Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Science Fiction Pessimism and Tomorrowland

A while back I was doing some internet searches when I happened upon a blog called Re-Imagineering, which is mostly a series of short essays about the problems with Disney as it exists today and what could be done to solve some of them. One of the discussions (about Epcot) was talking about exhibits people would like to see, and what sorts of things they might try to freshen it up, make it less corporate in feel. It was also talking about Tomorrowland and its original optimism about our future.

But that discussion shifted to some comments about the science fiction, especially in film, of today. It seems that most of today's SF is dystopian, and that most of the film projects outside of stuff like STAR TREK and STAR WARS (not really SF in any classic sense) are very dark visions of the future. They named Blade Runner, Minority Report, AI, and The Matrix. (I'd say that Vanilla Sky, Dark City, and I, Robot are also fairly dystopian, along with stuff like Final Fantasy, Waterworld, all of the Terminators, The Postman, Battlefield Earth, and maybe even The Day After Tomorrow (though the last is not far in the future at all).)

As I think about the SF I've read recently, first, there isn't a whole lot of it. ALTERED CARBON was a good book but pretty dark, as was the later book in the series I read, titled THIRTEEN. Dan Simmons' HYPERION series and his latest pair, ILIUM and OLYMPOS, are not exactly happy fantasies of the future. MANIFOLD: TIME and MANIFOLD: SPACE by Stephen Baxter are a little brighter; suggesting that human ingenuity will win out over politics. Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy about the near future and environmental catastrophe (which starts with 40 SIGNS OF RAIN) takes the readers to a optimistic outlook at the end, but with a rough path to get there.

As I think about it, my question is, is there a story in a utopian future? Is it a story I want to read about? Novels are about resolving problems. In some ways it seems to me that any story is essentially a mystery. If there is a mystery, there is a problem to be discovered and sorted through. If there are no problems to resolve, if everything is hunky dory, it might make for a nice pretty painting but is there any story? I don't know. I was thinking about something like Asimov's Empire series, and while there is a lot of optimism there with the direction of humanity, when the story takes place, things are not so good. Heinlein's juveniles are more adventure story set in a fairly positively imagined future, but some of his adult works are a lot darker.

I see where they're coming from with respect to Tomorrowland, they don't want pessimism at Disney World, nor does it have a place. But I don't see a story in a future where everyone is happy as clams. Those Morlocks in HG Wells' novel weren't all that happy, and the surface beings couldn't have been thrilled with the status quo either. But THE TIME MACHINE wouldn't make for a very good Disney ride.

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