Candle in the Darkness: Towards a more hopeful science fiction

I think it’s easy in this era to feel pretty down about things. The rampant destruction of our environment, both on a local and global scale is terrifying for most of us. The problems feel so monumental that we’re left feeling powerless to make any sort of meaningful change. This is where I’m at right now. When I see the news about the general insanity that our climate is beginning to kick up, I worry (legitimately) about the future. And there is nothing more disempowering than worrying about events that 1) you can’t control and 2) haven’t even happened yet.

From wikimedia commons user Henry Mühlpfordt
From wikimedia commons user Henry Mühlpfordt

But as fans and writers of science fiction, we’re always thinking about the future, right? Back in December, someone on twitter (sorry, can’t remember who) remarked that it’s kind of astounding that so few people are writing fiction that includes global climate change as part of the narrative. Or even the subtext. That comment got me thinking.

Do we feel so fucked by this that even science fiction writers shy away from it?

Are there no imaginings of the future that do not include dystopia as the final outcome? Why are we skipping over the part where we come up with solutions? Even if they are fantastical? I know this isn’t a new question, it’s been brought up quite a bit in the last year.

Over on the Apex blog (of which I’m a contributor), M. Asher Cantrell recently published a blog post about 3 Reasons Why It’s Time for a Rebirth of 1950’s Sci-Fi. While I’d disagree about returning to that particular era for its cultural baggage and sci-fi in particular from then for its lack of inclusiveness, I think I understand what he’s getting at. The sense of hope and optimism, that even monumental problems could be solved and that the future would be a wonderful thing. That’s what I’m missing.

So to his list of reasons, I’d like to add a fourth: now, more than ever, we need a sense of hope for the future. How many countless people became engaged in the sciences because of the portrayals by authors of what the future could be like? I’m not advocating a Pollyanna-ish, “gee, the future is swell” approach. But I would like to see clear-eyed gazes that assess and begin to tackle the problems. Because our best hope might not be coming from us, but from our children. And we need to offer some inspirational and aspirational ideas up.

From wikimedia commons user Bob Lee.
From wikimedia commons user Bob Lee.

Neal Stephenson has created the Project Hieroglyph online journal, to address the dearth of optimism. Check out that link, there’s some good stuff happening there.

As writers, we’re used to being pretty low on the ‘power in a hyper-capitalist economy’ scale. I can only point to a small handful of people who are capable of using their creative power to eke out a living, and even they have a hard time of it. But we do have an outsize power when it comes to influencing culture. We don’t just write novels and short stories, we write movies and TV shows. We script out video games, comic books. We have podcasts and speak in public. We’re a diverse bunch and what we say still resonates.

Let’s embrace the future.