Happy SF

With the news that Jetse de Vries has left the editorial group who make Interzone magazine, some discusion has arisen at the Asimov’s fourm about whether the tone of not just Interzone, but the whole of contemporary science fiction, has become too pessimistic. Its an interesting discussion and makes me wonder, are we in need of a Happy SF revolution?

Interzone has always championed a dark and pessimistic vision of SF. And it has always championed stories that live in the borderlands between scinece fiction, fantasy and mainstream literature. By their very nature, those stories tend to be darker and more pessimistic, and that has tended to make Interzone a counterweight to mainstream science fiction through the decades that the mainstream was a happier, more optimistic place.

But at some point in the last decade or more, the scales between optimism and pessimism tipped, and mainstream science fiction is now dominated by pesimistic visions of our dystopian future. Its a change tied in some way to the waves of British science fiction writers from Ballard through Banks. Trust the Brits to spread darkness, misery and pessimism wherever we go!

But to keep moving on science fiction needs to keep its wheels revolving. As is often noted, revolution is often a process of rediscovery. Maybe what we need now is not a Mundane SF revolution, but a Happy SF revolution!

What would such a revolution consist of? Not, in my view, stories with ‘an optimistic view of technology’, or a return to the values of golden age SF that some people call for. Revolutions that attempt to roll back the clock like that are always bloody failures. No, what we need are stories that look forward and find genune, credible causes for optimisim about our future.

Those might be technological causes. I don’t think android labour will free us all from the evils of work, or that we will live in glittering metropoli with hover cars. But just maybe, if we can see our way to it, technology will lead us to a post-scarcity society where our children will hear the word money and say ‘What is that?’ Or perhaps they will be political, maybe far from the Orwellian big brother future we all fear, our systems of goverment will evolve into a free flowing anarchy where every human looks after every other when in need. They might even be personal, maybe in the future every geek in the world gets to date a beautiful person of their desired gender. Hurrah for the ranks of SF fandom!

Yes, I know, its all been done. But maybe we need to do it more. Much more. And in new ways that haven’t been done. That IMHO seems like more of a revolutionary act in the context of contemporary SF than yet another brooding, dystopian vision of the future.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

One thought on “Happy SF

  1. I have to say, I think optimism is a difficult crop to cultivate in the current geopolitical climate, but the challenge “find something about the future to be optimistic about” is a fascinating one. My immediate urge is to cast my attention to the possibilities in the developing world, rather than looking to the future of the industrialized economy. Economic globalization is problematic, but health care seems promising.

    You have me thinking now. Hmm….



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