Science Fiction, Opinions, and Why It’s Okay to Disagree

A statute honoring Ray Bradbury was unveiled outside the Waukegan Public Library just after sunset on Aug. 22, 2019, the 99th anniversary of the late author’s birth. (Dan Moran / Lake County News-Sun)

I just read an article at File 770 called Waukegan Public Library Unveils Ray Bradbury Statue (click the link and read, the story’s pretty short). Waukegan was Bradbury’s hometown and I’m thrilled to see that he is being honored. He is a truly timeless writer, and I can prove it, since my 33-year-old son Michael just read Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Over a year ago, I wrote my own wee Bradbury essay titled Should We Burn Ray Bradbury’s Books?. I crafted my missive in response to Katie Naum’s essay at Electric Lit called The New ‘Fahrenheit 451’ Movie Fails to Reckon with Bradbury’s Racism.

I seriously doubt he was a racist, at least in the dictionary definition sense, but assuming Bradbury had character flaws and perhaps some dated beliefs given that he was born in 1920, that doesn’t change his influence on the field of science fiction, nor make him unworthy of being honored.

Of course, we’ve seen this sort of thing before.

Just a few days ago I wrote my own commentary on fantasy author Jeannette Ng’s severe criticism of the late editor John W. Campbell, including calling him a fascist, as she was receiving the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. In the self same essay, I pointed out that Hugo Gernsback, for whom the famed Hugo Award is named, was hardly an upstanding and honest citizen.

Scratch the surface of just about anybody and you’ll probably find out that they have an opinion or two you don’t agree with. Go figure.

Speaking of which, on the aforementioned File 770, I read The Mandalorian — Official Trailer, which depicts a soon to be released “Star Wars” television show featuring “The Fett” on Disney+. I made the mistake of lamenting how well-established franchises, such as “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” are being so severely reimaged for 21st century progressive social and political viewpoints, that they’ve lost their original vision and magic.

I should have known better, although the person who took me to task was very nice about it. I let the person have the last word because he/she (name’s “JJ” which isn’t terribly revealing) didn’t seem to want to take “your mileage may vary” lying down. Oh well.

My point is that people aren’t perfect, and stories aren’t perfect. On the one hand we all like our sacred cows, such as Ray Bradbury, Star Trek, Star Wars, and so on. When someone tries to tip one or more of those cows (look up cow tipping), we tend to get upset. I’m quite guilty of that. On the other hand, time marches on. People and art (assuming you consider Star Trek and Star Wars art) are products of their eras.

The Star Trek television series of the 1960s, although innovative for its time, feels very dated now, and I don’t mean the special effects. Kirk’s relationship with human and alien women has earned him the nickname “Captain Pig” between my 10-year-old grandson and I. Some of the episodes have been labeled racist (which just about everything is these days). Yet Star Trek really couldn’t have been anything different when released in 1966, and certainly would never have seen the light of day if Roddenberry had somehow managed to predict social justice and political correctness as we understand the concepts in 2019.

Like it or not, what was created in the past reflects the past. People born nearly a century ago probably had a different outlook on a lot of things than people born more recently (this isn’t absolutely true, but in general I think the statement holds).

For me, what passes for Star Trek and Star Wars these days just doesn’t cut it, although I’m certain they reflect the modern era. I’ve tried to like the newer productions, but frankly, they leave me cold. The original vision has been lost. This doesn’t mean that new stories can’t be written and new series based on older concepts can’t be great. Star Trek managed to retain Roddenberry’s original “feel” through “Star Trek: Voyager” and possibly into the disappointing “Star Trek: Enterprise.” It kept its “Star-Trekness” if you will. The more modern incarnations of both franchises, not so much.

That said, people can like the newer versions, and especially for young people, that will be their Star Trek and Star Wars. So be it.

Ray Bradbury might have held a few “difficult” viewpoints back in the day, but that doesn’t “undo” what he did for science fiction. I love John Hogan’s novel Inherit the Stars but some of his opinions drive me nuts. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad writer.

We take the good and bad together because people, television, films, and novels are rarely all one or the other. We can also choose to say, “I won’t patronize a film, show, writer” because of X, Y, or Z. Doesn’t mean everyone will agree with you, and it’s arrogant to believe that everyone must.

I love the satire site “The Babylon Bee.” Today, I read and disseminated by social media something called Opinion: When The Founders Wrote The First Amendment, They Never Imagined There Would One Day Be Things I’d Disagree With. It’s funny because there’s so much truth crammed into it.

18 thoughts on “Science Fiction, Opinions, and Why It’s Okay to Disagree

    • I think if you look at how writers change their wares over decades, we can find the answer to that, at least in a limited way. For instance, Robert Heinlein’s stories changed quite a bit as he got older, and not always for the good.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. And what of even earlier writers, of what are deemed classics, like HG Wells and Edgar Allen Poe? Are these also to be shredded, because undoubtedly someone will find in them some view that they deem objectionable? Will some modern filmmaker insist on re-booting these as well? Or are they somehow so distant from our era that they can’t be “corrected” in this manner? Have they become “period pieces”, that are accepted as such along with their reflection of their era? Of course, some have tried modern versions of the story lines that Shakespeare employed, with varying success (mileage being variable and all).

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    • I mentioned that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name was removed from an award because she failed “the litmus test.” Should the names you suggest return to modern attention, then I suspect what you predict will come to pass.

