VIEWSrnScience Fiction, R.I.P.rnby Thomas F. BertonneaurnTo register the obituary long after the fact: science fictionrnis dead. Aficionados of the genre who acquired their tasternfor it in the 1950’s and 60’s probably already know this. Whatrnthey might not know is that the death of science fiction has significancernfor the state of American culture in 1997.rnWith the odd exceptions of Stanislaw Lem (a Pole), thernbrothers Strugatsky (two Russians), and a tiny handful of Americanrnauthors, no one has written science fiction in the last tworndecades that is worthy of the name. Indeed, most of the prominentrnpractitioners of the genre (virtually all of them Americans)rnhave passed on; the 1980’s and 90’s saw the deaths ofrnRobert A. Heinlein, Clifford D. Simak, Isaac Asimov, and manyrnothers who pioneered the field in the I930’s and 40’s when itrnreached print in pulp monthlies like Amazing Stories and AstoundingrnScience Fiction. Ray Bradbury—God bless him—isrnstill among us, as irascible as ever, but his Martian Chroniclesrnbelongs to 1952, and he has long since deemphasized sciencernfiction in favor of other modes, like detective fiction and Whitmanesquernpoetry. The Englishman Arthur C. Clarke is anotherrnliving legend, but nothing that he has written since the earlyrn60’s comes anywhere near measuring up to Childhood’s Endrn(1952) or The City and the Stars (.1956), his two masterpieces.rnMinor geniuses also belong among the departed, or, thoughrnstill living, have long since dropped out of print. I would recommendrnthe work of Henry Kuttner, Catherine Moore, LeighrnBrackett, A.E. van Vogt, Cyril Kornbluth, Cordwainer Smith,rnJames Blish, Walter M. Miller, Robert Sheckley, James Gunn,rnAlgis Budrys, Chad Oliver, or William Tenn. But unless onernknows a good secondhand shop, none of their work is available.rnYes, the rubric of science fiction remains. But publishers to-rnThomas F. Bertonneau is a policy analyst with the MackinacrnCenter for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.rnday favor the prolific and mediocre serialists (many of themrnfemale MEs) who churn out a treacly mixture of dragon-lore,rnpseudo-epic, cyberpunk, and 12-step philosophizing, much ofrnit stylistically indistinguishable from the romance novels thatrnthe authors would otherwise, and perhaps do, compose. Thernbooks in question boast names like Spellfire, Abyssal Warriors,rnThe Dolphins of Pern, Fire Sea, Elfenquest, Into the Labyrinth,rnand Sacred Cround. The cover artists depict improbably knowledgeablernteenage girls communing with Disneyesque animals,rnantique sailing ships navigating mysterious seas, and Fabio-likernshamans taming anthropomorphic dragons. What John Cluternsays in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction about Anne McCaffrey,rnauthor of the popular Pern series, applies to many authorsrnworking in a similar vein. Soon after Restoree (1967), McCaffreyrn”began publishing the linked novels and stories that havernmade her reputation as a writer of romantic, heightened tales ofrnadventure explicitly designed to appeal—and to make goodrnsense to—a predominantly female adolescent audience.” Tornvisit the science fiction section, so-called, of the local Borders orrnBarnes and Noble is, for a 40-year-old connoisseur, a depressingrnexperience.rnI think that the death of science fiction is one of the late 20thrncentury’s small but genuine tragedies. It is also a symptom ofrnthe radical decivilization, predicted by many science fictionrnwriters, that now characterizes the West and, in particular,rnAmerica. At its best, in the thoughtful pastorals of a Simak, inrnthe Platonic fantasies of a Stapledon, or in the savage satires ofrna Tenn, science fiction maintained a high level of intelligence;rnit presumed a level of general knowledge, a familiarity with art,rnhistory, science, and philosophy, which contemporary commercialrnwriters simply cannot take for granted in their readers andrnlikely do not possess themselves. In a dumbed-down world,rngenuine science fiction yields to overproduced film-spectacu-rn14/CHRONiCLESrnrnrn