculture that does not matter. The young are provided for by welfare, but the old would run the world.

Sterling's future is a straightforward, mostly sensible extension of our present world. After all, in our present world, the lion's share of government benefits are given to the age group with the highest wealth--the old. These benefits are disproportionately taken from the age group with the lowest incomes and wealth--the young. This happens because old people vote. If politicians want to buy votes, they turn first to the old. And when a politician makes the elderly population mad, his/her carreer may be at an end.

However, I give The Jetsons credit for one correct guess. George Jetson works at Spacely's Sprockets, where he just pushes a button all day, griping intensely about his sore finger and his difficult job. We are supposed to laugh at the fact that though technology makes work easier, people in the future will still gripe. Anyone who has had "mouse hand" and/or carpal tunnel syndrome from the computer keyboard can see that The Jetsons was momentarily prophetic.

I attribute The Jetsons getting one prediction right to the monkey/typewriter/complete works of Shakespeare effect.

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