Why I Donít Write Dystopian SF

I discovered science fiction around 1960 when I was eight, and loved almost all of it until this century. Most of it was about trouble in paradise, whether video or literature. I read Orwellís Animal Farm in high school, which was in the SF section of the library even though it wasnít science fiction or speculative fiction, more like a fantasy morality tale. It was a warning about the Fascism America seems to now be marching towards.
Because I liked that one, I found another one from Orwell, 1984. I stopped reading when the rats were biting the guy in the face, maybe halfway through that long, horrible story about the coming dystopian future that was supposed to happen forty years ago.
There were very few of the horrible dystopias in the twentieth century, which is why 1984 stuck out so much. The only other dystopia I remember from my youth was the nineteenth century tome The Time Machine.
Fahrenheit 451 was one I returned to the library after the first chapter. I donít remember why I disliked it, itís widely praised.
Then this century I started buying SF magazines again, around 2010, and discovered that almost all of the new stuff was dystopian. F&SF didnít have cover to cover dystopias like the rest of them, so I bought a subscription. By the time it was over I didnít renew, because it, too, had become almost total dystopia. Facebook ads advertising SF all proudly shill how dystopian they are.
I think I realize why all of the dystopia: This horrible century. Despite how technology has already surpassed most twentieth century speculation, there are other things making anyone born after 1984 think weíre heading towards a dystopian future: The terrorist attack on 9/11 that triggered a war that lasted twenty years; to anyone born in this century it was a lifelong war. Then two years after the Afghan war started, a second, incredibly stupid war in Iraq was started. Under the oil men Bush and Cheney, gasoline prices went from $1.05 to $4.50 at its height here in Springfield, followed by a banking crisis that very nearly put the world in a depression that could have made the Great Depression look like a mild recession in comparison. You canít get to work without gasoline yet, and the high cost of getting to work killed budgets and mortgages. Luckily, we then elected a man who historians call the tenth best president, and catastrophe was averted.
To a teenager or young adult then, the world just kept getting worse, especially to racists, since this president was Black.
Then came our fourth worst president in American history, again according to historians, a very lazy man who had never had to work in his life, a multimillionaire at the age of three. In his administrationís last year, his laziness and aversion to reality and truth cost hundreds of thousands of American lives to a pandemic. I saw him as the American Nero, fiddling while America burned with Covid fever and a breathing tube down its throat.
And the world is heating up, with people who have made fortunes selling the very thing causing the heating denying that itís even happening, caring not that the world will be a hellish place if we donít stop burning their poisons. I saw the same thing with the tobacco industries. These people simply donít care about anything but wealth and power!
To someone under about forty, the world has become worse and worse every year of their lives. Of course the future is dystopian, according to their own witness.
The thing is, there has seldom been a real dystopian future. The past has almost always been more dystopian than almost every epochís present. The one time in western history that really did have a dystopian future was the Roman empire, as when it fell, the dark ages overtook the western world for centuries, until the Renaissance. Of course, the Roman empire was dystopian, far worse than most dystopian science fiction. Beheadings, crucifixions, execution by animal attack, plaguesÖ
Some would say that America had a dystopian future during the ďroaring twentiesĒ before the depression, but according to Grandma McGrew, who was in her twenties in the twenties, it only roared for the rich, while working class people lived in what we would consider a dystopia. Multiply that by a hundred if you werenít White.
Even during my own lifetime, America and most of the worldís nations have become less and less dystopian, except this century. In the previous century we had horrible institutional racism, with laws that separated White people from everyone else. I can remember seeing the first Black person Iíd ever seen, when I was five or six. I was completely ignorant about race, having not been brought up as a racist, and only Whites and Hispanics (who look White to me) were on television. I said ďWow, look at the tan on that guy!Ē My mother turned bright red and the Black man chuckled. Most Whites were raised to be racist. Black people didnít gain full rights until 1964, and racism today (even institutional) is far less than it was then.
But it still exists. Most of my friends are racist and donít even realize it.
Once, when I was still working and smoking cigarettes, I huddled in the doorway to try to stay out of the rain, talking with a well-dressed, college educated professional Black woman, who was gesturing with her cigarette and grousing about how store employees would always follow her around to make sure she wasnít stealing anything.
I said I had the opposite problem: ďI can never find sales people when I need them.Ē Thatís institutional racism. When Iím pulled over, I worry I might get a ticket. When a Black person is pulled over, particularly if heís a young man, they have to worry that the cop might murder them.
Thatís institutional racism. Itís our present dystopia, but not nearly as dystopian as when I was a child. A century earlier was far more dystopian, Black people werenít even considered human, and were bought, sold, and worked like dogs or horses, and treated no better than dogs and horses.
Throughout all of human history until the middle of the nineteenth century, slavery was practiced world-wide. The ultimate dystopia, gone for a century and a half. I think racism a hundred years from now will be just an ugly relic of the past, like slavery is to us today.
Part of the dystopia of my youth was the filthy, unhealthy environment. Rivers and streams caught fire. There was no air conditioning in cars then, and driving past Monsanto you had to roll the windows up in ninety five degree heat or the air would burn your lungs! Congress started the EPA in the seventies.
Workplaces were hellish. Grandpa McGrew fell four stories down an elevator shaft because his employer, Purina, was too cheap to put doors on the elevators. Today we have OSHA.
If you look at history, there have always been ups and downs, with more ups than downs. Every new discovery, every new invention lessens our present dystopia and has throughout history, but people seldom read history. Some people never read anything.
I spoke of why youth believes in a dystopian future, but what about seniors? Thatís something I canít figure out. Maybe they have bad memories.
Of course, as mentioned, weíre already seeing the climate changes brought on by global warming, and that will obviously create a dystopia, wonít it?
Not necessarily. One of the stories in my Yesterdayís Tomorrows compilation is Kurt Vonnegut Jrís 2 B R 0 2 B. Like was widely feared at the time it was written, the world in Vonnegutís future is greatly overpopulated at forty million people, and by the year 2000 people are eating seaweed. But although it was as dark as anything he wrote, it wasnít dystopian. It starts:
Everything was perfectly swell.
There were no prisons, no slums, no insane asylums, no cripples, no poverty, no wars.
All diseases were conquered. So was old age.
Death, barring accidents, was an adventure for volunteers.
In my preface to that story, I remarked that few writers seemed to have noticed advances in farm equipment, other farming technologies, or advances in chemistry, biology, agronomy, and other sciences needed to improve yields. The reality of his future and our present is that today there is plenty of food for everyone, and the only reason people go hungry is the politics of greed.
I see the same happening with global warming. Evil money-worshiping men in high towers running oil wells and coal mines from a safe (to them) distance have tried to keep global warming under wraps, but itís no longer possible for them. Their industries will die, and like the turn of the twentieth century, new industries will spring up, this time bringing clean energy. Like with farming equipment, windmills and solar panels will improve, and new technologies will spring up, particularly as new advances in science occur. Climate change is happening. We caused it, we can and will fix it.
I donít write dystopian SF because I simply donít believe the future will be anywhere as dystopian as the present, and especially not as bad as the horrible past.
 


 


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