heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
I'm clearly not the only person writing about pessimism in SF. Here's an excellent article on this topic by SF author Jo Walton. Also, in the comments to this thread, there's a link to an excellent essay on pessimism in SF by Jetse De Vries, the editor of the anthology Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF, that I mentioned in my previous post.

The points made in both articles are excellent, and all I can add is while SF was clearly darker in the 80s & 90s than it was in the 50s & 60s, the biggest change I've seen has been post September 11. I sincerely hope that all media in the US, and for that matter, the populace of the US gets over those events very soon.
heron61: (Gaming)
As I mentioned in my post yesterday, one of the primary criticisms of Blue Rose I have heard was that the setting was "too optimistic". I find this very odd for several reasons. The nation of Aldis (the heroic kingdom in the setting) is essentially a fantasy version of one of the more prosperous & egalitarian nations of Western Europe, and that's clearly ludicrously optimistic for many gamers. I can see two primary reasons for this idea.

One of them is specific to gaming, and as [livejournal.com profile] roseembolism mentions in a comment to my previous post, "gamers prefer crapsack worlds out of equal parts cynicism and a desire to have a world where their character's violent sociopathy can't be said to have negative consequences". The 2nd of these points is specific to gaming, and seems due to the fact that many (and perhaps most) gamers enjoy games where their characters act like brutal thugs and where causal murder is a common occurrence. There's certainly a place for such games, and there's honestly not much else you can do with any version of D&D, but I would like to think that many gamers, like myself, also enjoy other sorts of games, where the characters are either reasonably moral, or at least not quite so bloodthirsty. Of course, my own gaming style usually results in combat occurring no more than every four or five sessions, and usually less frequently. For example, in the last scenario I ran in the Star Trek game Becca and I have been alternating GMing, there were four sessions and the only violence in the entire scenario was a brief drunken brawl arranged as a diversion to allow two characters to escape pursuit.

I also think that part of the impetus for grim settings is for characters to be able to demonstrate their heroism by overthrowing evil, which implies that evil is in control and needs deposing. While that can be fun, I completely fail to see why it's any more fun or even any easier to run than a campaign where the PCs are defending something from evil people and vile plots – this is after all the plot of most action shows set in the modern day. And yet, there seems to be far more interest in overthrowing the evil rulers of a city or kingdom than in protecting a good city or kingdom from evil invaders, terrorists, or whatever, and I don't at all understand why this is – both seem to provide the same opportunities for enjoyable play. I generally prefer the 2nd sort of plots (preserving good, rather than overthrowing evil), but both can be fun. However, overthrowing evil is far more common in RPGs.

Of course, there's also an entire side of this that has nothing to do with gaming. Modern SF&F fiction, & especially SF is fairly grim, which is very odd. We live in troubled times, but the world is also clearly becoming a better place, with all forms of violence being well down from 30 or 40 years ago, the overall level of economic inequality in the world is declining, and the rate of growth of the world's population continues to decline faster than expected. We clearly live in a world filled with problems, but also of hope and wonder. More importantly, the world is not one that is in any way obviously doomed.

However, English language SF (which is all that I read) is filled with grim futures, and there's no shortage of grim fantasy (although it's far less ubiquitous). This grimness is especially common in US SF&F. These days, SF seems more grim, nihilistic, and hopeless than most other fiction, and I don't know why that is. In the early 1950s to late 1960s, SF was definitely the most optimistic form of fiction available, and that seems to be true of SF in China today. However, especially in the US, it's now become one of the gloomiest genres, which is I suspect one of the reasons that readership in SF is somewhat down. I suspect some of that change is due to an aging of the audience and the authors. I don't understand why people in their 40s and older are often so much gloomier than younger people – I'm definitely not. However, that trend is fairly clear. Regardless of the reason, it's far from easy to find SF that is even mildly optimistic and hopeful.

Edit: As I mentioned in a comment, all this is particularly notable, because SF was far less ubiquitously grim in the 90s, and 90s fantasy was also less grim overall

Consider a book that I've preordered: Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF, edited by Jetse de Vries. Optimistic SF has become a sufficiently niche market that it's getting a specialized anthology, and while I'll likely love to book, the fact that it exists is a sad statement indeed.

September 2017

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