Why are there so few positive stories about the future?

Today’s stories about the future seem to be pretty bleak. Recent big apocalyptic novels have been McCarthy’s The Road, Atwood’s Year of the Flood, but I can’t think of many influential positive environmental futures after Ecotopia in the early 1970s.

On Tor.com, science fiction novelist and critic Jo Walton speculates about why there are not more positive futures?:

When I was writing about The Door Into Summer, I kept finding myself thinking what a cheerful positive future it’s set in. I especially noticed because the future is 1970 and 2000. I also noticed because it isn’t a cliche SF future—no flying cars, no space colonies, no aliens, just people on Earth and progress progressing. Why is nobody writing books like this now? …

Why is this?

I don’t think it’s because we live in terrible depressing times. 1957, when Heinlein wrote The Door Into Summer, wasn’t a particularly cheerful … Anyway, people were writing cheerful optimistic stories about the future in the 1930s, when things could not have been blacker. People always want escapism, after all.

First is the looming shadow of the Singularity, that makes many people feel that there is no future, or rather, the future is unknowable. I’ve written about why I think this concept may be inhibiting SF.Another thing may be the failure of manned spaceflight. Most hopeful future-oriented SF includes space colonization and we’re just not doing it. It is cool sending robots to Mars and Jupiter, but it isn’t the same. The problem is people in space doesn’t really seem to make sense, and that puts us in the position where we want to have a moonbase because… because we want to have a moonbase. …

The third thing I see is anthropogenic climate change—far more than the threat of nuclear annihilation this seems to bring with it a puritan yearning for simpler greener life, self-hatred, and a corresponding distrust of science and especially progress. It isn’t the reality of climate change that’s the problem, it’s the mindset that goes with it. If you suggest to some people that small clean modern nuclear reactors are a good way of generating electricity they recoil in horror. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain and sequels have people dealing with the climate change by planetary engineering, but that’s very unusual, mostly it gets into books as something to cower before.

And then there’s the fact that for the most part we don’t understand our technology any more. I know how a CRT monitor works—LCD, not so much. We have a lot of it, it has certainly progressed, but when we take the back off it’s very mysterious. I think this is part of the appeal of steampunk, looking back to a time when tech was comprehensible as well as made of brass. In a similar but related way, maybe progress is moving too fast for optimistic science fiction. … It’s hard to get ahead of that, except with disaster changing everything. Halting State was out of date practically before it was in paperback.

She asks her readers for examples of books that are:

  • Published since 2000
  • Set in our future (or anyway the future of when they were written)
  • With continuing scientific and technological progress
  • That would be nice places to live.

But, on her site people cannot come up with many near future positive stories.

Can any Resilience Science readers suggest novels with positive environmental futures?

4 thoughts on “Why are there so few positive stories about the future?”

  1. We are working on a follow-up movie to our 2004 END of SUBURBIA. while it will be a documentary format i hope to set out a positive vision of the future. the doc will be called ResilientCITY, stay tuned.

  2. This is a great question, and one of the conditions that influenced the editorial direction of Shareable.net. Shareable.net tell the story of sharing, how a new economy and culture is emerging where the logic of sharing is central. We also offer how-tos about how to share so our community members can make sharing real in their lives.

    My observation is that there’s a great hunger for inspiring stories about the future. We consistently get comments that our stories about people who share successfully are inspiring.

    While our technology horizons and social conditions have changed, I do think people are awakening to the potential for collective action, which is inspiring and in some cases is greatly enhanced by technology. A lot of the time the technology gets the attention, but I think people are getting over the sizzle and see the steak. The technology is awakening people to the power of working together. And this seems to lead them to becoming active shapers of their social reality or at least strive for that in various private and public settings.

  3. I agree! There were no real plausible, positive novels of the future back in 2007. So I decided to write a novel of the most positive, yet workable future I and my engineering friends could imagine. The novel is called Forever Pleasure a Utopian Novel. The protagonist/antagonist time traveler visits a positive future in the transition phase of the Singularity. He then travels to a post-Singularity age that makes anyone else’s predictions of a positive future look depressing. The posthumans have bush robots and pattern identities which makes anything and anyone of zero value. Everyone is engineered for maximum pleasure. This is hard SF with no fantasy and lots of psychology. There’s also a video on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ltzu8Xz-7U

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