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Subject: Sci Fi: Cut it out with all the negative waves rss

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CHAPEL
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Here's an article that really hit home to how I've been feeling about SciFi literature for a long while now, and it has some great talking points. What do you all think?
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I generally prefer distopian SF since it seems to make better stories. Cautionary tales are useful to the next generation of scientists too.
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I agree that the apocalyptic setting is getting played out. There are some lights in the science fiction world, where innovation is still happening.

Alastair Reynolds was the first to spring to mind. His stuff is pretty dark, but still shot through with forward-thinking technology. Helps that he's a scientist.

Iain M. Banks?
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Drew1365 wrote:
Dystopian fiction is common. But here's a question: can you think of any examples of utopian fiction? (Aside from Sir Thomas More, I suppose.) Because of fiction's need for conflict to drive the narrative, it seems like utopian fiction would be difficult to pull off well.


For me, I think utopian literature is just as dark as dystopian. I mean, a perfect society end up being a just a gilded cage. Most books that try and cover utopian societies usually end up right back to dystopian, as the human need to explore and discover usually breaks down the harmony.

I think writers should be able to create positive story lines without going to one extreme or another.
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Drew1365 wrote:
Dystopian fiction is common. But here's a question: can you think of any examples of utopian fiction? (Aside from Sir Thomas More, I suppose.) Because of fiction's need for conflict to drive the narrative, it seems like utopian fiction would be difficult to pull off well.

I've had this discussion with friends, and we struggle to think of any examples.


Iain M. Banks' Culture is a relatively utopian society. Usually something, somewhere on the edge of the Culture, goes off the rails, and he writes a book about it.

One of my favorite short story collections is Mike Resnick's Kirinyaga, in which an African tribe colonizes a planet, trying to create a utopia that re-creates how their ancestors lived. Each story deals with how that's not really possible, and they're all great.
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MWChapel wrote:
Here's an article that really hit home to how I've been feeling about SciFi literature for a long while now, and it has some great talking points. What do you all think?


I think the article makes some very valid points but I'm not sure if the blame should really lie with writers. I'm not sure there is a reason to blame anyone. I think the reason we get dystopian SF is that it is the more interesting potential future and, frankly, seems to be the more likely (although I disagree).

In many ways the future we were promised has surpassed even the wildest imaginations of genre writers from 50 years ago. The Internet alone has brought about a very rapid and substantive change in the way we live, do business and interact. Advancements in medical science, communication, energy, automation and computers have led us to the brink of serious possibilities for the future of the world. Unfortunately, it looks like human beings may not be ready for the great leap forward.

We stand now on the edge of technological advancements (i.e. nanotechnology, biotechnology, etc.) which could lead humanity into a real and lasting utopia. But when a budding writer looks at the world as it is today they see obstacles to such a utopia. These include corporate business which will try to control and profit from it and religious fundamentalism which will try to destroy it as an affront to god. They also see that these forces are dominating world events in rather extreme ways. It's no wonder they have a pessimistic view of what is to come.

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Scott Firestone IV wrote:

Alastair Reynolds was the first to spring to mind. His stuff is pretty dark, but still shot through with forward-thinking technology. Helps that he's a scientist.



I'm working on his book Prefect right now. Or trying to anyways.
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Kafka wrote:
The Internet alone has brought about a very rapid and substantive change in the way we live, do business and interact.



I've always thought the the internet was what softened our desire to move out, to explore. Because with the internet we start to hide away within our own thoughts. We can interact with everything without even leaving the couch. But that interaction is shallow, but easy to attain. Pre-internet if I wanted to discover the unknown, I would have to venture forth to find it, today, I just go to wikipedia.

It has become our own pacifier to discovery and quells the need to go "out there". At least for now. And I think that reflects in our own reading. Maybe subconsciously we visualize leaving the crib as a scary, unforgiving place, it's our minds tricking us an telling us that it's safer to play those parts in the safety of the net.

