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Much of the controversy about New Wave versus hard line or traditional SF reminds me very much of a discussion about art which takes place in a historical novel. The discussion takes place at a Saturnalia in decadent Rome. The hero is listening, reluctantly and with a hangover, to some very, very bad poetry written by a friend; when he finally objects, the friend gives in gracefully and says, "Oh, well, skip the whole thing: I don't really know why I wrote it." Whereupon the hero asks him, truculently, to explain why he did write it, and a third party bursts in with the quotation above, cites the rotting state of the culture as an excuse for the decadent bad art of the time, and asks, in rage, if our hero expects the writer to write like Euripides. The hero retorts in anger that this also is a good question: why doesn't he write like Euripides? And the third party snarls, "Because he lives in the fourth year of the reign of the Emperor Decius, that's why!"
Much the same sort of attitude seems to be floating around the world of writers today: the idea that almost anything which a writer chooses to do can be explained, can be excused, by the state of the world and the society in which he lives. On the one hand, we have an earnest little stream of writers who would go along with such people as McLuhan in stating that the novel as an art form is dead and that we must conscientiously follow along in burying the corpse as swiftly as possible, and proceed to the next step, which they may call non-novels, multimedia experiments, nonlinear presentations, etc. They may do it well, as with John Brunner's enormous jigsaw constructs in STAND ON ZANZIBAR, or they may do itpoorly.
On the other hand we have the mainstream apologists, who complain that whenever they attempt to apply the artistic disciplines of-the mainstream--realistic characterization, modern stream-of-consciousness techniques, or stylistic experiment--to SF, they are at once condemned as New Wave. These people are all too apt to grow defensive, and, if one criticizes the effectiveness of their techniques, or even whether these techniques are really valid in SF at all, they tend to accuse the critic of wanting to thrust all SF back to the level of the Gernsback era.