Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Writing Wednesday: Classic Themes

Yesterday’s Post “The Rise of the Machines” I hit upon a classic theme in Science Fiction, how will society deal with the eventual end to the economics of scarcity?

Four of my favorite works based around this theme handled the problem very differently.

George Orwell (1984):

Orwell had Big Brother (and the leaders of the other 2 nations) deal with the problem of mass production able to produce so much more than the people could consume by having and endless war with each other leading to a declining standard of living for all. With this declining standard of living even the elite had less material wealth, but got power over other people instead.

Aldous Huxley (Brave New World):

Huxley envisioned a world where the masses were dumbed down through genetic engineering and conditioning to except make work and the upper class was conditioned to seek shallow pleasures over creativity and sense of accomplishment. Summed up by the words “Community, Identity, Stability”.

Movie: Harrison Bergeron

The movie version was based on Kurt Vonnegut’s short story of the same name. It expanded on theme that Vonnegut expressed in the short story which is to address the problem of overproduction the US Government made everyone equal. Gifted athletes would have to wear weights so they couldn’t show up the “Average” person, Smart people had buzzers in their ears to stop them from thinking too hard. The purpose of this was to eliminate envy since every one was equal there was no reason to envy anyone. It also destroyed any desire to create.

The Star Trek Universe:

Productivity was near infinite and labor was nearly a thing of the past, so mankind focused their energies towards the betterment of all beings in the Galaxy while being committed not to interfere with them.
It is an interesting, if self-contradictory look at the post scarcity world. The noble sentiment expressed in Star Trek worked because they rarely looked into the mirror and showed what life was like on Earth in this period, when they did they barely looked beyond Star Fleet to show what life was like for anyone who was encouraged to be creative in school only to find out they couldn’t get into the famed Star Fleet Academy.

As the time is coming soon when the economics of abundance overtakes the economics of scarcity I like to look at these solutions to the problem and try to envision my own solutions.

The great thing about a classic theme is there is a nearly infinite ways of looking at the solution in fiction as the 4 very different works I mentioned point out. Hopefully my contribution to this theme will make some people think about it, and as a writer that’s all I can hope for.

Darrell B. Nelson

1 comment:

Doctor Faustroll said...

I often use Eric Arthur Blair as a pseudonym, as well as Diana Moon Glampers, Emma Goldstein, and Stoney Stevenson.

Star Trek never quite clicked with me. It always seemed more kitsch and quiche than insightful. I've always felt that beneath the good beneath the evil is more evil and more good, ad infinitum. Star Trek never got more than two layers into the onion.

Never saw Bergeron but I love the story of Billy the Nothing Head, aka Billy the Poet. In fact, I find all the stories in the Monkeyhouse collection first rate and they are among the few things I continue to re-read.

1984 would have been much better if the Book of Goldstein had been completely omitted and published as a separate manifesto. It bogs the book down the way the middle section of King's The Dead Zone does.

Of these, Brave New World is closest to the dystopia we appear to be living in and embracing. Political correctness and demands for polite behavior on the Internet seem as silly and deadening as the pronouncements of Dr. Frankenstein in The Day of the Dead.

Huxley's book is companion piece to Vonnegut's view of the world doomed by democracy to rule by the Handicapper General, where the best are dragged down by the worst and expected to rejoice for it.

It's not really competition for limited external resources that makes the world such a violently hilarious place. It's that too many people insist that their feelings not be hurt by others who don't really give a shit about amassing lots of crap and calling it a life's calling.

Ethical suicide parlors beside the Howard Johnson's? Give me a side plate of fried clams with my barbiturates? Sheer brilliance.