(Original Review, 1985)
Isn't that just the thing? With the digital world, social media and the online life, comes an entirely new kind of creeping, monolithic conformity. When everywhere you go cookies are recording your choices, advertising companies can predict your needs and your boss is your friend on Facebook, you need to be careful about what you download on Kindle. Writers and publishers too are constrained by this social coercion and so we end up with a homogenised world. Writers are only allowed to be creative within strictly policed generic parameters.
As William Gibson observed in his short story, The Gernsback Continuum:
“Really bad media can exorcise your semiotic ghosts”.
In other words, it stops you thinking too much. Thinking in unwanted ways is profoundly disapproved of by the thought police of the digital world. The last thing they want are original writers. Writing must be controlled!
You know, with all this talk of ditching the shiny optimistic future in favor of a dirty depressing future I'm left wondering if my own preferences for said shiny optimistic future arn't rooted in the fact that I grew up with the "garbage future" as the default and that shiny optimistic future appeals to me for the same reason the dirty depressing future appealed to those old authors, It's different than the mainstream prevailing vision. But it's not about preference or appeal. In the 20s and 30s the "raygun future" was a possibility, but then history happened and we ended up in a different timeline from the envisioned one. SF authors never got the memo tough and they continued to envision the same types of fiction. And then Star Wars came along and all of a sudden space opera (or space fantasy) became stronger than ever, and this enraged die hard SF fans.
You see, some people consider the duty of SF, to take our current understanding of the world (science) and envision how that would affect the future. The future that Gernsback and others envisioned proved to be false, because science led to pollution, decay in society, etc. Gibson went back to the "drawing board" and wrote about a new future, that was grounded in his own present. This of course resonated with lot of people, because even though it was fiction, it was more "real" than food pills, rockets and rayguns.
There will be always a division between SF fans; some are seeking escapism or entertainment others want to see how the future will be shaped. Even the latter is divided, because some are optimistic and will always look for a brighter future, while others are cynical (or realist, call them what you will) and see only dystopia as the outcome.
SF = Speculative Fiction.