Optimism and Pessimism in Science Fiction

Bestselling science fiction author Alastair Reynolds wrote a piece for Babel Clash titled "Optimism and Pessimism--where did it all go right?"

Here's an extract:

With some honorable exceptions, though, science fiction seems to have rather fallen out of love with the idea of the technological but livable future. After writing a slew of books and stories set in the Revelation Space universe, I was a little taken aback to find myself routinely described as a purveyor of dark, grim, pessimistic SF. That wasn’t what I’d set out to do, after all. My counterstrike was to point out that 1) any work of fiction positing the existence of humanity several centuries from now is, on some level, ultimately optimistic and 2) for the purposes of fiction, I was necessarily zeroing-in on groups of characters in extremis, caught at pinch-points in the future history. Presumably for every character caught in a space battle or some other less-than-pleasant life-threatening situation, there were millions - billions - going about their ordinary lives off-page. But in hindsight I can’t deny that there was something fundamentally “dark” about the RS books, a kind of miserabilist ruling aesthetic or purple-tinged gothlike mood. I sometimes think of my brain as resembling a giant mixing desk in a music studio, with lots of sliders. In the RS books, those sliders were very evidently pushed to one end of the scale. That was all well and good, and I’m not done with the RS universe yet - but was that all I wanted to do? I hope not, and I hope it’s become clear through some of the other books and stories that the sliders can be adjusted a bit. It’s never going to be entirely happy-clappy in one of my universes, but it doesn’t all have to be read to a background score of punishing death metal. In fact, you’re probably better off with some Sibelius.

You can read the full article here.

Alastair Reynolds' latest novel is Terminal World (Canada, USA, Europe).

Here's the blurb:

Spearpoint, the last human city, is an atmosphere-piercing spire of vast size. Clinging to its skin are the zones, a series of semi-autonomous city-states, each of which enjoys a different - and rigidly enforced - level of technology. Horsetown is pre-industrial; in Neon Heights they have television and electric trains . . . Following an infiltration mission that went tragically wrong, Quillon has been living incognito, working as a pathologist in the district morgue. But when a near-dead angel drops onto his dissecting table, Quillon's world is wrenched apart one more time, for the angel is a winged posthuman from Spearpoint's Celestial Levels - and with the dying body comes bad news. If Quillon is to save his life, he must leave his home and journey into the cold and hostile lands beyond Spearpoint's base, starting an exile that will take him further than he could ever imagine. But there is far more at stake than just Quillon's own survival, for the limiting technologies of the zones are determined not by governments or police, but by the very nature of reality - and reality itself is showing worrying signs of instability. . .

8 commentaires:

machinery said...

just out of interest, how do you percieve an "atmosphere-piercing spire" ??
some giant obelisk ?

Adam Whitehead said...

It's a technological spire dozens of miles high, with the vertical city hanging off the sides of its lower slopes.

Interesting article, as Reynolds can indeed get a little gloomy (in the RS trilogy). I think he moved away from that a little in PUSHING ICE (which is still not a laugh riot) but the much more colourful, varied and plain more fun TERMINAL WORLD is definitely a more substantial reaction against it, and works well.

machinery said...

i never read his books, is he writing this "vertical city" in a logical way ?
i mean, levels, each level with it's own social rules ...
sounds wierd.
also reminds me of philip hoze farmer's books.

Chris said...

Secretly I am hoping for a give away of this book :P I haven't read all of alastairs books yet, but I am making steady progress. Recently read the prefect.

Adam Whitehead said...

The city tapers as it rises (think of Minas Tirith but much larger), with different cultures living on different levels. Each level has a different 'energy state', with ultra high-tech allowed on the upper levels and people reduced to using horses and carts on the lowest.

The reasons for what has happened to the world to make this happen are revealed at the end of the book.

rcsa said...

The premise of this book is almost exactly the same as Gregory Bear's The City at the End of Time....

BStearns said...

Really interesting article. Also, his book sounds fricken cool, I'll definitely check it out. Thanks for the heads up!

-Bryan
sff-hub.blogspot.com

Adam Whitehead said...

"The premise of this book is almost exactly the same as Gregory Bear's The City at the End of Time...."

But handled in a far superior manner. Bear's book was deeply average, whilst Reynolds was exuberant, fun and intelligent, with a rather large (if obvious, though many readers don't seem to have twigged it) twist to it.

In addition, Reynolds was some way through writing TERMINAL WORLD before CITY AT THE END OF TIME was published. And there's plenty of earlier work that uses similar premises: Stirling's DIES THE FIRE and Tilley's FADE-OUT are somewhat related whilst Vinge's space operas have some similar ideas with the galaxy being divided into zones of thought and FTL capabilitity.