At the risk of making much of a small thing, or appearing to be bullies, I’d like to share some of my own responses to the piece by Cory Doctorow which David wrote about recently on this blog. I largely agree with my co-editor, though I don’t think Doctorow is suggesting “political correctness,” which is a term usually deployed to trivialize requests for civility. What Doctorow wants are technological solutions to ethical problems, not considerations of those problems and the ways they impact people.
Doctorow finally seems to be realizing that inheriting Heinlein's throne might come with some unfortunate baggage, so I'm not surprised he's playing at putting some distance there (not that anyone need to tell us that Farnham's Freehold was awful - that's patently obvious). But he's still oblivious to the way his own political obsessions are often the result of exactly this sort of limited thinking. He critiques Cold Equations for only looking at the circumstances, but only after he's made certain we know where his real interest lie - in technology. For all his ethical qualms, it's not ethical responses he wants to see, but engineering solutions - clever machines that make ethical questions redundant.
Good SF isn't about the technology, nor the circumstance, nor the most interesting implications of the two. It's about the least interesting implications, the least flashy, the ones you'd miss due to your privilege. The sexual revolution sounds important now, given a title and hindsight; to many at the time, it was nothing - just some kids fucking in cars while the "real" stuff happened. Doctorow still thinks he knows what the real stuff is. And he still manages to ignore the real stuff that isn't immediately visible from his social context.
What a modern telling of Cold Equations could do is highlight the way in which both characters, even in the face of their mortal dilemma, are better off than the people who build the ships. Those poor suckers' lives were guaranteed to be short and terrible. That's the balance of social responsibility and foresight good SF might give us.
Contriving self-serving contexts to support a story is a failure of craft; I'm with him there. But the increasingly dull notion that technology can save us from ethical quandaries is a much deeper failure indeed.