In a fascinating article for the World Policy Institute, Neal Stephenson (author of Reamde, Snowcrash, Cryptonomicon, etc.) argues that (1) as a society we’ve become less able to execute on the big stuff and (2) it may be the fault of us science fiction writers.
Now I feel him on the first part. He describes being a child of the 60’s growing up watching us get big things done in space. That was me, too. I was glued to the Apollo missions (as well as Star Trek, 2001, and anything space), and I later ended up working at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Yet this year we watched the Space Shuttle program sputter to an end with nothing really to replace it. So, yeah, we’re not executing on the big stuff so much at the moment.
But, is this because we’re not writing science fiction about moon colonies and galactic civilizations? Well, I don’t know about that. Granted, the science fiction leading up to (and well into) the space age embraced a certain techno-optimisim. And now we’re writing about, gasp, dystopias and steampunk. Correlation ain't causation, though.
I think we’re not executing on the big stuff not for lack of imagination but because of lack of political will. Going to the moon captured the world’s imagination, but the US got there because we were afraid the Russians were going to beat us—and drop bombs on us. Right now our leaders don’t see the strategic value of missions to near Earth orbit. (The irony is that we’re now relying on the Russians to service the space station.)
What do you guys think? Is there a connection between the literature of our imagination and our ability to get the big stuff done?