But it is possible to identify more proximate reasons for therngenre’s extinction. Two are obvious, one is less so.rnThe first obvious reason is the decline, if not yet the demise,rnof scientific literacy among the American populace. In a recentrnsurvey, only 15 percent of Americans could define terms likern”molecule” or “element.” Once science had been replaced byrn”science studies,” as it has at many universities, the criterion ofrnrigor, to which the classic practitioners of the genre tried to remainrnfaithful, quickly became meaningless. Nonrigorous practitionersrnwill invade the arena and the most vulgar taste willrnprevail. Thus, most of the stuff that fills the shelves advertisedrnas science fiction at Borders or Barnes and Noble is aboutrnwitches, dragons, and quasi-medieval swordplay; it is also aboutrnself-esteem, androgyny, and all sorts of therapeutic schlock. Itrnis not even low-grade Burroughs (not so bad a writer, in anyrncase); it is low-grade Tolkien thinned out further with admixturesrnof Carlos Castaneda, Gaia worship, and vulgarized “chaosrntheory.” The death of science fiction and the demoralizationrnof the space program largely stem from the same source: publicrnindifference to science as a meaningful endeavor.rnOvert politicization is a second reason for the decline in sciencernfiction standards; it constitutes perhaps the fatal influencernon the field. I trace this to two sources: Ursula K. Le Guin, whornbrought her feminist/left-wing outlook to mock-anthropologicalrnnarratives like The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and ThernDispossessed (1974); and Samuel R. Delany, a left-winger likernLe Guin, who infused the gay political agenda and elements ofrnhomosexual pornography into his avant-garde novels Tritonrn(1976) and Dhalgren (1981) and who, as a tenured deeonstructorrnof comparative literature at Amherst, completed the colonizationrnof science fiction by the English Department. Therernare others, but Le Guin and Delany can stand for the rest.rnOnce they had finished with science fiction, the genre nowrnfound its raison d’etre in affirming radical relativism and legitimizingrnthe particular programs which required radical relativismrnfor their fulfillment. Science fiction, in other words,rnwould now differ in no way from any other branch of postmodernrndiscourse.rnEarlier writers had undeniable political affiliations. Wellsrnand Stapledon certainly did, and at a lower but still impressivernlevel, so did Weinbaum and Asimov. They were, respectively,rnEdwardian and Rooseveltian socialists. But they were more Edwardianrnand Rooseveltian, in the final analysis, than socialist,rnand their politics little influenced their writing. Delany and LernGuin belong to the same philosophical and political world asrnDerrida, Foucault, Fish, and Company, which is to say that theyrnare more political, more Marxist-Gay/Feminist, than anythingrnelse. Their writing is the expression of their politics. As such itrnis tendentious in the extreme. (Ironically, while Delany and LernGuin were putting a neo-Marxist polish on the genre, Lem andrnthe two Strugatskys were finding the workers’ paradise inrnPoland and the Soviet Union less than fully congenial. Lem Hnallyrnwent into exile in Austria. The Strugatskys contentedrnthemselves with foreign publication of internally unacceptablernworks.)rnIt might be argued that Heinlein had much earlier attemptedrnto politicize science fiction in the direction of the rightrn{Sixth Column, The Starship Troopers)^hut I have the same criticalrnmisgiving about Heinlein’s politicization of the genre thatrnI do about Delany’s or Le Guin’s. It produced propaganda, notrnart. (The unabridged version of Stranger in a Strange Land, issuedrnin 1990, only proves that Heinlein’s editors exercised considerablernwisdom in cutting away the worst of the preachments.)rnOther science fiction writers have also been academics, as arernDelany and Le Guin. Tenn, that master of the satirical short, isrnan example. The 1960’s saw him ensconced at Penn State inrnthe writing program, but by that time he had just about finishedrnbeing a science fiction writer. In any case, Tenn seems tornhave been only technically an academic. His spirit always dweltrnelsewhere.rnJuxtapose, for example, a passage from Delany’s “Afterword”rnto his Stars in my Pockets Uke Grains of Sand (1984) with a passagernfrom a Tenn story, “Flirgleflip,” published more than 30rnyears before (1950). According to Delany, drawing on twornMarxist critics, Jameson and Robinson, science fiction (includingrnhis own) is now arnpostmodernist form which, through an appropriation ofrncomplex nostalgia, has eclipsed parody. . . . This turn tornpastiche, along with the information explosion (which, asrnJameson suggests, has shattered the “signifying chain” ofrna more focused and unified culture), signals the possibility/rnnecessity of a new sort of art enterprise in response tornmultinational capitalism . . . just as. . . realism was a responsernto early industrial capitalism and modernism wasrna response to later monopoly capitalism (better known asrnimperialism).rnDelany even senses “a deeper discursive split” in contemporaryrnscience fiction than that suggested by his two critical allies.rn(Personally, whenever I hear the term “signifying chain” orrn”discursive split,” I contemplate the possibility/necessity ofrnreaching for my atomic blaster.)rnIn the Tenn story, a far-futural academic from a thoroughlyrndecadent society finds himself, via a time-warp, in New YorkrnCity circa 1950. Tenn has sharply observed the rhetorical absurdityrnof the professors and makes his unlucky antihero explainrnhimself this way to people whom he sees as his indubitable andrnirremediable inferiors:rnI am a flirgleflip. I flip flirgles… [Flirgles] were an energyrnform which at one time attained intelligence on Marsrnand left behind them only flirg-patterns which werernvaguely equivalent to our music or non-objectivist artrn[and,] being energy forms[,] they left permanent energyrnrecords of all kinds in their only material artifacts—dolik,rnspindfar, and punforg.rnTenn’s speaker refers “to his forthcoming paper on GlUan Originsrnof Late Pegis Flirg-Patterns,” which is perhaps what Delanyrnis talking about in his “Afterword.”rnMy point, of course, is that contemporary science fiction,rnwhen it is not a lady’s romance in spacesuits, is so much postmodernrnflirgleflipping, and that Tenn’s prescient parody is a lotrnmore interesting than Delany’s unconscious self-parody.rnScience fiction in its heyday betokened the robustness of thernWestern enterprise and a faith in the pioneering spirit,rnwhich, as Oswald Spengler noted, goes all the way back to thernNorse voyages. It is entirely plausible to argue that science fictionrnprovided the impetus behind the space program: the eariyrnexperimenters in rocketry—Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, RobertrnGoddard, and (notoriously) Wernher von Braun—all readrn16/CHRONICLESrnrnrn