Paradigm Shift

September 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

In class, someone mentioned that more recent science fiction tends to be more disconcerting than science fiction written during “The Golden Age.” Upon considering why “Nightfall” ends in a pragmatically worse but emotionally better way than “Scherzo with Tyrannosaur” or “All the Myriad Ways,” I concluded that “Nightfall” deals with an external problem that happens for reasons unrelated to society and that the problems of the newer stories are often consequences of technological advancement.

A quintessential example of such a problem is found in the story “Brooklyn Project” by William Tenn. In this story, the government uses a time machine to travel back to various periods in time and take photographs. The machine causes minor disruptions in each period that subsequently change the present dramatically. Compare this story, published in 1948, with The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, published in 1895. In “Brooklyn Project,” there is a strong feeling of frustration with the society for being the cause of the problem. If only the government of this society had not been so arrogant as to meddle with time itself, one might say, there would be no problem. However, in The Time Machine, the time traveler does not seem arrogant; he is simply an inquisitive scientist. Accordingly, the problems that befall him do not seem to be his fault; they are an unfortunate side effect of his curiosity, and, recognizing this, the reader sympathizes with him.

It is no coincidence that this change occurred after World War II. “Brooklyn Project” is straightforwardly satirizing the Manhattan Project and expresses a feeling in post-WW2 society that humans may have acquired more destructive power than they can responsibly handle.  The lesser presence of sympathy for the characters in the more modern stories is therefore a result of our impression that those societies are neglecting the possibly dangerous consequences of their scientific exploration. The paradigm shift in science fiction stories is that the reader previously asked, “What has happened to them?” and now asks, “What have they done?”



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