The science fiction writers of the 20th century were often startlingly accurate in their technological predictions, as when Arthur C. Clarke suggested, in 1945, the use of satellites in geostationary orbit to facilitate worldwide communication. They also frequently missed the mark: we hold more computing power in our hands than those writers could imagine, yet we still don't have personal jet packs, let alone interstellar travel.

Science fiction often made social predictions as well, and they too sometimes hit the mark. Here, for example, is a quote from Randall Garrett's Anything  You  Can  Do (published in 1963).

The number of people killed in ordinary accidents in a single week was greater than the total number killed by the Nipe in the last decade, but nowhere were men banding together to put a stop to that sort of death. Accidental death was a known factor, almost a friend; the Nipe was stark horror.

Replace "the Nipe" with "COVID-19" or "guns" and you get the same attitude.

The next is from The  Highest  Treason (1961). In the 60 years that have passed since it was written, I have seen this prediction come true with a vengeance for much of the Western world.

Marriage was a social contract that could be made or broken at the whim of the individual. It served no purpose because it meant nothing, neither party gained anything by the contract that they couldn't have had without it. But a wedding was an excuse for a gala party at which the couple were the center of attention. So the contract was entered into lightly for the sake of a gay time for a while, then broken again so that the game could be played with someone else.

More from The  Highest  Treason. If we haven't yet managed economic levelling, it's not for want of people pushing for just that. We've already made long strides in the battle against high standards and excellence, particularly in education.

Earth was stagnating. Every standard had become meaningless because no standard was held to be better than any other standard. There was no beauty because beauty was superior to ugliness and we couldn't allow superiority or inferiority.

Society had decided that intolerance and hatred were caused by inequality. Raise the standard of living. Make sure that every human being has the necessities of life—food, clothing, shelter, proper medical care, and proper education. More, give them the luxuries, too.... There was no longer any middle class simply because there were no other classes for it to be in the middle of.

But the poor in mind and the poor in spirit were still there—in ever-increasing numbers. Material wealth could be evenly distributed, but it could not remain that way unless Society made sure that the man who was more clever than the rest could not increase his wealth at the expense of his less fortunate brethren. Make it a social stigma to show more ability than the average. Be kind to your fellow man; don't show him up as a stupid clod, no matter how cloddish he may be.

All men are created equal, and let's make sure they stay that way!

Well, that's depressing. It's a good thing that as a child the social commentary in my beloved science fiction stories went over my head, probably because I had no interest in it. Or maybe this is the sort of thing that only becomes obvious when we can look back over the years.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 18, 2022 at 6:36 am | Edit
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