December 20th, 2007

Random Reading

I've been reading a lot of stuff from Gutenberg, because that's what the gizmo is good for, after all (and the good solitaire game isn't out for the new OS). And as I was slogging through some volumes of my childhood favorite Tom Corbett it struck me what horrible dystopias your average juvenile space operas are set in.

Part of this, of course, is that it's so much easier to set a tale of stirring adventure in a world where almost everyone but the hero is mean and bad -- that's one of the lessons I learned, perhaps wrongly, back in college when my friend Jim called Raiders of the Lost Ark a fascist movie (a statement he later denied any recollection of having made). It didn't immediately make sense to me, but when I parsed it as a movie that required the existence of a global fascist conspiracy in order for the heroes' actions to be necessary and justified, it all made sense. Even though the hero fought against the bad guys, the existence of a nearly all-powerful network of evildoers (on both sides, to some extent) was pretty much axiomatic.

So of course pretty much everything EE Smith wrote is going to have to have planet upon planet of nasty people and vast criminal organizations deeply entwined in the workings of industry and government, because otherwise what would be the point of having incorruptible agents of Civilization chockfull of superpowers. But within that, at least the incorruptible good guys actually are incorruptible, even random citizens often do good works, blah blah blah.

In contrast, Corbett and his pals, who are -- we are repeatedly assured -- the products of a grueling selection process from among all the inhabited planets, and once again subjected to horrific weeding out once admitted to the Air Force, er, Space Academy, cheat on their exams, get into after-hours fights with their fellow cadets, and generally act like the kind of jock assholes who would be lucky to graduate from your local high school. Meanwhile, captains of industry and members of the interstellar patrol alike engage in the kind of bid-rigging, strong-arming and shoddy workmanship that would make a Soprano blush. I couldn't help thinking, again and again, that if this was the best future society had to offer, then the heck with it...