Author and science fiction scholar James Gunn has a new book out, Transcendental. And he gave a fantastic interview to SFSignal, in which he talks about the history of the genre. Including the never-ending battle between optimism and pessimism in science fiction.
Science fiction always has had strains of pessimism and optimism weaving through its historical development, sometimes one dominating and then the other, usually depending on the state of the world. Optimism was powerful after the emergency of the Scientific Enlightenment of the 19th century, but then what Damon Knight called Wells’s “pessimistic irony” responded to the difficult 1890s to be followed by the “propaganda novels” of the early twentieth century, with their hopes for some revolutionary transformation of humanity and the human condition. Two world wars made optimism a difficult position to maintain, but the Allies’ victory in World War II, the dominant role of weapons created in the laboratory and U.S. power in the world raised spirits again, accentuated for a while by the space program and the moon landing, only to be depressed again by the Vietnam War.
Currently the popularity of fantasy surpassing science fiction and the popularity of apocalyptic fiction, particularly for young adults, may indicate a desire to escape a more difficult and confusing reality, even in astrophysics and particle physics. I’ve always believed in the power of rational thinking and behavior as the savior of the world, and science fiction as a powerful medium to encourage that, which explains my signature line, “let’s save the world through science fiction.”
The whole interview is well worth reading. [SF Signal]