I’ve been hearing a lot of calls lately for optimistic, upbeat science fiction. There are at least two anthologies coming soon that want it, and apparently there was a minor fracas in the blogosphere recently over one author’s calls for an “ethical” stand against negativity. (Is negativity unethical? But I digress.)
I have to admit that I haven’t felt much of an urge to heed these calls for a number of reasons, but probably the biggest among them is that I just don’t get it. I don’t feel like I’m drowning under a swiftly-rising tide of vitriol and nihilism; really, I’m feeling more hopeful about the SF/F/H fiction genre lately than I have in a long time. In fact I had to think hard to remember the last “downbeat” novel I read (Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man), and I’m not sure I could really consider it downbeat, because however ugly it got in the middle (and boy did it; PTSD-inducing tragedies happened to everybody in that book) I knew that by the end, good things would happen. (And they did, quite satisfyingly.) Not necessarily happily-ever-after, note; fantasy novels have no problem killing off major characters or invoking a bit o’ the old Armageddon. That said, there is a certain tendency in fantasy novels to “put the world to rights”* once the MacGuffin of Power is back on the Pedestal of Safety, and the Stoic Heroine has successfully landed a Stoic Hero in bed, if not at the altar. This happens even in dark fantasy, though with a bit of role reversal or moral relativism thrown in — the Dark Lord turns out to be a good guy with bad PR (e.g., Jacqueline Carey’s Sundering duology), or gets redeemed in the end (e.g., C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy), et cetera. It happens so consistently that I literally can’t remember ever seeing a true “rocks fall, everybody dies” ending in fantasy.
Which got me thinking: maybe 50% of what I read these days is fantasy. Could that be why I feel no desperate craving for optimism?
Maybe all these optimism-craving sciencefictionistas should just up their fantasy intake a bit, and then they’d feel better.
* There’s probably a lit-critty term for this, but hey — I majored in Psych, not English.