We Need a New Frontier Because the Final Frontier is a Bust

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, September 10, 2018

Are you jaded with science fiction on television? Have you stopped seeing every new Sci-Fi flick at the theater? I have. On Wall Street, investors always assume a bull market won’t last. I’m wondering when the current science fiction bubble will burst?

During the pulp era, there were more western titles than any other genre. In the 1950s, there were more westerns on television than other types of shows. Then the genre all but disappeared. Could that happen to science fiction?

Westerns disappeared as western frontiers faded, and science fiction replaced westerns in popularity because it offered new frontiers.

Mars

If this observation is true, then science fiction won’t go away until a new genre offers an alternative frontier. Today, science fiction is often dystopian. The final frontier is tarnished by the reality of science. A few million still hope to run off to Mars to escape the looming apocalypses on Earth, but most know the Martian frontier is a destination only robots could love.

Science fiction has failed at convincing Earthlings to colonize other worlds. Instead, we stayed home and trashed the only sustainable planet for our species. Are there any frontiers left to offer new hope? Back when the Space Age was dawning, science fiction also envisioned colonizing the oceans. That idea never caught on and we’ve only sent our plastics to dwell there instead.

Oceans

Are there any frontiers left for our dreams? We need a new genre that inspires us to clean up the Earth. We need stories where a sustainable ecology/economy is the new frontier. We need fiction that depicts healing of the Earth. We need optimistic tales that aren’t fantasy. We need practical utopias.

And, this is very important, we need to stop using fiction to escape. Hasn’t fiction become the frontier that’s replaced science fiction? Aren’t we all trying to live in the imaginary worlds of books, movies, television shows, comics, computer games, and virtual reality? I have to wonder if we don’t all believe we’re passengers on the Titanic and fiction is our heroin.

JWH

8 thoughts on “We Need a New Frontier Because the Final Frontier is a Bust”

  1. Nah. The dream is alive but space colonization proved to be rather difficult and during the past half century, and our economic and political systems have not created the right environment to fully focus all our resources and ingenuity on space exploration. But science fiction as a genre has never been as popular in mainstream culture as today. The thing is, it is not focused on rockets but on robots. Most modern SF, either in book form or on television, is exploring a fascination with AI. That is the frontier at the moment.

    And stopping using fiction to escape? No. The mind needs occasional escape to unwind for its own good.

    1. Science fiction is very popular, maybe too popular. I think it’s a bubble that’s about to burst. I feel that people use to feel science fiction was preparing us for a future where humanity moved out into space, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. I think outer space has become the new Middle Earth. We only fantasize about it.

      And I don’t think we’re realistically exploring robots and AI in fiction either.

      A certain amount of escape is R&R. Beyond that, it’s opium of the masses.

  2. I think the disillusion with the Martian frontier,was evident in the SF of the 1960s.Then,the “new wave” and authors of a similar persuasion,were looking towards inner space as the new frontier.There always seems to be a new one to breach.

  3. I remember watching Star Trek, especially Next Generation. I thought, oh someday in the far future it will be like this but with less fighting and war. But now, I think it is a dream that has died. There’s no more inspiration and I think people, somewhere deep inside, “feel” a change …a bad moon rising, if you will. I think we’ve gone too far in corporate greed, destruction of our own planet and continual wars and extreme divisiveness. We missed our chance.

  4. In my opinion, the fading of the frontier ideal from our collective consciousness is a good thing. Frontiers have always been places to escape to. Can’t deal with life, head west, young man! Without frontiers to escape to, sooner or later we may come to realize that we can’t escape the consequences of our actions. And then, perhaps, we’ll step up and deal with them. And if not, then the consequences will deal with us…

    The thing about westerns is that they were stories about a specific time and place, and when interest in that time and place waned, so did the genre. Science fiction, on the other hand, is not tied to any time and place, and so it is free to adopt to the times. It might change out of recognition, but it will persist.

    Science fiction has always been an escapist genre. It has always been entertainment. And if sometimes it imparts ideas, ideals, and new view points, great. But it must be entertainment first if it is to be read and those viewpoints made. I’m all for optimistic stories and optimistic futures, but that’s just a personal taste. I don’t know enough of popular culture to comment on today’s entertainments, but I am sure they are shaped by the times and can’t be changed by design. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

  5. My son loves THE EXPANSE. I’m reading the books THE EXPANSE is based on. They’re okay. I’ve also watched a few episodes of STAR TREK DISCOVERY, but wasn’t impressed. SOLO had to be the weakest of the STAR WARS knockoffs. THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and ANT MAN AND THE WASP (I don’t know if you consider them Science Fiction) were entertaining. Your yearning for a new SF genre resonates with me. Now that we have the technology, why can’t writers and producers and directors mine Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, and Gordon R. Dickson’s work? There’s plenty there!

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