You should either be a pessimist or an optimist if you’re going to write sci-fi.

You ought to enjoy contemplating, on the one hand, something horrific happening to the earth that leaves the pathetic remnants of humanity wandering wretchedly across a blasted and uninhabitable landscape fighting off mutants that have somehow gotten hold of motorcycles, or, on the other hand, a future filled with technological wonders that allow us to transcend the bounds of earth and throw off the shackles of our own ignorance, pettiness and self-pity.  It’s one or the other.  I don’t think anyone’s ever tried to write a sci-fi novel where the future is pretty much like the present: basically, you know, okay.

Although it might be worth considering.  Imagine, if you will, the earth ten thousand years from now.  We meet Bucky, Spiff and Angie all working in a pizza joint trying to pay off their student loans while they hope someone hires them in the fields they actually trained for in college: art history, comparative religion and medieval lit respectively.  Bucky owns a scooter and still lives at home with his parents.  Spiff and Angie share two rooms in the basement of a house that used to be a hair salon in better days.

I don’t know.  It seems like there ought to be ray guns or teleportation or maybe a gang of motorcycle riding mutants somewhere in there.

Me, I tend to be an ‘optimism with a twist’ kind a guy.  Or maybe an ‘optimism with a twist and an olive’.  I mean, what if all our dreams came true?  What if we all got our heart’s desire?  What would we do then?  What would we complain about?  If there was nothing to complain about would we be happy?  How would we establish status if we couldn’t prove, at least rhetorically, that we’d had it a lot tougher than everybody else?

That’s where my optimism comes in.  I know in my heart that, no matter how good things get, we human beings will always find some way to be dissatisfied, some way to think that we’re getting the short end of the stick, some way to think that it’s that other group of human beings that’s screwing it up for everybody.  It’s just something that we do well and I can’t imagine us giving it up.  It’s what makes us interesting.  It means that we’ll never run out of stories.

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6 Responses to You should either be a pessimist or an optimist if you’re going to write sci-fi.

  1. Jose Gonzales says:

    This is an idea I dig! The mundane aspects of living brought to the future. Sure, maybe some new innovations- implanted computers, automated living- but basically thee same old shit…dig it!

    • john says:

      The more I think about it the more I think that it could be a rich new genre: mundane sci-fi! Laundry! Rent! Bills! Acne of the future!!!

  2. Interesting thoughts, John. I like to think I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a realist. (Maybe others would have a different opinion of me!) But you’re right, no matter how good we have it, we’ll always find something to complain about. Seems to me that’s part of our universal searching for God, who is perfect. Because we have an innate yearning for him and his perfection, anything short of that leaves us disillusioned. But do you really think there will be pizza 10,000 years from now? Hmmm… I’d better grab a slice to help me think about that…

    • john says:

      Ah, philosophers have been struggling with the immutability of pizza for generations. I doubt we’ll unravel that enigma in the confines of a blog. As to our dissatisfaction: I wish I could agree with you that our habitual crabbiness is inspired by a quest for the divine, but this leads me to a human linguistic foible that has fascinated me for a long, long time — the idea that, although God is unquestionably perfect, God’s creation is not. And we’re the reason it’s not. That in a cosmos that we can now see stretches over 13 billion light years in every direction the only thing screwing everything up is us. Us! The smallest part, the most recent addition to the diaphanous pond scum that covers a speck of nickle-iron so vanishingly small that even now we aren’t able to find one like it around the stars nearest to us. Could it be that the universe was just fine for over 13 billion years and then everything went to hell in a handcart because Lucy started using stone tools in the Olduvai gorge? It just seems odd to me. Pass me the pizza . . .

  3. I completely agree – mutants on motorcycles – that’s truly twisted optimism at it’s finest. I tend to lean toward a cynically optimistic point of view. The human condition is essentially tragic, yet optimistic, in the sense that there is always hope that we can out survive our cynicism and destructive tendencies….or some of us anyway. Perhaps Time can provide some answers and solutions. It’s best, however, to always be packing a ray gun, just in case you need to stop a passing mutant for a ride.

    • john says:

      Hey, Christopher —

      Thanks for posting this here as well as on the Linked In sci-fi group. It was great chatting with you the other day and trading one-liners about the bleakness of the future and the oddness of the now.

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