Perhaps it’s because of the economy is beginning – finally – to pick up in the US. Perhaps it is because I’m sick to death of bad election-year politics, so I’m looking at anything else that comes along of interest. Maybe it’s even because I wrote about creative destruction the last time I did a column here, and I’m ready for the transformation that follows that practice. But I’m feeling a bit more hopeful this month, and I’m seeing signs that I’m not the only one. Continue reading “Hope for a Global Spring?”
Over at his own blog, gruff comics-writing curmudgeon Warren Ellis turns the mic over to Jamais Cascio for a slice of bullshit-free futurism. Cascio’s thoughts on neodicy – your neologism for the week – chime nicely with my reasons-to-be-hopeful-if-you-can’t-be-cheerful from yesterday. Take it away, Jamais:
This deep fear that what we have built will both give us heretofore unimagined power and ultimately lay us to waste has been with us for centuries, from the story of Icarus to the story of Frankenstein to the story of the Singularity. But because of its mythical roots, few foresight professionals give this fear sufficient credence. Not in the particulars of each story (I don’t think we have much cause to worry about the risks associated with wax-and-feather personal flight), but in the recognition that for many people, a desire to embrace “the future” is entangled with a real, visceral fear of what the future holds for us.
… the real value of a neodicy is not in the utility it provides, but the understanding. For too many of us, “the future” is a bizarre and overwhelming concept, where danger looms large amidst a shimmering assortment of gadgets and temptations. We imagine that, at best, the shiny toys will give us solace while the dangers unfold, and thoughts of the enormous consequences about to fall upon us are themselves buried beneath the desire for immediate (personal, economic, political) gratification. Under such conditions, it’s easy to lose both caution and hope.
A world where futurology embraces the concept of neodicy won’t make those conditions go away, but it would give us a means of pushing back. Neodicies could provide the necessary support for caution and hope, together. Theodicy is often defined simply as an explanation of why the existence of evil in the world doesn’t rule out a just and omnipotent God; we can define neodicy, then, as an explanation of why a future that contains dangers and terrible risks can still be worth building — and worth fighting for.
Over at the Shine Anthology blog, Jetse De Vries has started surveying the science fiction scenes of the world to see how prevalent the optimistic streak is at a local level.
The first instalment is an essay from Ukrainian writer Sergey Gerasimov, who paints a grim picture of a post-Communist aesthetic that has moved from naive Soviet optimism to (unsurprisingly) a rather grim and gory militarism:
Besides resource depletion, climate change, and pollution, there are some special topics in Ukraine: 99 percent corruption everywhere, Chernobyl, and we’ve already lived in a diluted variant of 1984; when reading George Orwell’s book, we don’t find anything surprising in it. That may be why Ukrainian readers don’t look for novels which describe marvelous possibilities or give social commentaries anymore. With cannibalistic optimism they read another meaty spilling guts story. The best social commentaries are given here in R-rated language.
Hard to believe, but there was time when the main type of speculative fiction written in Ukraine was optimistic Sci Fi. The only subgenres of it I remember were: naive-optimistic and hypocritically optimistic. These soap opera flavored volumes populated with happy future communists illustrated some political issues of the day and the famous Michurin’s motto: “We cannot wait for favors from Nature. To take them from it — that is our task.”
If nothing else, it highlights the fact that Western sf isn’t quite so dystopian in tone by comparison. But I guess the big question here is whether a nation’s artistic output passively reflects its political and economic aspirations, or whether instead it can be used to influence and change those attitudes.
Perhaps it is more simple: maybe the bleakness of Ukrainian sf is inevitable, given that their real near-term future seems so devoid of hope. If that is the case, should we expect to see a swing toward optimism in the West riding in on the coat-tails of the Obama administration? [image by skpy]
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As an antidote to the previous doom-flavoured post, here’s recent Clarion alumni Damien G Walter suggesting that it’s time science fiction started taking a more hopeful and positive look at the future:
But there are no end of reasons to have hope for tomorrow. Biotechnology and genetic research offer fantastic advances in medicine, yet their portrayal in science fiction is typified by the gloom of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. The internet is already democratising many new areas of society, but our political future is still most commonly depicted as one flavour of Big Brother dystopia or another. Environmental or economic collapse might plunge us all headlong into the apocalypic future of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or we might respond to them with intelligence and ingenuity and take the opportunity to find better ways of living. To look at the infinite possibilities of the future and see only darkness is a failure of imagination.
Here, Walter echoes similar calls from Jason Stoddard and Jetse de Vries, and doubtless some others I’ve not noticed (or, just as likely, forgotten about); it definitely appears to be a theme with some of the young turks of science fiction writing. Are we witnessing the first stirrings of a new movement?
And what about the readers? OK, so the writers are bored of dystopic futures, but how many of us would like a little more optimism in our escapism?