Going to Mars is hard, and you'll probably die. Have a cheeseburger instead.
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I wouldn't call it "Sci Fi" per se, but oddly enough I'm just now on the final chapters of The Passage. Played out and poorly delivered.
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MWChapel wrote:
Kafka wrote:
The Internet alone has brought about a very rapid and substantive change in the way we live, do business and interact.



I've always thought the the internet was what softened our desire to move out, to explore. Because with the internet we start to hide away within our own thoughts. We can interact with everything without even leaving the couch. But that interaction is shallow, but easy to attain. Pre-internet if I wanted to discover the unknown, I would have to venture forth to find it, today, I just go to wikipedia.

It has become our own pacifier to discovery and quells the need to go "out there". At least for now. And I think that reflects in our own reading. Maybe subconsciously we visualize leaving the crib as a scary, unforgiving place, it's our minds tricking us an telling us that it's safer to play those parts in the safety of the net.

Going to Mars is hard, and you'll probably die. Have a cheeseburger instead.


goo May I say, a most Dystopian comment, monkey-boy. Now off the couch and give me twenty! goo
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MWChapel wrote:
Kafka wrote:
The Internet alone has brought about a very rapid and substantive change in the way we live, do business and interact.



I've always thought the the internet was what softened our desire to move out, to explore. Because with the internet we start to hide away within our own thoughts. We can interact with everything without even leaving the couch. But that interaction is shallow, but easy to attain. Pre-internet if I wanted to discover the unknown, I would have to venture forth to find it, today, I just go to wikipedia.

It has become our own pacifier to discovery and quells the need to go "out there". At least for now. And I think that reflects in our own reading. Maybe subconsciously we visualize leaving the crib as a scary, unforgiving place, it's our minds tricking us an telling us that it's safer to play those parts in the safety of the net.

Going to Mars is hard, and you'll probably die. Have a cheeseburger instead.


Well, the internet hasn't been around THAT long. And while I agree with your point about becoming more passive in our interactions with the world, I imagine people have been making that argument once Encyclopedias were widespread, and even before.
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Scott Firestone IV wrote:


I agree that the apocalyptic setting is getting played out. There are some lights in the science fiction world, where innovation is still happening.

Alastair Reynolds was the first to spring to mind. His stuff is pretty dark, but still shot through with forward-thinking technology. Helps that he's a scientist.

Iain M. Banks?


haha

nice pic!
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Whilst drama and conflict and struggle tell better stories, they don't have to be set in a world which is itself the source of the struggle. Most dystopian SF seems to be about the characters dealing with whatever disaster has befallen their world. But that does not necessarily mean that a more positive view of human progress can't be the backdrop for compelling drama. The important word there is "backdrop".

For example, the best of Star Trek is never actually about the tech, but the people. Yes Warp drive and transporters and personal communicators are cool and make us go wow and appeal to our imagination, but it's not the heart of the most memorable stories. Likewise with 2001: the spaceships are brilliant, but the story is about humanity.

The difficulty for writers is that they go to great lengths to create a believable and functional yet also fantastical and almost-but-not-quite magical world, and it's almost cruel to then ask them to use it as set dressing, and not spend two chapters or half an episode explaining how backyard fusion works and it subsequent cultural impact.

But's that's just what the best stories do. If the world is compelling enough, people will be intrigued and interested anyway and will want to explore it further. Again see Star Trek, Star Wars and Tolkien. All of those universes had their struggles and dramas, but they occur within the world, not against the world, or because of the world.
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As someone who only writes dystopian SF, some random comments:

- True utopia is boring as hell. It's the end of conflict, the end of drama and the end of us in our current form. A working utopia is either a controlling sham (the "gilded cage" is actually a dystopia with a smile) or will see us waste away to puddles of goo. Or as the worthless pets of AIs, as in Banks' Culture novels. Struggle built us, struggle defines us, struggle keeps us fit.

