Blog

May 24, 2013

Why does Science Fiction gravitate towards Dystopia and not the Utopia that Transhumanism promises?

Posted by in categories: ethics, futurism, lifeboat, media & arts, philosophy, singularity

Memories_with_maya_dystopia_Dirrogate_small front_cover_Mwm

Of the two images above, as a typical Science Fiction reader, which would you gravitate towards? In designing the cover for my book I ran about 80 iterations of 14 unique designs through a group of beta readers, and the majority chose the one with the Green tint. (design credit: Dmggzz)

No one could come up with a satisfying reason on why they preferred it over the other, except that it “looked more sci-fi” I settled for the design on the right, though it was a very hard decision to make. I was throwing away one of the biggest draws to a book — An inviting Dystopian book cover.

As an Author (and not a scientist) myself, I’ve noticed that scifi readers seem to want dystopian fiction –exclusively. A quick glance at reader preferences in scifi on sites such as GoodReads shows this. Yet, from noticing Vampire themed fiction rule the best seller lists, and from box office blockbusters, we can assume, the common man and woman is also intrigued by Longevity and Immortality.

Why is it so hard for sci-fi fans to look to the “brighter side” of science. Look at the latest Star Trek for instance…Dystopia. Not the feel good, curiosity nurturing theme of Roddenberry. This is noted in a post by Gray Scott on the website ImmortalLife.

I guess my question is: Are there any readers or Futurology enthusiasts that crave a Utopian future in their fiction and real life, or are we descending a spiral staircase (no pun) into eventual Dystopia. In ‘The Dirrogate — Memories with Maya’, I’ve tried to (subtly) infuse the philosophy of transhumanism — technology for the betterment of humans.

At Lifeboat, the goal is ‘encouraging scientific advancements while helping humanity survive existential risks and possible misuse of increasingly powerful technologies.’ We need to reach out to the influencers of lay people, the authors, the film-makers… those that have the power to evangelize the ethos of Transhumanism and the Singularity, to paint the truth: Science and Technology advancement is for the betterment of the human race.

It would be naive to think that technology would not be abused and a Dystopia world is indeed a scary and very real threat, but my belief is: We should guide (influence?) people to harness this “fire” to nurture and defend humanity, via our literature and movies, and cut back on seeding or fueling ideas that might lead to the destruction of our species.

Your thoughts?

34

Comments — comments are now closed.

  • Clyde DeSouza on May 24, 2013 4:34 am

    Comments welcome here, and also follow the comments on the Facebook Groups: LIFEBOAT FOUNDATION: https://www.facebook.com/groups/lifeboatfoundation/10151712705818455/

    and on the facebook H+ MAGAZINE group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/35830349229/10151542427359230/

  • Flashgordon on May 24, 2013 3:17 pm

    That’s curious, When I try to point out Dystopia scenarios, I get silence!

  • Edward Ratovitski on May 24, 2013 3:42 pm

    Dear Clyde,

    First, I believe that the audience, public, people could be and should be influenced and were during the history by the great minds, who led humankind to progress, transhumanism, to be better civilization for at least for the sake of itself. Because, human civilization has unique virtues and vices, whichever will overcome or already overcame would ultimately lead to survival and progress, unity and peace, or final demise and self-destruction and destruction of all biological life, as well (e.g. global mane-made climate change). And this not some science-fiction doomed scenario but a reality we are living right now. So, if look on the books, movies, play games, etc. it is easy to see that miliions if not billions of individuals are greatly influenced by these doomed products promoting the notion that tomorrow will be much much worse. Instead to give people a positive outlook and embolden men and women to build and achieve together a better future for the whole humankind. I also think that for many generations, people were trained to excel their individualistic qualities, not necessarily good ones. While in fact, the survival of humankind depends upon total and full cooperation between individuals, communities, nations, etc. I think it is important to teach people a great value of social altruism as a driving force for societal survival and advancement as a group, nation or even human civilization. The alleged popularity of the dystopia outlook is certainly coming from the real life,as we know it today. Crisis, economic depression, wars are real and consume all the humankind, however, perhaps our great goal to keep hope for the positive future instead to feed depressive thoughts of people.

  • Khannea SunTzu on May 24, 2013 3:48 pm

    The humanity that reads science fiction, consumes movies, dreams of a better life in a near future, is also a generation of people that found itself richer than their parents. The people living in Bourgeois affluence and postwar success finds itself in a new break in historical trends.

    People who survive a plane crash find themselves paradoxically wracked in “survivors guilt”. People who survived concentration camps and large catastrophes succumb to depression and suicide quite often. Humans are at heart very gregarious, social creatures. I believe westerners by and large realize that they have inherited a level of affluence never before seen on this planet (and — not seen in many other places on the planet).

    We as a species have been bred for cycles of growth, shrinkage, civil war, famine, tyranny and catastrophe. There were good times and there were bad times. Seven good years, seven bad years.

