Monday, August 18, 2014

"Science fiction has always built our culture powerful frameworks for thinking about the future. Computer sensors, “electronic paper,” digital newspapers, biological cloning, interactive television, robots, remote operation, and even the Walkman each appeared in fiction before they breached our physical reality." 
But lately not so much - s.f. movies and s.f. novels alike have been relentlessly dysphoric about the immediate future, imaging disaster or dictatorship of one kind or another:
"Certainly dystopia has appeared in science fiction from the genre’s inception, but the past decade has observed an unprecedented rise in its authorship. Once a literary niche within a niche, mankind is now destroyed with clockwork regularity by nuclear weapons, computers gone rogue, nanotechnology, and man-made viruses in the pages of what was once our true north; we have plague and we have zombies and we have zombie plague.
"Ever more disturbing than the critique of technology in these stories is the casual assault on the nature of Man himself...  We have thousands of authors prophesying our doom with attitude, as if they’re all alone out there in tinfoil hats shouting at the top of their lungs what nobody else will. Yet they are legion. In the Twenty-first Century, the most punk rock thing that you can be is happy, or—and this is really crazy—”happy ever after.”....
"Our dystopian obsession has grown up in our nightmares as a true monster, which can only be countered by something truly beautiful. Simply, we need a hero. Our fears are demons in our fiction placing our utopia at risk, but we must not run from them. We must stand up and defeat them. Artificial intelligence, longevity therapy, biotechnology, nuclear energy — it is in our power to create a brilliant world, but we must tell ourselves a story where our tools empower us to do it. To every young writer out there obsessed with genre, consider our slowly coalescing counterculture, and wonder what side of this you’re standing on. Luddites have challenged progress at every crux point in human history. The only thing new is now they’re in vogue, and all our icons are iconoclasts. So it follows here that optimism is the new subversion. It’s daring to care. The time is fit for us to dream again.
C.f Neal Stephenson's Project Hieroglyph 
"The idea is to get SF writers to contribute pieces to an anthology. These pieces would all be throwbacks, in a manner of speaking, to 1950′s-style SF, in that they would depict futures in which Big Stuff Got Done. We would avoid hackers, hyperspace, and holocausts. The ideal subject matter would be an innovation that a young, modern-day engineer could make substantial progress on during his or her career."
After the last week, or several weeks, it's hard to feel gung-ho about the way things are going, like rebooting Progress would just be just a matter of will and having the right sunny- side attitude.
Still -  going beyond the specfic surfeit of dystopian-future and apocalyptic-cataclysm entertainments on the big and small screen that Solana addresses -  in more general terms I for one am well past exhaustion  point with all the "darkness"-vibed, paranoid-visioned, relentlessly downbeat TV of the last several years (House of Cards, Homeland, Breaking Bad, True Detective, Rectify, Top of the Lake etc).  Regardless of how well-written, well-acted, well-filmed and otherwise aesthetically fully-realised/absorbing these shows  are,  it all adds up to a panorama of glum. (Even things that could be inspiring, like Masters of Sex, have been oddly morose this season). Can't be helpful to a sense of one' s agency or just simple ability to carry on to have these same points (powerlessness, malign and ruthless forces out of anyone's reach being in control, endless corruption, injustice and depravity etc etc ) so relentlessly banged away at...  Not that one necessarily wants a bunch of heart-warming entertainments about decent, good-hearted folk struggling to do something constructive.... but "dark = deep", give it a rest, chaps.... 


  1. Funnily enough, I was just reading a comment on Flickr that said: "nobody wants to read about people behaving well, because it's boring" and thinking to myself that, nowadays, people behaving badly is even more boring.

    'Dark' has always been a sucky term in this context; suggests blandness to me. The soft rock of miserablism. No, worse than that - tasteful indie. It's a broadsheet favourite, like "unsentimental". Bleh!

  2. PS: This reminded me of something else I read today, about coal & lignite mining in Germany. Relevant to the "technology as saviour" business and *maybe* the piece you posted about conservatism further down:

    There's a proper Retromaniac quote near the end:

    "We have solar panels and biogas. Coal is the old kind of engineering and THE PAST WILL DESTROY THE FUTURE in Proschim." (my emphasis)

  3. Flippin'eck, the comments below Solana's piece are a dystopian novel right there. "Never had they been so well educated, and never had they been so totally, sodding lacking in imagination."

    (Reminds me: one of the questions that you asked in Retromania, Simon, that has been popping up regularly in my brain ever since, was: "Is this just a particularly unimaginative generation?")

    The comments are evidence to support a theory that the problem isn't that people think dark = deep, but that dark = knowing. And knowing seems to be what people want. We're back to that piece on conservatism.

  4. I don't know if it's a particularly unimaginative generation -- but perhaps the function of imagination has been eroded or withered. Games, CGI-movies, post-Pixar cartoons -- the prevalence of screens in everyday life.... the necessity of daydreaming seems to have been removed. But that's not really what you're talking about. Technology though has made it very easy to be "elsewhere" from where you are situated, and the older methods and ruses to do that have been been rendered obsolete.

    Then again, fantasy, 'young adult' fiction, superhero / supernatural entertainments etc are massive. It's just that what's being imagined breaks with the concept of progress / exploration / discovery that earlier modes of escape-from-your-here-and-now entertainment were based around.