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In The Face Of A Dark Future, There Is Hope

Hugo awarding-winning author Charlie Jane Anders talks about the need for optimism in science fiction with radio host Angie Corio.
In The Face Of A Dark Future, There Is Hope
Radio host Angie Corio in conversation with science fiction author Charlie Jane Anders at Kelper's Books in Menlo Park Image from: Spocko

I really enjoyed the recent GOP debate. It had the highest LPMs (Laughs Per Minute) of any Presidential debate in history ---although I have read Lincoln got in a few zingers about Douglas in their senate debate. But after the laughs, it must be depressing to see your fellow humans campaigning to get rid of environmental protections and your EPA.  If my human emotions ruled me, I would be very depressed about the future of America right now.  Fortunately my rational, logical, activist side is in control, so I'm fine.

When I see tiny humans being poisoned, with no urgent steps taken to solve the problem, I wonder, "What is wrong with you humans?" Even the Borg protect their babies!

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When you poison your own people, deny the science that shows the problem and then don't race to fix it--the Galactic community wonders if classifying humans as sentient was the right move.

Fortunately, there are humans who are working to solve your problems and help others. These people have a more optimistic view of future so I look for them to read, watch and listen to when dark headlines fill my tricorder.

Last week I went to Kelper's Books in Menlo Park, California to listen to my friend Angie Corio interview the Hugo awarding-winning author Charlie Jane Anders.

You can listen to the interview broadcast on Tuesday night March 8th at 9:00 pm PST on KALW. or to the complete podcast on Corio's InDeepRadio website later.

Charlie Jane talked about her new book "All The Birds In The Sky,"  She also talked about writing, science fiction on TV and in movies and her job as editor-in-chief at the science, science fiction and fantasy site io9.com. I was especially interested in her work a few years ago on Project Hieroglyph and the anthology that came out of it.

Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future
"This anthology unites twenty of today’s leading thinkers, writers, and visionaries—among them Cory Doctorow, Gregory Benford, Elizabeth Bear, Bruce Sterling, and Neal Stephenson—to contribute works of “techno-optimism” that challenge us to dream and do Big Stuff."

I've read lots of apocalyptic science fiction so I asked her, "I'm glad you are optimistic about the future. Why is so much scifi distopic and dark? What role does science fiction play in setting a tone for the future?"


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Audio link of her answers here, but she made three main points.

  1. There are fads in science fiction, this is one. Hunger Games made a lot of money so they make more.
  2. If you are trying to think realistically about our near to medium future, there are reasons to be pessimistic. If you deny that you are writing fantasy, not science fiction.
  3. We will figure this out. Being optimistic doesn't mean burying your head in the sand, or assuming we'll invent new  technology to easily solve the problems. She talked about creating her short story, The Day it All Ended, where things got really bad because of climate change. For that story she talked to scientists about solutions and what we can do to mitigate the damage, such as how to sequester carbon from the air in a way that is safe and makes sense.

In my view the importance of showing a positive view of the future cannot be understated. In the Star Trek universe we saw how technology could destroy, but also create. We saw the benefits of diversity where humans of multiple races and genders worked on the bridge with aliens. All were working together with a common goal of discovery and exploration.

It was important then and is now to see a future in which we don't destroy our planet and our species. A narrative of figuring things out has been an American one for centuries and has become part of our culture. There is power in these SF stories. Marketeers and messaging gurus from the fossil fuel industry push the notion that the problem doesn't exist, or--if it does exist--there is nothing we can do about it. These people reject science and humans' ability to act.  They throw up an attitude of failure at the same time they attack successes in other forms of energy that would damage their revenue stream.

Dark Money's role in Creating a Dark Future

I've recently listened to two interviews with Jane Mayer on her book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. During the interviews she explicitly pointed to programs from the Koch Machine to change the public opinion. In the superior interview she gave on The Majority Report with Sam Seder she talked to an audience who knew of the Koch brothers and understood the damage they have done that goes beyond elections. Their influence extends into academia, media, state and local politics. This influence will continue no matter who is elected President this fall.

In the KQED Forum, Michael Krasny interview more time is given to the idea that because the Kochs aren't winning Presidential elections they aren't effective. He brings up the idea that, based on polling data, the public is buying their message. Fortunately Mayer strongly pushes back on that idea and reminds listeners the Kochs are painfully effective.

Krasny ends with the classic, "What is to be done?" question. Mayer doesn't point to a specific answer, since her role as a journalist is to show people what is happening. It is up to us to act.

In my case, I act by helping groups that are successful fighting the Kochs, like the Center for Media and Democracy. They not only expose them but actively combat their schemes to change laws and influence politicians.

We can survive and thrive in the future, not only by inventing and using new technology, but by finding and supporting the people who fight for--and write about--a brighter future.

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