Why We Need Big, Bold Science Fiction

Glenn Reynolds’ article from Popular Mechanics is now available online. He opens:

The future isn’t what it used to be.And neither is science fiction. While books about space exploration and robots once inspired young people to become scientists and engineers—and inspired grownup engineers and scientists to do big things—in recent decades the field has become dominated by escapist fantasies and depressing dystopias. That could be contributing to something that I see as a problem. It seems that too many technically savvy people, engineers in particular, are going to work for Web startups or investment firms. There’s nothing wrong with such companies, but we also need engineers to design bold new things for use in the physical world: space colonies instead of social media.

Which is an excellent summary of why we decided to write In the Shadow of Ares, and to write it in the style that we did. I’m not persuaded that a proliferation of optimistic, “Human Wave” science fiction is enough to get us back on the right track as a civilization, but it’s certainly helpful to that end – one piece of the puzzle.

We know from past (and personal) experience that science fiction can embolden people (particularly young people) to seek out big challenges, and it can do so again in the future if the right kinds of science fiction are generated, read, and rewarded. But work is also needed on the assorted factors which needlessly prevent those big challenges from becoming big achievements: paralytic risk aversion, unproductive over-regulation, comfortable complacency, and open Luddism, among others. All of which, I hope and believe, will soon be facing their long-overdue reevaluation due to economic necessity.

As for Glenn’s suggested reading list — I’m embarrassed to say that I have only read one of the books he selected: John Steakley’s Armor. But oh, what a book it is. It’s one of my all-time favorite SF novels, and made a huge impression on me when I first read it at sixteen. It’s a very dark novel, so I’m exceedingly surprised to see it on a list of “optimistic science fiction books”. However, the tagline he quotes is indeed the moral thread of the story, and the redemption of several of the main characters at the end by living up to that quote does make it end on a positive note.

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