The debate on positivity in science fiction continues. Co-editor of Years Best SF Kathryn Cramer makes a robust response to my Guardian article on the subject. Lou Anders, editorial director of Pyr, finds the middle ground and Jetse de Vries, who started the debate back in January, rebutts Cramer’s response.
There have been too many intelligent and thought provoking comments on both sides of the debate to summarise accurately. Despite being firmly on the Positivist side, I can see the merits of the Gloommonger arguments. In very rough terms, the constructive debate is currently being had on the issue of which direction SF should take to be most successful, both creatively and commercialy. On the one hand the Positivists claim that the balance between optimism / pessimism have gone too far in one direction, and its time to pull it back by exploring positive possibilities in science and our near future. On the other, the Gloommonger’s argue that the genre needs to navigate towards the pessimistic, because that is where the interesting stories and ideas are.
Less constructive, but no less interesting, are the extremists in either camp who can’t help seeing the argument as a political issue. Various commentors on my Guardian thread, Cramer’s Tor.com article and over at IO9 have expressed the extreme ends of the spectrum. Commentors of a radical Liberal persuasion tend to see the Positivist viepoint as idealistic and naive. Any suggestion that science, politics or society at large are not the wholy evil entities they perceive them as is swated away with disdain. And of course Conservative stalwarts have long believed that the prevalence of gloom in science fiction is the result of an anarcho-socialist plot to take over the genre they once thought their own. Both extremes are equally absurd, and have a tendency to disrupt the constructive debate happening on the centre ground, all the more because at their heart is the tinniest grain of truth.
Editors and writers can not help but bring the baggage of their assumptions to their work. Almost inevitably, if a writer tends to the left or right of the political spectrum on an issue, this will show when the topic is raised in their work. But good writers know how to challenge their own assumptions, and good editors recognise work which does that successfully. The gloom of science fiction is built on a number of fundamental assumptions that have gone unchallenged for too long. Some of these are Liberal assumptions, that global warming will be cataclysmic for instance. Some are Conservative, that social change will bring about social collapse. Whichever end of the political spectrum they stem from, and however likely they may seem, they are still assumptions that writers need to challenge to break through to new, fresh ideas in the genre.
In the balance, I have to side with the the Positivist argument because it is calling for a challenge to those long held assumptions, and calling for it at the right time. As intelligent and valid as the Gloommonger viewpoint is, I’m yet to see any argument from its proponents that really addresses that need for challenge and change.
That said, I think the proof of the Positivist pudding will be in the eating. No doubt more than a few writers are already sharpening their pencils as they consider ideas for stories that meet Jason Stoddards positivist manifesto, and certainly there wil be an enterprising editor on hand to anthologise them. I look forward to it greatly.