Conservative SF discussed at Pajamas Media

My author buddy and Baen superstar Larry Correia pointed me to this:

Is Science Fiction getting more conservative?

I’ve spent a few posts on this blog discussing the decline of SF and how this decline is perhaps due to the fact that SF’s political slant — overall — has gradually been taking it away from mainstream American consumers. The article above is the first time I’ve heard anyone argue that the opposite may be happening: that SF is in fact becoming more conservative, not less.

I think Larry pointed it out best when he used the media analogy: in a media arena where 10 news and information outlets are left-leaning (CNN, NPR, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, et al) and only one outlet is acknowledged to be conservative (FOX) the single outlet is liable to have a larger than average marketshare compared to the ten outlets jockeying for the attention of the same slice of the consumer pie. Thus the (few) conservative authors who operate at a visible level — like Tom Kratman — seem to have greater visibility than the dozen or more authors working at Kratman’s same level, but who (because of their ubiquity in the genre) have a tougher time standing out from the crowd.

But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps there is a swing happening. Both in author slant, and in the types and kinds of people who are buying. If Science Fiction has always functioned as criticism of the status quo, then what can we say about Science Fiction in the era of Obama and enlarged government? Promises of expanded debt and expanded entitlements? If these are the status quo, then SF’s inherent “job” is to criticize, though there are plenty of SF authors who will argue hotly that the Obama years have been a watered-down centre-right ghost of what they expected them to be. Ergo, Barack has “sold out” the progressive dream.

Pournelle correctly notes that many authors who might be labeled ‘conservative’ would never think of themselves as such. Even Orson Scott Card is still a registered Democrat. So it’s not as if conservative authors in SF exist as a coherent block. They do not. Rather, I think there is a rather pronounced “iceberg” of authors who occasionally write or say things that sound or read as ‘conservative’, and that these authors tend to sell to a much larger but quieter audience — the rest of the mass beneath the waterline — which represents a buying public that many authors — and editors, and agents, and fans — who are on the other side of the fence don’t like to recognize.

As Tom Kratman notes, neither side has much dialogue with the other. They’re either ignoring each other, or talking over or talking past one another. It’s not a conversation or exchange of ideas. It’s an exercise in wishing the other side didn’t exist.


  1. Great post, Brad. And I agree. I think that a lot of SF writers, like a lot of writers and media personalities in genreal, have lost sight of what the average American feels and believes and, a lot of times, seem to be lost in an echo chamber of their own making.

  2. Naah – I think the old timers like me who want SCIENCE in their science fiction (ala Analog Magazine) are dwindling. Today’s youth are not (much) exited by the diminished space program and its promise of an exciting, worlds exploring future. Instead we get endless (and good selling) quest, supernatural and magic stories. That which passes for space opera today is often placed in a far future which might as well be magic.

    Many old time SF writer were politically conservative and it showed in their work. It remains to be seen what the genre will bring, or how it will survive.

  3. Conservative? Liberal? All I know is I’m not seeing nearly as many Space Orgies in modern SF as were in classic SF.

    It is my solemn duty to rectify this imbalance.

    More seriously, when it comes to politics in SF, political science is science, and I want to speculate just as much on it as any other science. As a writer, I want to take that speculation wherever it leads scientifically, not wherever the politics of the day insist that it leads. I’ll take a run at a political concept from all sides that prove viable, whether in the same story or in two or more separate ones, as my interest and inspiration holds out.

    If I want to write about the politics of the day, I’ll write a thriller (or a satire). But I won’t call it SF.

  4. I hope he’s wrong; I don’t think I can stoop low enough to write something like Night of the Blood Jihad.

  5. This debate really bothers me, firstly because I’ve never seen – though I’ve thoroughly hunted for – a cogent explication of it with examples of both conservative and liberal fiction utilized extensively to support the hypothesis. The only good example I’ve ever received was Avatar as an example of “politically correct” cinema – a categorization I agreed with, and that I agreed was ample reason to condemn the film.

    The second reason it bothers me is the confutation of terms. To wit: I mostly read fantasy, which tends toward what I consider to be intellectual and emotional conservatism, which can and does characterize both liberal and conservative politics. Not surprisingly, insofar as I am an intelligent and critical person, I dislike fantastic larks where the hero slays the villain and subtextually boinks the girl (i.e., 99% of the genre). However – in the fantasy genre at least – the critical authors tend, in their personal politics and on the page of make-believe, not toward political conservatism, but toward critical “socialist” or “liberal” stances. China Miéville would be the foremost example of a brave, critical, and independent fantasy author. And he’s not a conservative.

    Not that conservatism cannot be critical, insightful, or progressive; it is a misnomer, really. “Starship Troopers,” for example, was one of the most thought-provoking pieces of military thought I’ve ever read. The problem – which you seem to fall prey to – is in assuming that there is An Answer. A Truth. A Freedom to be Had This Way and None Other. Not only conservatives are good critics. Not only conservatives value freedom. You talk past a good deal of critical thought and theory when you dismiss entire chapters of human philosophical history. Neither, let it be said, is capitalist democracy the end of history.

    Anyway… thank the Cosmic Godhead I’m an anarchist.

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