You Fierce Optimists

You are tired of pessimistic science fiction.

You know it is much more difficult — and much more honest — to provide an optimistic vision.

Didn’t you first come to SF precisely for this:  portrayals of worlds you wish you could live in, that you hope that your children will live in, and that you would like to believe are possible?

But as the potential grows for ever-better lives, much of our science fiction turns more indolently dreary — if not dispollyana (which is, as John Gardner observed, a form of pollyana, albeit inverted:  it is the gripe that if things aren’t perfect, then life is worthless).


“I’m so glad I have the pleasure of righteous indignation at the purposeless misery of existence!”

You are not naive to be an optimist.  There is a fierceness to true optimism:  a heavy duty of hope, and the consequent demand that we act.

Constrast this with the dismal implosion into violent acts of survival, or collapse into exhausting lassitude, that constitute plot in the apocalyptic undergenre.  (I have enjoyed some works of this subgenre, and am even writing one; this does not alter my estimation of its relative merits, which are few and small.)  This has become the dominant subgenre of our field, and the only genre work that gets reviews in the New York Times or wins Pulitzer Prizes or is noticed with a Booker nomination.  Here we indulge in a fantasy of the elimination of responsibility:  society has collapsed or become unworthy of continuation, so no duties weigh on us; the economy is gone or is an engine of evil, so we have no complex and uncertain career before us; the world is a wasteland, so we have no reason to preserve it.  As for characters:  well, they’re all evil and selfish and stupid and mean and incompetent.  Presumably we are to believe the same is normal for real people.

You know it is a nobler pleasure to follow the protagonist who strives for a better world and, in meeting her duties in the perplexing and complex present, pilots bright outcomes out of the obscure future.  And you know it’s truer to what we are.

We don’t need any more lazy despair.  It’s easy to snuff out the candle.  More light, more light.

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