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  2. I find it very problematical that authors of the past are judged by modern day values (or lack there of). I hear, read, too many people saying that {author/artist} was (insert form of bigotry) when in fact that individual was a person of their time.

    I am reading “Neaera; A Tale of Ancient Rome”. I imagine that many people would be taken aback by the casual references to salves and the social mechanisms [marriage only w/in your class, woman had few rights, etc.) shown. However, when you consider that it was written in the 1800’s and is set in Rome during the time of Tiberius, such things are to be expected. As a reader, you have to be willing to take these things into consideration, or stick to only modern books with modern settings.

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  3. I recently wrote a post (at another blogger’s site), in answer to a question about judging past people according to current mores, that tended toward expecting people who are still alive to have learned something or be learning. It seems clear there were times that were different. Certainly, that’s true — if only that no matter how enlightened anyone is they have to live in the larger society and single-handedly recreate their realities. Of course, there is more freedom in writing fiction (even if still not full freedom… especially in earlier days). We know that the majority of people saw things differently in prior times, so, authors too can be understood to have not only been somewhat stifled but likewise not have been quite so forward-thinking in terms of awareness (regardless of how they felt they had to live) as we might wish to think. We can understand this, and I consider many older works to be worthwhile as fitting their times and even helping to illustrate contrasts in points of view.

    I have recently started to rethink this in the matter of our American founding fathers. While I do actually still apply it to them in many ways (and on the whole), I additionally have come across a challenging fact that haunts us to this day. There is in place a “rule” that doesn’t permit some speech among our lawmakers. Consider that this was put in place while we still thrived on the backs of a multitude of black people who had been enslaved and were permitted to be restricted from learning, bought, sold, raped, and so forth from generation to generation. Jefferson wrote a manual barring reference to racial or other discrimination by the president in the Senate. While it’s not law per se, it has been imposed on the House as well. ” Remarks by House members cannot refer to the president as racist or the president ‘having made a bigoted or racist statement.’ ” If this was an argument — and, indeed, a sensitive objection — then, they knew what they were doing after all.

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    • And, I might add: those who think they are so enlightened in this era that they may stand to condemn others before them, or even in the present, may find that they’re not so smart after all, but merely overweeningly arrogant.

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    • I posted just now: It seems clear there were times that were different. Certainly, that’s true — if only that no matter how enlightened anyone is they have to live in the larger society and single-handedly recreate their realities. Of course, there is more freedom in writing fiction (even if still not full freedom… especially in earlier days).

      I meant if only that no matter how enlightened anyone is they have to live in the larger society and can’t single-handedly recreate their realities. I would add that the more influential, such as Jefferson, obviously have more influence. (And, these days, as in most times, the more affluent have more influence.)

      https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/manual-parliamentary-practice

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      • While we generally consider it a given that no One can single-handedly recreate their reality, Yeshua wasn’t terribly concerned with this avoiding of making waves (nonviolently other than turning some tables), and it got him killed. [My spell-checker, of its own “mind,” capitalized “One” — and I decided to leave it be.]

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      • Are you saying, Marleen, that these folks DO feel restricted or inhibited about referring to the POTUS in such a manner? I don’t get to watch any broadcasts of C-SPAN from over here in Israel, but I seem to recall reading an article somewhere recently that there actually exists a law, dating from the mid-1800s, I think, restricting Congressmen in particular from accusing the president of racism, despite the fact that this is a limitation upon the application of the first amendment. Therefore they ought to be constrained by it, but perhaps its application may itself be limited to declarations within the confines of the House or Senate gatherings. It might not apply to comments in the general public arena; because no one seems to be threatening any legal action against those elected officials who have indeed said and written such things publically.

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  4. Every author, one way or another, is going to be a product of their time; and sci-fi authors, inevitably, frame their stories around what they know. Even if they speculate on a different time and society, it has to be acceptable to its audience – and will, in any event, be framed by contemporary attitudes. As you say, the original Trek offered an innovative social vision from a 1960s perspective, but it isn’t the one we have today in detail. That said, I think some stories gain a thematic timelesness where the author goes past the immediacy of their society and nails an element of human nature (which doesn’t tend to change so much) – Shakespeare was good at it. And for sci-fi, apart from a lot of stuff by Wells, Clarke, etc, I’d always point to Cyril Kornbluth’s ‘The Marching Morons’, which he wrote at the turn of the 1950s as a not-very-subtle commentary about contemporary US advertising methods, but where he exposed patterns of general human behaviour that are far more universal. To an extent (but only an extent), I’d put the ORIGINAL Star Wars movie into that category too, given that Lucas deliberately wrote that first tale as a fairy story – even bringing Joseph Campbell on board for advice. I suspect this is what helped drive its popularity and to help mainstream the concept of sci-fi as something socially acceptable for mass consumption. I wouldn’t categorise the rest of the franchise that way, though.

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  5. For my full post referenced earlier in the comments (from someone else’s blog where a question was asked),

    Kinda depends on if the person is still alive. Also, there are different facets to the answer. Additionally, there is a difference between judging the word/work products/actions and what that stands for versus banning the person or the work itself. There’s a difference, as well, between not banning (particularly the record of speech or ideas) as contrasted with celebrating or affirming (or not putting it in context as pushed to the past).

    If the person is alive, they should’ve learned something (assuming that person acted in ignorance) or reformed (if having been more like corrupt or evil*) — and, if the person is a politician (or anyone), change should be organic… personally explicable.

    * Especially in this regard, an individual can be forgiven for his own life but isn’t entitled to be a leader.

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