Yesterday I came across a great article by Elizabeth Bear on Clarkesworld Magazine, “Another Word: Dear Speculative Fiction, I’m Glad We Had this Talk.” In it, she talks about how as a young reader, sci-fi and fantasy were fun, whereas today, they are filled with cynicism and dystopias. Bear clarifies that she is not asking sci-fi and fantasy to be dumbed down, but instead to take itself less seriously and crack a joke every now and then, even while still taking on deep thoughts.
Coincidentally, io9.com posted an interview with David Brin in which he repeatedly mentions the potential for optimism in science fiction–that the future doesn’t need to be dark and desolate, because smart and creative people can create wonderful solutions to the world’s problems.
I think these sorts of arguments should be made, and I would love to see writers take up the cause. Just as you have “Oscar movie” season in the winter and “popcorn movie” season in the summer, I see no reason why fantasy and sci-fi can’t be both dark and light, serious and funny. I mean, there’s no reason why there can’t be sci-fi and fantasy beach reads, right? I think there is an audience that will support both strains.
But as I talked about earlier, my suspicion is that people are choosing less optimistic reads because they feel less optimistic about society and the short-term future. Which is ironic, because Brin is right–it will take optimism and creativity to get us out of our funk. So let’s see some more ray guns and sword and sorcery (thanks, Saladin Ahmed for writing THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON. Go read it, everyone). But until then, I’ll be reading Terry Pratchett.