According to an article on Co.EXIST
, Can Science Fiction Writers Inspire The World To Save Itself?
there is a new collaboration between science fiction author Neal Stephenson
and Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination
. Project Hieroglyph
, Co.EXIST reports, suggests that science fiction writers should stop writing stories about dystopian futures and instead focus on visions of a rosy future. Their hope is that this will result in a resurgence of the optimism that has marked more prosperous eras and, thus, to create a contemporary culture that encourages the creation of a more desirable prospect.
But, is the idea that science fiction writers can directly influence the future a realistic one, or is it little more than an application of sympathetic magic to the complex problems of the day? And, is it even necessary, or can the very literature to be eschewed, of dystopian, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic futures, a part of the solution that can help to bring about the same push to create a better future?
Neal Stephenson writes about his perspective on the need for a more positive approach to the future in his article, Innovation Starvation
, and I get the impression from his article and from the Project Hieroglyph site that their actual vision is far more interesting and complex than simply asking writers to stop writing about what's wrong with the world, and start focusing on what we want to see, but I feel the need to address the underlying assumptions of the article, written by Co.EXIST Senior Editor Ariel Schwartz
, which first brought this to my attention.
There are no simple answers. It's unrealistic to expect that if only writers would just stop being so negative and start being more positive it would make the world a better place. Literature is a part of an intricate conversation that exists within society between those who comment on the world around them and those who act to change it, with there being very little distinction between the two groups. We are all observers, all commenters, all participants, all actors, in the dance of social change. Writers respond to the world around them, as well as act in ways that will change the world. We see the world and identify possibilities, some attainable, others more fantastic (psychological and mythopoeic), and in response we imagine a world in which we attempt to follow those trends to their logical, or illogical, conclusions.
It’s a well-known phenomenon that published fiction tends to follow societal trends: when times are tough, when people as a general rule are discouraged, our fiction will reflect this mood; when things are better, economically, socially, environmentally, and so on, our fiction will reflect this only. And this is nothing to be ashamed of!
Writers as a whole (or, better yet, a herd of cats) cannot sound only a single note, for that is little more than putting our fingers in our collective ears and singing “la, la, la,” but must instead create a symphony of notes, sometimes aiming for the sublime and at others for a clashing discordance that reflects the cacophony of dissolution. It will take all of these myriad visions and creations to effect change, and the societal changes that result will rarely be something we could have predicted or planned for, but we must move forward with the confidence that our contributions are a valid part of the overall conversation. To write only of sweetness and light is as likely to create a world of complacency in the face of horrors as to create a world of eager engineers, striving for the betterment of man. To write only of darkness and terror may leave our readers frightened and discouraged, or may inspire them to forge ahead with endeavors that will solve the world’s problems.
Writers, let us continue to write in response to the world around us. Let us write stories of idyllic and horrific possibilities. Let us rewrite the past and pre-write the future. Let us, above all, create! Above all, let us continue to do so without muzzling ourselves, for it is when we write from our hearts that our writing is most powerful and most likely to effect the changes we want to see.ETA:
I think part of my reaction to the article, which I left unexpressed earlier, was the mention of several recent dystopian works and the statement: "It almost seems as though science fiction writers--and the general public--have given up on the future as a happy, technologically enhanced place to be." I feel that the article criticizes both writers and audiences for having a "bad attitude," and in so doing dismisses those involved in the specific works mentioned and all science fiction writers as doing a public disservice.
It ruffled my feathers, so I had to squawk.