Why doesn’t science fiction write about shiny happy futures? Why is it all doom and gloom? In these troubled times, shouldn’t the genre be focusing on what’s right, what’s good, what we can make better?
It’s all very well writing about gleaming futures full of food pills and jetcars, as if – like in William Gibson’s ‘The Gernsback Continuum’ – doing so would dream it into being. It’s all very well positing a future in a science fiction short story in which today’s problems no longer exist. It’s all very well showing how, in a sf text, today’s problems could be solved.
But isn’t that irresponsible?
The world is as it is; it is in many respects how we have made it. If science fiction is to have relevance, this is something it must acknowledge. It is something it must discuss. Just because in a novel a real world regime is overthrown in 2020 AD… it doesn’t mean that novel can’t discuss the moral choices made by the leaders of that regime.
Science fiction can, perhaps, show what might be the effects in one hundred years of decisions taken now – for example, which do we protect: profits or the environment? What are the consequences of choosing one over the other? Why do some people privilege themselves – i.e., profits – over everyone else – i.e., the environment? And should we let them be the ones making the decisions?
Science fiction is not about prediction. It is no longer primarily didactic. But that does not mean it cannot inform. And more than that, it can inform on the important issues. Racial survival. Human rights. The impact of new sciences and technologies. Economics. Politics. Morality. Philosophy.
Writing about a bunch of geeks killing a bunch of gooks with ever more awesome weaponry is cowardice. It’s a failure to engage with the real world. The problem is not that nations are at war, it’s that nations go to war. The latter is fit for speculation, the former is not.
If it is possible to write optimistic science fiction, then it can only be by focusing on the quotidian, by writing fictions which are intensely personal, which look for small everyday victories, which ignore the big questions. Some might call that a failure of imagination.
Science fiction doesn’t need to be optimistic, it needs to be honest.