Well, it’s not my theory. But Ted Gioia seems to think that the Apollo landings ushered in science fiction’s decline into irrelevance:
With the benefit of hindsight, we should probably admit that the landing of Apollo 11 was the end of the glory days of sci-fi. With the conclusion of the Apollo program, NASA became just another government agency, more bureaucratic than heroic. It is all too telling that the Challenger disaster of 1986 was the next time that rocket ships captured the attention of the general public.
When the moon became just another piece of abandoned real estate, like much of Florida after the subprime meltdown, the psychological impact on sci-fi was devastating. Many grand predictions had been made about the future of space exploration by these visionary authors. But not one of them would have dared to make this prediction—namely, that 35 years after the Apollo program, no trip would have been made to any of the other planets in the solar system, and no one would have the gumption to send an astronaut—or even a dog or chimpanzee— back to the moon.
Science fiction is experiencing a bit of a comeback these days [O RLY?], but the moon plays a low profile in the renewal efforts.
Gioia not only seems to be conflating a subset of the genre – namely heroic/imperialist space exploration fiction – with the genre as a whole, but appears to have observed a “decline into irrelevance” that the genre’s fans, publishers and practitioners have utterly failed to notice.
Sure, science fiction has changed in character considerably since the Apollo landings, and a loss of faith in Progress-with-a-capital-P is almost certainly one of the symptoms thereof… and sure, the pulps fell away and short fiction has become an artisan ghetto of sorts, but that’s a function of changes in media consumption patterns rather than a direct response to the space race fizzling out. [image by jurvetson]
So, nice try, Ted… but if you’re going to wrestle a topical straw man you might want to dress it up a little more convincingly next time, eh? 😉