Mysticism and SF

Over at SciFi Wire, the house magazine of the Polish syphilis channel, Wil McCarthy has a piece with the eye-catching headline “Is Mysticism Overtaking Science in Sci-Fi?

What really excites me right now–and not in a good way!–is the recent spate of superficially sci-fi movies that are not merely scientifically illiterate, not merely unscientific or antiscientific in their outlook, but that actually promote mysticism as a superior alternative to science.

Leaving aside the irony of this being sponsored by the Dumb-Ass Horror Movie Channel (not that there’s anything wrong with dumb-ass horror movies…), McCarthy’s got a point. Science fiction has really taken a fall from the good old days, when science was everything. Why, the next thing you know, there’ll be a whole slew of stories promoting daft notions regarding psi powers and kooky made-up religions…

Oh, wait

Now, to be fair, McCarthy is making a slightly different argument. He’s not just complaining about unrealistic elements in SF (the old “explosions in space don’t make any noise” thing), but about unscientific or anti-scientific themes.

But still, this is nothing new. The idea that science (broadly defined) is a source of problems for humanity is an idea with a literary tradition going back to Frankenstein at the very least, if not farther. Michael Crichton built himself a very fine career on writing that sort of story, over and over again.

It may be true that this sort of thing has not traditionally been part of “science fiction,” by the SF genre has broadened considerably over the last few decades to include a lot of stuff that some would prefer to call fantasy or horror. (Again, the Sci-Fi Skiffy Skippy SyFy channel has done as much as anybody to hurry this process along…)

In particular, the two examples McCarthy cites, the recent animated movie 9 and the forthcoming disaster flick 2012, are not things that I look at and say “Hey, I bet there’ll be some quality science fiction in that!” They’re closer to fantasy and horror, respectively, than any sort of genre from which I expect scientific accuracy or a strong pro-science message.

So, I’m dubious about McCarthy’s claim. It’s a decent hook for a column, I suppose, but I don’t see it as a profound statement about the current status of science in science fiction.