Last year, the sci-fi world was roiled by a fight over virulently racist and sexist remarks made by author Ted Beale, including calling an African-American writer a “half-savage.” After a months-long battle, Beale was expelled from the Science Fiction Writers of America, a watershed in a cultural and generational conflict brewing for some time.
But Beale had his defenders, including some of the genre’s influential elders, who slung out similar slurs as the fights continued. Around the same time, Orson Scott Card, of “Ender’s Game” fame, attracted attention for his ongoing homophobia and paranoid racist fantasias about the President recruiting street gangs. For kickers, North Carolina’s government appointed Card to a powerful board overseeing public broadcasting.
These public battles attracted no shortage of press coverage, much of it surprised at the depth of far-right extremism and bigotry in the world of possible tomorrows. For a genre supposedly focused on the future, it seemed like a major of part of the subculture had yet to even join the 20th century.
What the public was seeing, however, was just the tip of a very old, very influential iceberg. From its inception, American sci-fi has harbored a powerful far-right faction. These authors, usually men, include some of the genre’s most famous figures, their uglier sentiments and negative influences often glossed over.
Sci-fi’s popular history doesn’t mention John Campbell’s belief that race riots were caused by “genetic barbarians” or Robert Heinlein’s fondness for robber barons and military rule. It remembers Larry Niven’s creative alien worlds, not his advocacy of lying to immigrants to deny them healthcare. Jerry Pournelle is widely hailed as the dean of military sci-fi, his sympathies for fascists like Franco and Pinochet forgotten.
Rather than harmless eccentrics, the doyennes of the sci-fi far right advise the federal government, occupy important posts, head think-tanks and shape policy to this day. They’ve played a major role in creating an environment that, as shown in the case of Beale, can still make sci-fi hostile territory for women and people of color. Despite decades of courageous critical backlash within the genre, much of this impact and history remains unexposed.
The Old Iron Dream will drag this history out of the shadows, showing how sci-fi’s far-right has shaped not just its genre, but the larger culture and politics of America. It’s a turbulent, often horrifying story, ranging from coup plots and smear campaigns to shilling for Reagan’s weapons boondoggles and denying climate change.
This will be an in-depth piece of long-form journalism, a no-holds-barred, no-punches-pulled look at the sci-fi far-right -- its major figures, its influence, and how the modern world has finally come calling for these would-be people of the future.