The recent series of posts over at Vox Popoli relating to the sins of the Baby Boomers and GenXers set my mind wandering down strange paths.
That the true giants Burroughs, Howard, Moore, and E.E. Doc Smith were forgotten and the fraudulent three – pervy Heinlein, snowjob Asimov, and pedo Clarke – elevated by the Baby Boomers for political reasons is beyond doubt. Anyone looking at the field of science-fiction with an impartial eye cannot deny the influence enjoyed by the former to this day, nor can they deny the steady downward trend in science-fiction’s inspirational qualities or creative vision that was concurrent with the rise of the false trinity (I won’t dignify that slight by capitalizing the words.)
There may be more to the situation, however. The Baby Boomers are notorious for believing that the world began with their generation. We see this in their writing on film, art, politics, and literature. Everything is viewed through a lens of “what did they ever do for me“, and they gleefully ignore the culture that allowed them to live out their sheltered lives relatively free from the frothing cycles of history and economics that have always plagued mankind.
“Don’t trust anyone over thirty,” was the catch-phrase that highlighted their ignorance of the past, and so pervasive was that attitude that it only makes sense it would infect the field of science-fiction. If Dad liked to read Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard then that old stuff just had to be substandard compared to the new hotness of edgy writers like Damon Knight and Harlan Ellison. You know they are cool because they are total dicks, man.
They rejected the things their fathers honored like selflessness, romance, virtue, and…well, honor itself. And you can’t read Burroughs or Howard without being infected by those ideas, so in order to preserve their carefully manufactured worldview that put them at the center of everything good and right and just, they had to treat the hard working and creative men and women who built the world of science fiction just as they had memory holed everything about the Silent Generation that wasn’t focused exclusively on how great the Baby Boomers are.
It might not be quite as great a sin as squandering the financial wealth accumulated by the west over hundreds of years, but squandering the cultural wealth of Burroughs and Howard certainly serves as just one example of how they left the world a worse place than the one they inherited.
On a surface level, there is a certain irony in me – a GenXer myself – repeating the cycle and rejecting the actions of the generation before me. But where the Boomers rejected everything that came before and assumed that they could create a better world from whole cloth in a generation, we GenXers are looking back beyond those poor misguided fools to the generations that came before them to see if we might heal the world they poisoned in order to leave a better world for our children than they left for us.
We don’t reject the wisdom of our predecessors, we just reject the foolishness of our immediate forebears. And it’s this focus on the lost wisdom that will allow us to reject their false promises and build a better world.
And that includes a better science fiction culture.