The Arizona State University Center for Science & the Imagination has recently initiated a new program called Project Hieroglyph. Supported by authors like Neal Stephenson, Elizabeth Bear, Kim Stanley Robinson, Junot Díaz, Samuel R. Delany and many others, Hieroglyph seeks to turn the present tide of science fiction away from negative-future stories, and towards a more positive future.
I applaud their efforts… at the same time that I point out that some of us authors never stopped writing positive futurist and science fiction in the first place.
The big concern of the Hieroglyph members is that science fiction has always driven imagination and innovation in this world; and as SF has transited to being dominated by zombies, evil aliens and totalitarian regimes bent on breaking our spirits and stealing our lives, innovation in the world has duly suffered. From a recent article:
Sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson is worried about America. “We have lost our ability to get things done,” he wrote in 2011, in a piece for the World Policy Institute. “We’re suffering from a kind of ‘innovation starvation.’ ” And part of the problem, he wrote, is science fiction. Where science fiction authors once dreamt of epic steps forward for humanity, now, “the techno-optimism of the Golden Age of SF has given way to fiction written in a generally darker, more skeptical and ambiguous tone.”
I question this point, because of the simple fact that Neal Stephenson doesn’t speak for all the SF authors out there. He speaks only for those who are popular in the industry right now, those whose books are on the tops of the shelves, those whose stories are getting made into movies and television shows (including his own). And those are actually a small percentage of the authors out there. Newsflash: Authors are not all writing about zombies and dystopias; but most of you guys at the top of the food chain are.
Also, publishers have a lion’s share of the blame here. Yes, a lot of dystopian fiction is being produced; but if publishers weren’t actively choosing the writers of dystopian fiction and publishing their work, we wouldn’t be seeing “so much dystopian fiction.” Publishers are choosing DF because they believe it will sell (and make them money). So, instead of tasking authors with changing, maybe Stephenson needs to be tasking publishers to look again at the stable of authors out there, and start cultivating those with a positive view.
I speak as one of those authors who prefers, enjoys, and exclusively writes, positive futurist and science fiction. That’s because, like Stephenson, I see that the world is not right; and my writing is designed to show the world a better way for us all to live. I see solutions to our problems, and ways we can reach those solutions besides keeping the problems at bay with violence and hatred. I see a positive future, within our reach right now. And all I’ve ever wanted was the chance at reaching the mass audience that Stephenson has, so people could see the positive quality of my writing.
You may want to check out, and possibly join, Project Hieroglyph (I’m considering it myself). But don’t think that science fiction has lost the ability to foster positive actions and innovation. It has always had that ability; it was only hidden behind the shadow of profitable zombies.