Charlie’s utopia: optimistic sf redux?

Paul Raven @ 06-12-2010

Over half a year after the publication of the Shine anthology, Charlie Stross wonders whether we need more optimistic utopian thinking in science fiction, and indeed in general:

The consensus future we read about in the media and that we’re driving towards is a roiling, turbulent fogbank beset by half-glimpsed demons: climate change, resource depletion, peak oil, mass extinction, collapse of the oceanic food chain, overpopulation, terrorism, foreigners who want to come here and steal our women jobs. It’s not a nice place to be; if the past is another country, the consensus view of the future currently looks like a favela with raw sewage running in the streets. Conservativism — standing on the brake pedal — is a natural reaction to this vision; but it’s a maladaptive one, because it makes it harder to respond effectively to new and unprecedented problems. We can’t stop, we can only go forward; so it is up to us to choose a direction.

[…]

We need — quite urgently, I think — plausible visions of where we might be fifty or a hundred or a thousand years hence: a hot, densely populated, predominantly urban planetary culture that nevertheless manages to feed everybody, house everybody, and give everybody room to pursue their own happiness without destroying our resource base.

Because historically, when a civilization collapsed, it collapsed in isolation: but if our newly global civilization collapses, what then …?

Compare and contrast with this post from Jetse de Vries written during the Shine submissions period, as writers supplied reason after reason for why they couldn’t – or wouldn’t – write an optimistic piece:

In the real world, people face those huge challenges (overpopulation, war, environmental degradation, pollution, greed, climate change and more) and try to overcome them. In the real world, the majority of people are optimistic. So why isn’t SF trying to address these huge problems in a near future SF story (not use them for implementing the next dystopia, but try to fix them, try to do something about them)? Why is SF extremely reluctant to feature an upbeat outlook?

[…]

Imagining things going bad, technologies grossly misused, the world going down the drain is so goddamn easy that everybody’s doing it. So if almost everybody’s already doing it, then why do we need to keep stating the bleedingly obvious? Maybe some of that creative energy, that imaginative potential might be used for envisioning a solution?

Furthermore, with the amount of cautionary tales going around in SF today, we should be well on our way to paradise, as we’re being told ad nauseam what not to do. Imagining things going wrong is easy; imagining things improving is hard. It’s easier to destroy than create. I’m sick and tired of writers demonstrating five thousand different ways of destroying a house: I long for the rare few that show me how to repair it, or build a better one.

There’s an obvious difference in character here (Charlie is being rather more cautious and diplomatic than Jetse, perhaps), but it looks to me like they’re both driving toward the same destination by slightly different philosophical roots… and Jetse himself calls out Charlie’s piece as a vindication of the Shine project (albeit a somewhat belated one).

So let’s raise a recent ghost after a long year of tough times all round, and ask again: should science fiction be trying harder to think positively about the future?

And if not, why not?


Book review: Kramer Wand – me:topia

Adam Roberts @ 09-09-2009

The Adam Roberts Project

Kramer Wand, me:topia (Indicia, 2009)

[pp.197. $20.00. ISBN: 723485522826]

“Great title”, said a friend when I emailed him to say I’d received this book to review; “what’s it about? No, don’t tell me, let me guess—”

I bet this book is arguing that the problem with utopia has been too large a concern with the other feller, too much ‘you’ and not enough ‘me’. I’d wager it’s written by an ex-hippy, somebody now wearing a silk suit and driving an open-top BMW, who’s come to see that self-love is the road to a harmonious society. I’ll go so far as to imagine a sentence from this book: ‘how can we love others if we don’t first love ourselves, and love must be the basis of any utopia. Am I right?

I mention this because, like my friend, I assumed from the title that this book would be a 21st-century revisioning of hippy idealism through the ‘ethical selfishness’ of the late twentieth-century: but, like my friend, I could not have been more wrong. Continue reading “Book review: Kramer Wand – me:topia”


Bright-greening Dubai

Paul Raven @ 15-05-2009

Whatever you may think of Dubai (and however much of it is actually true), you can’t deny that those people know how to dream big. The Dubai Chamber of Commerce has apparently green-lit a plan for a self-sufficient off-grid ecotopian zone, dubbed (with what one presumes is as much hope as anything else) “Food City”. And here’s the proposal from architectural outfit GCLA:

Dubai "Food City" concept

GCLA has described their proposal for Food City as the “the marriage of landscapes and urbanism”. Their project integrates a variety of proposals to decrease overall energy use — concentrated solar collectors, towers covered in thin-film photovoltaic cells, piezoelectric pads in pedestrian areas, and methane harvesting through sewage percolation tanks.

GCLA also proposes water conservation measures critical to off-the-grid survival in water-starved Dubai, like atmospheric water harvesting, solar desalination through concentrated solar collectors, grey water recycling, and application of hydroponic sand to minimize water loss. Essentially, GCLA’s vision is an amalgamation of nearly every urban sustainability initiative in the past few years. It’s certainly utopian, but it may ultimately prove necessary.

Necessary, perhaps; but plausible, practical or realistic? Even assuming the best about Dubai, I’ll be surprised if the application of money and architectural talent alone can build a self-sufficient garden city in one of the dryest places on the planet… but it sure does look pretty. [image copyright GCLA; reproduced under Fair Use terms, contact if takedown required]


CHANGING THE TUNE by Jason Stoddard

Jeremy Lyon @ 08-10-2005

Jason Stoddard’s “Changing The Tune” is a wistful story about youth and regrets, and how techno-utopia fails to live up to its hype.

[ IMPORTANT NOTICE: This story is NOT covered by the Creative Commons License that covers the majority of content on Futurismic; copyright remains with the author, and any redistribution is a breach thereof. Thanks. ]

Changing The Tune

by Jason Stoddard

“Dan, no!” Carolin said.

“You aren’t!” Keith said.

I waved them silent and looked down into the Northridge mall bandchise pit. Several hundred almighties had packed themselves in to see the premiere of Anna Baby No. 137. She was grinding through her rendition of “Always Pure.” Grey heads, bald heads, and newly brown and blonde and black heads were bobbing in time to the simple rhythm.

My handscreen showed all green. No sprites latched to my stream. No visigods watching. No Eyes or Ears tuned to our location.

I thumbed the icon and the music changed. Continue reading “CHANGING THE TUNE by Jason Stoddard”


PUSH PATTERNS by Jay Campbell

Jeremy Lyon @ 01-02-2005

Jay Campbell‘s “Push Patterns” is a science fictional fantasy of math and plenty.

[ IMPORTANT NOTICE: This story is NOT covered by the Creative Commons License that covers the majority of content on Futurismic; copyright remains with the author, and any redistribution is a breach thereof. Thanks. ]

Push Patterns

by Jay Campbell

i.

Late afternoon, the calls started pouring into my home line instead. My cell had run out of juice hours ago, just as my gratitude for the attention was turning into annoyance at the constant interruptions. I was scant hours from a working proof of concept. I was tired of repeating the small bits I could tell the reporters, the venture capitalists, the Department of Energy “consultants.” I wasn’t ready, and the world wasn’t ready. I squeezed the prong on the phone jack, ready to unplug the thing for some peace and quiet, and mumbled something excusatory.

“We absolutely respect that,” he said, “and if you don’t want to talk to me, or the Post, or anybody else, that’s your prerogative. You’re entitled to your privacy. Lockheed has promised to let us know what they figure out from Wolfram’s notes and we’ll be there to report it then.”

What notes?

“Wolfram’s notes. The unpublished book, and a third machine.” Continue reading “PUSH PATTERNS by Jay Campbell”