Here’s a post Sherwood Smith put up over at Book View Café a couple of years ago. Here’s the bit I want to quote:
“At a LosCon panel a few years ago, a surprising number of people said that they don’t read science fiction any more. They read mysteries—fantasy—historicals, whatever. Not SF. The thing that surprised me was that these were former fans. Granted, people can get tired of mainlining any genre. But to say “I don’t read it anymore”—that surprised me.”
That surprises me, too, and I say that as a person who reads a lot less SF and a lot more fantasy than I used to. But it doesn’t surprise me all that much. Because of this:
“as if the future is bleak any way you approach it”
To me, this does not seem to apply to the way readers feel approaching SF. It applies (at least mainly) to the way authors themselves feel as they approach storytelling. I am talking about the science fiction authors who think the future is grim, who are telling stories about ecological disaster and political disaster and whatever kind of unavoidable disaster and then about the grim, horrible societies that form after the disaster.
For me, this kind of future seems blatantly preachy. Open your eyes! these authors seem to be saying. Let me show you how bleak the future will be! And there’s nothing you can do about it!
And that’s crap. Especially the ecological disaster scenarios. I have explained before why such scenarios are such utter crap, so I won’t go into that here. Besides, though Gaia isn’t going to notice anything we do, it’s possible, I suppose, that the future will look at least moderately ecologically grim on the human level, for example if a supervolcano under Yellowstone really does erupt in the near future. I would certainly personally prefer, however, that if you are going to feature ecological catastrophe in your SF novel, that you avoid modern fads like global warming and do something both more interesting and more plausible.
But the future does not have to be bleak just because people today are in a bad mood. Many things are happening today that are infuriating and outrageous and disappointing. But if you look back over the span of human history, you might notice one or two periods that were almost as stressful as modern life, such as, I don’t know, basically every minute before the development of the germ theory of disease. Also, there might have from time to time been eras where people basically felt disheartened about the future, and you might check and see whether the whole world dissolved into a grim dystopia after each of those eras, too, before giving up hope for the actual future that lies before us now. Especially if you are reading this and therefore probably live in America or Europe or someplace that is not actually mired in a dystopia right this second.
Worse, that kind of story is not fun to read. It says way more about the author than the actual future (obviously). If that’s the kind of story you want to tell, fine, but no wonder readers turn away from near-future SF and toward space opera. Or away from SF altogether and toward fantasy. Smith says, “[Kids I’ve asked] preferred fantasy because you didn’t get science teacher lectures about how the world is ending and there’s no way to fix it, they got action from heroes with agency…”
Exactly. Those aren’t lectures about science. Those are preachy world-is-ending-doom-is-nigh-it’s-all-our-fault-humans-are-bad screeds. Who wants that? There is no reason near-future SF has to focus on the helplessness of modern people against a bleak future. That is a literary taste. But to the extent to which that taste has taken over science fiction, of course it drives kids (and everyone else) straight for the dragons. How could it not?
The comments on the linked post are interesting, so you may want to read through those.