Jill Lepore has an interesting essay in the NY Times about billionaires, space travel, and Elon Musk's fantasies. But I think she misunderstands what people, or at least men of my generation, found exciting about science fiction. Like this:
Weirdly, Muskism, an extravagant form of capitalism, is inspired by stories that indict … capitalism. At Amazon Studios, Mr. Bezos tried to make a TV adaptation of the Culture space opera series, by the Scottish writer Iain Banks (“a huge personal favorite”); Mr. Zuckerberg put a volume of it on a list of books he thinks everyone should read; and Mr. Musk once tweeted, “If you must know, I am a utopian anarchist of the kind best described by Iain Banks.”
But Banks was an avowed socialist. And, in an interview in 2010, three years before his death, he described the protagonists of the Culture series as “hippy commies with hyper-weapons and a deep distrust of both Marketolatry and Greedism.” He also expressed astonishment that anyone could read his books as promoting free-market libertarianism, asking, “Which bit of not having private property and the absence of money in the Culture novels have these people missed?”
I think that what Musk and millions of others find appealing about science fiction is not the details of the social arrangements, but the absence of limits. From what I remember of the Culture series, the characters do pretty much whatever they want. That is the fantasy, not the absence of stock markets. I would say the same about avowedly libertarian sci-fi like Neal Stephenson's; the characters are too smart to be controlled by bureaucrats and the police, so they find ways to do whatever they want despite the evils of statism.
The economics of the Star Trek universe are not very well worked out, but I always thought that one of the main points was that money simply didn't matter. If you want something, you ask the replicator to make it for you. The main obstacle seems to be finding something interesting to do with your life.
The fantasy is the freedom. The dream is that science and cleverness will one day make us truly free. The nightmare is that science and cleverness will one day make us utter slaves.
Lepore finds ten different ways to point out that these libertarian capitalist dudebros were inspired by socialist books, but so what? None of the books she cites is remotely realistic about communism; the closest thing in a famous sci-fi book is probably Le Guin's Dispossessed, which I thought was awful preachy nonsense –although even she realized that many of the residents of her communist utopia would be pining to escape to the roaring capitalist planet nearby.
And how, do you suppose, could a resident of our world best approximate the total freedom of sci-fi heroes? Why, by getting obscenely rich. By heading a giant company that will respond to their wishes. By building their own rockets and flying themselves to Mars.
It makes perfect sense to me.