Should science fiction short stories be more optimistic?

Paul Raven @ 13-02-2008

Make-it-happen-graffiti For obvious reasons, science fiction short stories are much on my mind at the moment. But it’s not just me – a long-standing feature of the science fiction scene, the sheer quantity of debate that the topic of short stories produces on a regular basis is an indicator that those who care about it care enough to speak their mind.

For example, our good friends over at SF Signal have a new iteration of their “Mind Meld” group interview articles in which they quiz various luminaries of the sf short story markets about the purpose of short fiction.

Leaving purpose aside for a moment by treating it as a given, what about tone? Regular readers here at Futurismic will be aware we try to take an optimist/realist attitude with our blogging topics – there’s no point ignoring the problems we face, but nor is there any point in descending into fatalism. It’s not constructive, and it’s not fun to read.

Jason Stoddard, who has had a number of stories published here at Futurismic (as well as numerous other markets), finds himself wishing for a similar attitude in science fiction short stories, and vows to walk the walk:

“I really, really think things will work out. Some of today’s writing is so dark that it makes me want to slit my wrists and slip into a warm tub. It might be technically excellent, and the characters may be fully rendered and real, but man oh man, it’s not what I want to read.

So take a look at the new tagline on this site: Strange and Happy. Consider this my new personal emblem, and a challenge to not only writers everywhere, but to the world in general.”

I’m a sucker for a dark setting – I saw Mad Max 2 at a very impressionable age – but it should be plain from my blogging here that I like to think we can work through the issues facing us. And after reading Stoddard’s post, I realised he has a point – there does seem to a shortage of optimistic science fiction. [Image by solidstate76]

Question is – is it just me and Stoddard and a few others? Or are you hungry for some science fictional optimism as well?

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8 Responses to “Should science fiction short stories be more optimistic?”

  1. Edward Willett says:

    I’m up for some optimism. For year’s I’ve had the quote up on my site (though I’ve been unable to find out who to attribute it to) “We act out of hope or fear, and progress depends entirely on our choosing hope.”

    Hey, might work as a Futurismic slogan, too!

  2. A.R.Yngve says:

    The worst kind of pessimism is really nothing more than intellectual laziness: the kind of jerk who says “It’ll all go to hell” just because he’s too dim to think of anything better.

    There must have been prehistoric cavemen who said: “One day all the caves will be occupied, and then we’ll all kill each other over the limited supply of caves.”
    (CAVE MAX 2! ;-P)

    So: Optimism, yes please, let’s have some more of that, but it must be “smart” optimism.

  3. gmoke says:

    About a decade ago, I contacted Kim Stanley Robinson and Ursula K. LeGuin in reference to a business book project. We were looking for positive visions of the future. Neither of them could point to very much that was useful.

    I would suggest that we need to imagine a workable future and then backcast that future into today. I would also suggest, solar hippie that I am, that any positive future will look very much like New Alchemy Institute around 1980.

  4. Kian says:

    I suppose the concept of a workable future is why I enjoy the “Culture” from Iain M Banks. I know its Cyber punk and not actually from Earth but I enjoy the idea that there is a working society. I suppose it often comes down to how much harder it would be not only to design a workable future but also to create an enthralling event inside the system.

  5. Jeremy Eades says:

    The depressing ones are good reminders of what not to do as a species.

  6. jon says:

    I remember having similar feelings while reading “Civilwarland in Bad Decline” by George Saunders. Even though i thought it was brilliant, creative, and even pretty funny in places, i had to put it down half way through and never go near it again — for fear that my already-pretty-cynical mind might be permanently damaged.

  7. Ryan says:

    Agree on all accounts. I am surrounded every day, sometimes all day long, by people who know only how to look for the worst in the world and in human nature, bemoan it endlessly, and proclaim that there is no cure or that the cure will never be achieved (yes, I am a university student). Luckily, I already get to work some place that is a convenient junction between science fiction and optimism – a company building real-world bipedal vehicles (“mechs”) for everyday commercial use, that will among other things reduce the number of heavy (gas burning) vehicles needed in various businesses. Plus, we’re all about the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra. For those who might be interested, the site is http://www.MechaPS.com.

    But yes. Science has the potential to make the future a very bright one, and science fiction needs to reflect that.

  8. JRS says:

    Absolutely! I am thoroughly sick of dystopian futures! I mean, they have their place, don’t get me wrong, but for crying out loud, enough is enough! Balance, please! I also think these dark stories may be bad for society as a whole. People are so brainwashed to think that any new technology will be the end of civilization that you can’t even suggest a new idea anymore without sending people into a panic! So let’s get to work here and create a positive outlook. Look at the works of Arthur C. Clarke. I read his novels and I can’t wait for it all to happen! We need more stories like that.

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