Nader Elhefnawy pushes
Of course the last four decades – this age of unreason, of identity politics and ideologically convenient pseudo-science and neoliberal economics - have been a grave disappointment for those espousing such visions, who might well feel that instead of the Federation of Planets, we are instead turning into a frightening hybrid of the Ferengi and the Cardassians. Yet, the problems that gave rise to the scientific world-view continue to hang over our heads. Indeed, some of them have proven worse than Wells imagined (real-world nuclear arsenals have far more potential to destroy civilization than what he portrayed in The World Set Free), while the list of problems has actually lengthened since his time (as Wells certainly did not anticipate anything like anthropogenic climate change). And there has certainly been a scarcity of alternative ideas for dealing with them, "optimism" (another loaded, misused word) today seeming to consist mainly of dismissing or shrugging off very real problems, or a "faith" that a technical fix will conveniently appear, and conveniently be implemented in some market-friendly way – the techno-libertarianism that has been discredited time and time again. (Think, for instance, of what the first decade of the twenty-first century was expected to look like at the height of the tech bubble.) This leaves just despair on the part of those who regard something better than the present muddle as not merely an ideal but a necessity, gloating on the part of those who never had anything but contempt for their ideas, and the outlook of the "bright-sided" – hardly a healthy state of affairs.
The state of this particular subgenre of science fiction is just a symptom of the problem, not the disease itself, but the more I consider the situation the more it seems to me that, not only is there still room for a vision like the one Star Trek presented, but that its presence is something worthwhile, or even vital. Certainly the genre is richer for the emergence of shows with very different outlooks, like Lexx and Firefly – but we are far past the point at which the original Star Trek's approach can really seem stifling to would-be producers of science fiction television and film. If anything, with Battlestar Galactica now the template for TV space opera, it is humanism, and the hope of a better tomorrow – or even human survival - that is in danger of being stifled (all as the "dark and gritty" approach seems increasingly trite).