In knew it: Star Wars destroyed science fiction

Fortunately, our super future-tech-now internet will bring it back to life: this is the hopeful conclusion of this blog post by Mexican-American science fiction writer Ernest Hogan. I’ll say something longer about this (and how it calls back to my ideas that American culture went to shit — pastel-colored, shiny plastic shit — in the 80s) later.


7 thoughts on “In knew it: Star Wars destroyed science fiction

  1. Star Wars didn’t destroy science fiction – it just paved the way for other, better-written (and it doesn’t take much to qualify) comic books on the big screen.

    There’s always been a lot of (green, glowing, alien) crap to dig through to find the occasional pony. Why anyone is concerned about the opinion of people who despise the genre from the first is beyond me.

    • “Comic books” — er, you’ve basically agreed with me without meaning to. Because, frankly, I consider comic books for the most part to be a childish art form (and yes, I know that there are exceptions, but those aren’t the ones with simplistic Star-Wars-like stories), and the fact that the movie industry seems to have concentrated most of its money and brains on making cartoons “for grownups” isn’t exactly my favorite thing about Hollywood.

      I’ll just qualify here that I enjoyed the first three (the first three made, not the first three in Lucas’ bizarre prequel setup) Star Wars movies. In fact, the very first one is still one of my favorite films of all time. But… it’s not really science fiction. It’s a fantasy-Western (and a Western fantasy) dolled up in scifi gadgetry. Change the droids to magical animal companions, the Jedi to wizards, the light sabers to magic wands, the multi-planet setting to a fantastic continent of magical kingdoms, the Death Star to a dragon, the Millenium Falcon to a sea-going ship, Princess Leia to… Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker the Chosen farmboy to… well, anyway, all of this could be accomplished without changing anything but the names of some gadgets. The plot (Chosen farmboy goes on quest to save princess from evil wizard and also come into his own magic powers) and the characters (stock fairy tale archetypes) remain untouched. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not science fiction.

      Science fiction is about confronting the new and the strange and the different, not wrapping yourself in a comfy blanket of familiar stories. Even the cheesiest scifi films from the 50s had weird aliens and strange stuff going on–though yes, Forbidden Planet was Shakespeare’s The Tempest with shiny trappings. Yet that movie still managed to confront odd new ideas and alien things despite the familiar theme; Star Wars doesn’t do that, instead it just stays comfy inside its fairy tale box. There’s nothing like the uncomfortable questions about how advanced technology can cause self-destruction (a major theme in atomic-bomb-conscious Fifties science fiction) in Star Wars — all the tech is mundane and useful, with no particular moral component to its use.

      Okay as to that last thing: I will grant that making science fiction settings look lived in and every day is one thing that Star Wars gave to the genre that I do like. On the other hand, it also has inherent problems. We tend to take mundane, useful, everyday things for granted, and to forget any moral effects they might have. Usually this is harmless, but it can be otherwise. But I’m going to leave that subject aside for now until I can give it more thought.

      Back to the main thing, the effect Star Wars had on science fiction. I do think it degraded the subject, despite the improved special effects and other things that money and popularity can buy (like critical praise). But you’re talking from the viewer/reader side of things anyway. What about the writers? As a certain kind of “science fiction” got more and more popular, publishers became more and more timid and unwilling to take a chance on new writers who didn’t pump out formulaic shiny metal fairy tales featuring Luke and Leia clones, Wisecracking™ dialogue, plots stolen from Disney cartoons, and settings that all looked like towns in old westerns, complete with saloons. It’s one reason I stopped reading so much science fiction and went into fantasy for a long while; why bother with the imitation when I could get the real thing?

      This is turning into a blog post. I’ll end it with the fact that popular science fiction nowadays is all post-European fairy tales and white men’s fantasies with a shiny tech covering (or, as has become fashionable of late, a rusty, grungy tech covering). I’ll none of it.

      • Any plot revolving around ‘the Force’ or some other unquantifiable mysticism is nothing but fantasy with gadgets.

        Star Wars was a movie first, followed by the book – just because the cat had kittens in the oven don’t make ’em biscuits.

        The pulps of the ‘golden age’ frequently borrowed plot lines, often to the same or worse effect as Star Wars. Hells, too many of today’s authors do the same.

        Keep in mind that for every Forbidden Planet there were tens of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. MST3K wouldn’t have lasted a day if that weren’t the case.

      • Santa Claus Conquers The Martians was the greatest movie ever made!

        Or so I thought when I was about five years old.

  2. Hogan’s “Empires are falling. Colonies are rearranging. Cultures are mutating.” assertion is either foolish or delusional. What ’empires’? What ‘colonies’? What ‘mutations’?

    Referencing the mythical ‘Aztlan’ – a fabrication of Mexican racialist groups such as MEChA – as if it has any basis in history or culture doesn’t give the impression of a particularly astute observer. Neither does his leaden neologism ‘recombocultural’.

    If the essay is any indication of his writing style and ability, I can’t say I’m sorry to have missed his published work.

    • I admit I disregarded most of his more pretentious bits for what I saw as the meat of his post, which was the increasing reluctance of publishers to take on anything that didn’t follow a very narrow formula — in scifi! — which was in turn a response to the idea that since formulaic crap was making so much money this is what the industry should concentrate on. I don’t really care about whatever he was babbling about Aztlan, and yes, “recombocultural” does not fall euphoniously on the ear. I’ll just keep on using words we already have, like “cosmopolitan,” “diverse,” “international,” and yes, “multicultural.” They’re enough.

      • I agree that publishers are a timid and grasping lot; it was ever thus. Heinlein’s Grumbles From The Grave has many examples of such pusillanimous behaviour – other authors, less established, have had much worse experiences.

        The ‘net has provided authors with alternatives not subject to the limitations publishers both work under and impose. But, as noted earlier, for every well-told story there are tens if not hundreds that should have been left to molder on the slush-pile. Plenitude doesn’t guarantee quality.

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