- We're the same animals we were 40,000 years ago, only with nukes. Self-replicating tribal xenophobes who have built a civilzation that has no future—the fossil fuel clock ticks the moments out from under us. Time is short and we're all busy surfing porn.

- I'm not a pessimist, I'm a realist. While things get worse when left alone (entropy), the only way things get better is if we make them better. My darkest stuff does [SPOILER ALERT] have a ray of light at the end—it's just that everything's on fire and everyone's full of holes before that light can shine. The only way to reduce the amount of shit is to grab a shovel and get to work. And some people are going to drown in it along the way.

- As strange as it may sound, I find all of these ideas uplifting. Far more than some kind of namby-pamby "everything's gonna be all right" sentiment, or, worse, the saved-by-tech Get Out of Jail Free card. It's just us, our brains, our hands. Technology extends our reach and power, but it has to start with the monkeys who walked off the savannah.
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MWChapel wrote:
Drew1365 wrote:
Dystopian fiction is common. But here's a question: can you think of any examples of utopian fiction? (Aside from Sir Thomas More, I suppose.) Because of fiction's need for conflict to drive the narrative, it seems like utopian fiction would be difficult to pull off well.


For me, I think utopian literature is just as dark as dystopian. I mean, a perfect society end up being a just a gilded cage. Most books that try and cover utopian societies usually end up right back to dystopian, as the human need to explore and discover usually breaks down the harmony.


Good Point. But authors can do utopian/dystopian worlds without being too dark. Asimov is a good example of this. One of his short stories might end with a utopian world run by a benign and extremely intelligent supercomputer. The next short story might be about all the problems existing in that supposed Utopia followed by the supercomputer committing suicide for the good of humanity. The tension between the utopian/dystopian outcomes pervades much of his work. Yet most of Asimov's work is very upbeat and optimistic.

I believe the pessimism in Science Fiction is driven by a pessimism in society in general. It has little to do with the genre of the science fiction though genres that more easily lend themselves to pessimism might be more popular for that reason.
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I think I'd still like to see something that doesn't always state that everything out there is out to get you.

Look at Starman, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kinds, and E.T. They weren't out to get us...We were out to get them. But in the end it was a positive message of humanity coming out of the quagmire of ignorance.

Adventure doesn't always need to be about killing things.
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BFoy wrote:


Good Point. But authors can do utopian/dystopian worlds without being too dark. Asimov is a good example of this. One of his short stories might end with a utopian world run by a benign and extremely intelligent supercomputer. The next short story might be about all the problems existing in that supposed Utopia followed by the supercomputer committing suicide for the good of humanity. The tension between the utopian/dystopian outcomes pervades much of his work. Yet most of Asimov's work is very upbeat and optimistic.


He does do a good job, but he also goes into the effects of a utopia, such as massive bureaucracy, and how that becomes tedious in the backdrops of personal freedoms. He had such a socialist outlook. And sometimes I wonder if he was showing us that in a good light or a bad one.
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KSensei wrote:
Scott Firestone IV wrote:

Alastair Reynolds was the first to spring to mind. His stuff is pretty dark, but still shot through with forward-thinking technology. Helps that he's a scientist.



I'm working on his book Prefect right now. Or trying to anyways.


Prefect starts out slowly but is well worth the read.
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Get the optimistic futurists and the SciFi writers in one room and spike the punch with some MDMA.
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HiveGod wrote:

- We're the same animals we were 40,000 years ago, only with nukes. Self-replicating tribal xenophobes who have built a civilzation that has no future—the fossil fuel clock ticks the moments out from under us. Time is short and we're all busy surfing porn.


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HiveGod wrote:
We're the same animals we were 40,000 years ago, only with nukes. Self-replicating tribal xenophobes who have built a civilzation that has no future—the fossil fuel clock ticks the moments out from under us. Time is short and we're all busy surfing porn.

Spot on IMO. Entertainment has become our God.

