Charlie Stross on the economic naivete of science fiction

Paul Raven @ 08-10-2010

The Strossmeister crops up in a brief interview at New Scientist*, and says the following:

Science fiction has traditionally been economically naive, with a strong libertarian streak which I think is like a crude Leninism. That’s attractive because it could be used to explain everything, and if only we lived by its tenets, everything would be perfect. Except that we have to assume perfectly uniform and spherical humans of a fixed density for it to work. Humans are complex and if you show them a system, a subset of them will try to game the system for their own benefits. I’ve seen a joking case made that Star Trek‘s Federation is propaganda from a communist dictatorship; they have no money and have replicators to provide everything. But behind the gleaming shiny space ships is a howling vacuum of no explanation.

I think we’re starting to see a move away from that situation, at least in (some) written sf – Stross himself, plus Doctorow, Ken MacLeod, Karl Schroeder, Bruce Sterling and others, they’re all trying to engage those economic realities and make them part of the story. Problem is that economics is an inherently politicised subject, so one reader’s engagement with reality will be another reader’s naive socialist utopia (or libertarian paradise, or, or, or…). You can’t please all the people all the time, after all… and I rather suspect it’s that underlying naive utopianism of Trek that has leant it such lasting appeal.

[ * OK, so it’s a very brief interview, but even so, was “SF author: I am a spaceman” the best pull-quote the NS sub-ed could come up with? Really? ]

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3 Responses to “Charlie Stross on the economic naivete of science fiction”

  1. Robert Koslover says:

    Hmmm, what an odd thing to say… “…a strong libertarian streak which I think is like a crude Leninism.” Ok, so what do libertarianism and Leninism have in common? Is this some kind of literary trick to shock and confuse the reader? You know, sort of like if one were to suggest that the author of the subject phrase is hoping to “bask in the inherent glory of his vague anonymity.” Your thoughts?

  2. jon says:

    I too was wondering what the connection was between libertarian streaks and crude Leninism, given that his example is Star Trek’s communism. No doubt Stross would be able to explain the point with a high level of articulation so I’ll put it down to a lack of space & detail on NS’s part.

  3. Paul Raven says:

    I suspect Stross was highlighting the utopian nature of both ideologies, guys; while the routes may be very different, both envisage a population freed from despotism and allowed to achieve its maximum potential at both individual and societal levels. But I may be putting my own words into Stross’ mouth, there… and as jon points out, it’s a terse piece that sounds as if it were excerpted from a much more wide-ranging conversation. Not one of NS‘s better recent moments, to be honest.