Global science fiction and optimism, part 1 – the Ukraine

Paul Raven @ 09-02-2009

Chernobyl nuclear reactor, UkraineOver 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]