For the past several years now, the folks here at Amazing Stories have been talking about, planning for and pushing the concept of “positive” science fiction.
It’s been a hard thing to define succinctly, but we’ve been trying.
What we’ve been trying to convey is the general concept that science fiction ought to make us feel that our collective futures are a place we actually want to get to, a world we’d like to inhabit, as opposed to someplace we’re supposed to fear or avoid.
Bradbury stated*, by way of trying to define the genre, that “The function of science fiction is not only to predict the future, but to prevent it”. Ray was referencing works such as Orwell’s 1984 or Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up, suggesting that by depicting such futures in all of their horrendous detail, readers and their societies would be moved to take steps that prevented them from taking place.
When pressed about this quote in later years, Bradbury would elaborate a bit more, and, I think, accurately predicted our own intentions regarding positive science fiction:
People ask me to predict the Future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy, anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better.“
Better writing? That can’t hurt, but No. Better futures.
It’s often stated that “we’re living in a science fiction world”, and while this is true, it doesn’t really convey how very deeply science fiction from the golden age through the 50s and 60s, even the 70s, has influenced the course of humanity. Nerdy kids reading SF in the 40s would go on to become the backbone of space programs around the world; civil rights, sexual freedom, female empowerment, global commerce, automation, deep scientific research, the media explosion, virtually everything that impacts our lives today, in ways both big and small, were either first voiced or received enthusiastic exploration within the pages of science fiction stories in ways that made them seem like real possibilities.
This desire to inspire positive futures through Amazing Stories’ fiction is not an original idea. Like virtually everything else in the field, we stand upon the shoulders of giants, a position that lets us glimpse an even farther horizon. We do hope that our championing this concept can lead to a sustainable one.
It’s therefore very heartening to read the forward and afterward to a recently released anthology – Compostela (Tesseracts Twenty) – edited by James Alan Gardner and Spider Robinson*, and brought to our attention by a contributing author, Eric Choi:
“So come on, science fiction! Despair may be the trend du jour among the mundane masses, but we’re supposed to see farther. The stars are waiting for patiently for us to get over ourselves and come visit.”
– From the Foreword by James Alan Gardner
“We may be feeling a bit gloomy just now, but we have every excuse to hope if we want to. Depends on what we choose to sing as we walk our separate Compostelas together.”
– From the Afterword by Spider Robinson
which volume also coincidentally features a story by one of Amazing Stories advocates for positivity, Steve Fahnestalk.
*ETC: Robert Sawyer to the proper editor, Spider Robinson. Sorry Spider. I guess I’m still mixing up my Canadians, there’s just so many of you!