For almost the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life. One might make an honourable exception of Harold Pinter, who has wisely decided that being a champagne socialist is better than being no socialist at all; but his most explicitly political work is also his most artistically dreary.No, there are no writers who deal with economics, society or politics. For example, why doesn't Ken MacLeod say something about terrorism and the media, or China Miéville stop going on about spaceships and write something about Marxism or libertarianism or eugenics? Couldn't Charlie Stross just say enough with the Ninjas and talking squid and consider what might have happened instead of capitalism, or what the economic organisation of a future super-technological society might be? J.G. Ballard could forget the Martian princesses and have a crack at advertising, violence, and life in the Thames Valley..
The knighting of Salman Rushdie is the establishment's reward for a man who moved from being a remorseless satirist of the west to cheering on its criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. David Hare caved in to the blandishments of Buckingham Palace some years ago, moving from radical to reformist. Christopher Hitchens, who looked set to become the George Orwell de nos jours, is likely to be remembered as our Evelyn Waugh, having thrown in his lot with Washington's neocons. Martin Amis has written of the need to prevent Muslims travelling and to strip-search people "who look like they're from the Middle East or from Pakistan". Deportation, he considers, may be essential further down the road...
After all, that's what they do, the science fiction people, isn't it? Spaceships, spaceships, spaceships, all day long, with the odd Ninja or cephalopod thrown in. It is at least highly amusing that this half-bright bollocks crawled into the light of day just as the Grauniad's books pages ran a selection of bloggers' (and why don't THEY ever discuss politics? Eh? Eh?) responses to an article on, well, why the literary establishment still refuses to accept that sci-fi exists.
Except, of course, when a member of the Guild Of Serious is tempted to indulge in the future. Guilds, as a political and economic force, went out with the combination of capitalism, industry, and the centralised bureaucratic state. It's not hard to imagine that this is actually an example of "what if they had survived into the industrial age".
So this machine should make some people afraid - very afraid. As should the fact it's placed in a public library. It's the first-ever example, as far as I can work out, of public-access rapid manufacturing, devoted to literature.