Maybe I’ve been overdosing on dystopian and apocalyptic fiction lately, in books, movies, TV—it seems to be everywhere. We call it things like “dark fiction” because that makes it sound more adult, as if anything “light” and optimistic isn’t worth our time now that we’re grown up. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good disaster story as much as anyone, but I can see real ones any time I feel like turning on the news. What about the hopeful fiction? Especially the hopeful science fiction? Have we lost hope in science?
I miss the days of the original Star Trek series and its inferior (but entertaining) contemporaries that placed their main characters in jeopardy every week yet managed to achieve a happy ending through some triumph of scientific reasoning, moral fortitude, pure luck, or any combination of the above. Much as I enjoyed the action elements of the rebooted Trek movie franchise, they’re not about science. And it’s rare to find an SF movie or TV offering that doesn’t focus mostly on the cost of scientific and technological advancement to our society, rather than its benefits.
SF has always had its cautionary tales, but the good stuff invoked a sense of wonder, too. I admired Phillip K. Dick and William Gibson, but I loved Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. They made science exciting. Attractive. Even reassuring, in a way, compared to the current focus that offers a whole lot more cloud than silver lining.
Is it because our society feels let down by science? Fukushima, climate change, Monsanto with its frankenfoods. It’s easy to conclude that the major scientific advances have all gone toward ways to kill more people or to make the already-rich become obscenely wealthy. That’s not quite true—the tech developments with the greatest impact on our lives have been in computing and communication, so we can play video games with strangers across the world and our kids can text each other while they sleep. Hallelujah.
Maybe it’s time to rescue science—rehabilitate its image. That might be quite a challenge in the real world, but we could start in our fiction, to show the way. How about some stories that feature science once again making wonderful discoveries, fixing our problems of today, and painting a future where we’d actually like to live? That’s not hiding our heads in the sand, it’s providing the hope that our species needs to keep striving, advancing, and reaching for the stars (literally and figuratively). Maybe it’s time for an anthology of positive SF stories, or a special series of inspiring novels. I’m betting they’d sell, too.
Count me in.