Mulling a life spent in the science fiction community


I may have written what follows before. Mulling is like that. And I’m not going back over my old posts. Life is too short to reread what I have previously written.

Among my conclusions from the current mulling: I need to take more long, hot showers. This is partly because we keep our apartment on the cool side, especially at night, and I am fairly often cold. I don’t do enough stretching when I exercise, and I am not as young as I used to be. So I am often stiff and achy. The showers will help. I know I will be wasting some water, but I think I’ll not worry too much about that. Right now, it looks as if human civilization is in real danger of crashing due to Global Warming, possibly in my lifetime. I think that will hit sooner and harder than my overuse of hot water.

The other conclusions are about the way I have spent my life. I have always wanted to be a writer, and I managed to do that. In particular, I wanted to write science fiction, because it was not an elite art form. When I was a kid SF was pretty much despised by educated people. It was trash in magazines with gaudy covers, written by people like William Tenn, Alfred Bester and Philip K. Dick (and later by Ursula K. LeGuin and Octavia Butler).

It seemed to me it told the truth about life in the United States. The society I grew up in ignored or minimized the threat of nuclear war. SF gave me vast, glowing nuclear wastelands… and police states… the endless war of Tenn’s “The Liberation of Earth,” the wealth and violence of The Stars My Destination.

And it talked about possibility. There’s quote which I think belongs to Isaac Asimov, though I have not been able to track it down, even with Google. “There will be a future, and it will be different.” This is a huge statement, in a world where we are told There Is No Alternative.

When I first found SF in the 1950s, it was a small community. Now, it is a huge part of popular culture. Everyone knows Star Trek and Star Wars. As has always been true of SF, a lot of popular science fiction is adolescent power fantasies, trash for kids. But even the trash says “the future will be different,” and “we can change our lives.” The best of it — I would put Star Trek here — has helped people imagine a humane future. This is important. The enemy is T.I.N.A. and the belief that the present can continue forever. Nothing better is possible. (It’s interesting that capitalism, an economic system which generates — and requires — constant change, seems to believe that it can and will go on forever with very little change.)

So maybe my devotion to this weird little field was not a mistake, which is reassuring. I have invested a lot of time and energy in the community.

Finally, I wanted out of the professional middle class. I did not want to be comfortable and privileged in an unjust society, where many people got no breaks and were never comfortable. So I left graduate school and got a job in an office and spent most of my working life at pretty crappy jobs. In the end, I learned accounting and became a financial manager. I like accounting, and that was fun, though I had a little more authority than I liked. I have never wanted to be a boss. Still, it was in the nonprofit world, where pay is low and power is minimal.

Well, that is my life so far. I became a writer of science fiction. I never became comfortable or intellectually respectable. And I have talked for more than 40 years, at cons and in writing, about gender, race, class and prejudice and the right of all people to have decent lives and realize their potential.