Thursday, 28 March 2019

Stories....Science Fiction Stories. Does Science Fiction have to be all doom and gloom? - A ReadItTorial from 20 minutes into the future

I was lucky enough to attend a recent round-table chat between four science fiction authors. The actual subject for the evening was meant to be based around the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landings - but that wasn't quite how the evening panned out.

On the discussion panel, Gareth Powell, Ben Jeapes, Simon Morden and Justina Robinson - award winning authors all, sat down to chat about space travel and science fiction. 

Interestingly enough, the chat touched on a fairly wide range of subjects, from the rise and rise of capitalism-driven space programmes, to Space Porn, building Cathedrals as a model for generation-spanning space exploration, and of course a sprinkling about the main topic for the evening and the muted response from all on the possibilities of humans ever returning to the moon. 

For me, as a lifelong science fiction fan, the evening was interesting for many reasons (probably not as interesting for C or her mum, who came along with me). 

I found it fascinating that most of the authors had a fairly dour view of our chances of ever reaching a futuristic utopia as imagined by the likes of Gene Rodenberry, where space exploration and pioneering science came after the world had a few near misses with wiping itself out, and eventually came to the conclusion that money was the root of all evil, dispensing with it entirely so that "Star Fleet" could be born. 

I stuck my hand in the air a couple of times to try and trigger a discussion about the "Star Trek" vision and how that's radically changed too, in line with the world's headlong sprint into ecological annihilation. I still think Gene Roddenberry had something in his partial view of a slightly skewed world where capitalism was destroyed in favour of a fair distribution of wealth (and welfare I guess) but I don't think anyone would ever predict or be able to understand how we could arrive at that destination, and whether it would truly mean we could put our brainpower, creativity and resources towards scientific endeavours to enable us to exist as a species for a little longer. 

Simon raised some horribly accurate points about some of the bigger players currently massaging their egos in space. The likes of Musk and Bezos, all smiling and benevolent saviours of the US Space Programme endeavouring to ensure that the next spacecraft to leave the atmosphere once again flies the stars and stripes (and a few banner ads for various private companies) rather than the hammer and sickle, or perhaps the chinese / Israeli / Indian flag. Justina and Simon also mooted the possibilities of space being seen as our next place to scavenge as much mineral (and other) wealth as possible. Again some fantastic and valid points made about the 'big baddies' in some of our best-loved science fiction novels and films always being these faceless corporations who exploit space for material gain back on Earth (Weyland-Yutani, Tyrell Corporation, I'm a-lookin' at you!)

When it was the turn of the audience to participate (and again I'm a bit sad that the audience-driven part of the talk was so brief) there were obviously some very well informed folk sitting among us, who talked about how science and scientific discovery, curiosity and wonder should really be the drivers for our reach for the stars rather than how much moolah can be made. 

I liked Gareth Powell's slightly bonkers (but probably horribly accurate) observation that porn drives most technological advances in polite society, propping up literature, cinema, television and eventually space exploration as many feverish folk anticipate spinning around the earth in orbit aboard floating space brothels (something that both Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein wrote about decades ago, just for ref). 

I wondered though - what happened to our taste in science fiction and fantasy? I laughed when on a recent writing course someone told me that 'dystopia doesn't sell' when I look around at the current science fiction market and see it absolutely flooded with doom-laden stuff that speaks of a dark future that we're rapidly moving towards, rather than science being the saviour of planet earth as we realise our folly just in the nick of time. 

Perhaps that's it. People no longer want the wool pulling over their eyes. Perhaps they just want to read about and accept one form of truth that feels more realistic than a future where we all have robot servants, flying cars and can eat a comfortable 1500 calorie meal in pill form. 

Perhaps now, we're just too damned in love with the Blade Runner vision of 2019. One where the ruined planet is left crumbling, and we're urged to move out to the offworld colonies, breathing expensive air, living in domes on a dustbowl of a planet. 

The stuff about Mars was good to hear too. It's not going to be impossible to undertake a suicide mission to the red planet for sure, but it's definitely not going to be a suitable second home by any stretch of the imagination. 

Damned good stuff though, thoroughly enjoyed it. Oh, and if you do have any recommendations for recently published utopia-driven sci fi, I'd love to hear about them. I'm getting a bit fed up with all the doomsaying, just sayin'