I believe many people sense the great problems underlying modern society and share a fear of impending catastrophe. This fear is playing itself out in dystopian literature. This part of the article reminded me of the documentary, "Surviving Progress" which I recently saw:

Quote:
For example, consider Fritz Leiber’s 1960 story, “The Night of the Long Knives.” On the face of it, this story is dystopic and nihilist: the world has been devastated by a nuclear war, the survivors have divided into warring states, and the main characters are murderers. However, the story is oddly optimistic: some surviving scientists have created technological marvels and at the end the main characters struggle to free themselves of their need to murder.

We frequently think that technology (i.e., progress) will save us when it often causes more (or only) problems. One example they used was prehistoric tribes learning to drive mammoths over cliffs as an increase in hunting techniques. Except it greatly reduced the mammoth population and probably contributed to their extinction. D'oh! Technology -- be it synthetic fuels or whatever -- is not the easy answer we want. It's going to take a Hard Lesson -- at least that's the fear you see manifesting.

Furthermore, our world has become increasingly complex in an amazingly short time, and there's something romantic about having it all cut away and existence pared down to the basics, i.e., survival. Suddenly the dis-empowerment you may feel with employment, relationships, money, the Establishment, etc. no longer matter. Heck, you could be a hero in this new, simpler world. And if you're fed up with the culture of materialism (go see "God Bless America" for a dark take on that!), then it's enjoyable to see all that wiped away too.

Lastly, I think it's hard for optimism to find a foothold until the shoe actually drops because fear of the unknown is more powerful and easier to translate into entertainment.
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I prefer post apocalyptic futures over overly optimistic ones like Star Trek (IMHO). I like the Star Trek universe but think that it is a bit silly at times. Give me nuclear holocaust, Zombies, etc. They all seem more realistic to me than humans becoming some kind of enlightened better than before beings. We are not any more moral, humane, peace like, or smarter than any other time in history and I strongly believe that we are never going to become anything "more" than what we are/have been.

Although individuals may be great, society and people overall are often crap. The best stories are about beautiful but imperfect people in ugly worlds. Because of my worldview I really appreciate what some might consider bleaker views of the future. That said, happy endings and bleak ones are both best when they are both represented at about the same frequency.

~Redward
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Drew1365 wrote:
Dystopian fiction is common. But here's a question: can you think of any examples of utopian fiction?


Ecotopia
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Redward wrote:
I prefer post apocalyptic futures over overly optimistic ones like Star Trek (IMHO). I like the Star Trek universe but think that it is a bit silly at times. Give me nuclear holocaust, Zombies, etc. They all seem more realistic to me than humans becoming some kind of enlightened better than before beings. We are not any more moral, humane, peace like, or smarter than any other time in history and I strongly believe that we are never going to become anything "more" than what we are/have been.

Although individuals may be great, society and people overall are often crap. The best stories are about beautiful but imperfect people in ugly worlds. Because of my worldview I really appreciate what some might consider bleaker views of the future. That said, happy endings and bleak ones are both best when they are both represented at about the same frequency.

~Redward


While I find apocalyptic themes interesting and engaging at times, I also find utopian themes refreshing. But, regardless of my preference, they're both acceptable in the realm of science fiction.

Star Trek is science "fiction" just like any post apocalyptic science "fiction". It has the liberty of being utopian or apocalyptic. To base it too highly upon reality, and to say that one is better than the other, defeats the purpose of science fiction. You're entitled to your opinion as well as your personal likes and dislikes, though
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Scott Firestone IV wrote:


I agree that the apocalyptic setting is getting played out. There are some lights in the science fiction world, where innovation is still happening.

Alastair Reynolds was the first to spring to mind. His stuff is pretty dark, but still shot through with forward-thinking technology. Helps that he's a scientist.

Iain M. Banks?


Peter F. Hamilton. Some great space opera, world building and light in the darkness.

In fact, there's been a bit of a Rennaisance in BritSF for a decade now at least.
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