    This truism is parsed very precisely by Peter Diamandis when he rightly perceives “humans are pattern recognizers of imminent trouble”. Some humans more than others, some cultures more than others. Russians tend to be culturally more pessimist and expect nothing but bad news — even if they migrate to culturally optimist environments. Maybe it’s a predisposition born from a persistently deadly climate?

    All my life I have immersed myself in storytelling. The stories I have always told were exercises in persuasion. I consistently tried telling a story that was credible. I consistently taught myself to chase the banner if credibility, and that meant that I constantly had to exceed my narratives in terms of credible negatives.

    This has proven deeply and spiritually exhausting for me. I find myself as a storyteller spiritually exhausted, depleted with negative expectations. I see the same in all of western cultures, and the cherry on this negativity cake for sure has been the tradition of disaster movies. This month we see the genre of “In You Face EveryThing Goes Completely To Shit” in movies such as “2012”, “ID4”, “Armageddon”, “Deep Impact”. Zombie end times as a genre have come and gone with “World War Z” later this year.

    This is a guilt complex pervasive in the western world of the collective guilt of western civilization. We as a society have reasons to fear enemies — we have blood on our hands. We have so much riches because people that lived before us toiled for a better future none of these people were to personally experience.

    And what does success and attainment mean — more emotionally barren whores? A house even emptier and more desolate? A diet even more physically destructive? A lifestyle even more haunted and directionless and psychologically toxic? We found that an increase in OUR affluence has not always translate to satisfaction.

    As a culture we simply don’t find ourselves equipped with the emotional maturity to appreciate what we have. Our current western cultures are pervasively lacking in wisdom, aside from the deep seated “inheritor’s guilt”.

  • Marcus Barber on May 24, 2013 3:55 pm

    Producers believe only dystopian films will attract a sci fi audience, basically reflecting their own views of their own industry. 2001 was far from dystopic and I agree that by and large, most of what we get access to tends to by of that ilk.
    Azimov’s work was rarely dystopic though often laden with warning.

    And as Flash has indicated, in workshops if I push ‘your future is dystopic’ then it’s not long before the workshop is over.

    Which brings me back to the idea of agency. Most people will flag that their future is likely to be a bit better but that the world around them might not be as good. We WANT to believe is a better future, but not a Utopic one, because we are still grounded in reality.

    And let’s consider the common thread of many sci-fi novels that ties us to a dystopic outline:
    The main character has a flaw which we discover as the story unfolds
    They are overall not a bad person but their decision making has been questionable
    They have some key high calibre characteristics but in their world, lack the ‘opportunities’ or legitimacy to display them.
    Enter the alien/collapsingworld/technology
    Our main character faces the trials head on — this is their chance to shine
    HUMANITY proves it’s worth — we’re not all bad/dumb/afraid
    Story ends

    So in a large part, much sci-fi is denialist of our own agency to act.

    A utopic scenario might need to focus on the dangers of failing to achieve what we can, of dealing with boredom, or nothing happening, of our own actions and yet together, a lifting of our state of being.

    Utopic would require the main character to be US not the individual

    In scenario workshops I swing people through their actions and action of others and the ebb and flow of move toward and move away from. The use of a dystopic scenario can be really good to get people to develop move away from actions.

    But in books, the dystopic sci-fi allows people to deny their own agency as offered in the storyline. They know it’s not real, therefore any sense of a personal responsibility for their own action is also, not real.

    Just the way most people like it

  • Tracy R. Atkins on May 24, 2013 4:14 pm

    I think one of the main reasons utopian science fiction is not as popular is twofold. First, because most people currently have a taste for drama the market is hot for it. Second, it’s easy to supply that drama with dystopia, meaning more people from writers to publishers are inclined to take path of least resistance in pursuit of commercial acceptance.

    In utopian fiction, drama is often hard to write, with little in the way of “gritty” conflict. The stories are often exploration, discovery, and enlightenment through the sharing of ideas. In dystopian writing, you have multiple avenues for conflict and the drama that goes along with it. It is much easier to write a story around surviving a nuclear wasteland full of thugs than it is to write about the expansion of human consciousness, the end of suffering, and post scarcity. So, you can churn out more stories, with higher degree of conflict, that should have higher mass appeal.

    I am right there with you, as a writer of utopian singularity science fiction. Getting the right audience can be tough, as the niche for higher-minded readers is a bit smaller than for general action/adventure/horror science fiction. However, once you reach those people with your work, it is rewarding. Perhaps in the future, the audience will grow, and with it the popularity. Dystopia, I would like to think, is something of a phase for entertainment right now as well. Perhaps in the future, the tide will shift back to a hunger for utopian works and that will drive authors to risk taking the “difficult path” and create more utopian work.

    –Tracy R. Atkins
    Author: Aeternum Ray

  • Sharad Bailur on May 24, 2013 6:46 pm

    I wrote a novel titled ‘The Telomere Problem’ in 2007 that has not been published as yet. It is dystopic in the sense that the main character in it dies in a car accident at the end of the novel and the final experiment in infinite exteension of life remains incomplete. I would be glad if xomeone could evaluate it and tell me where it stands. Would be glad to send it across to you.

  • Franco Cortese on May 24, 2013 6:50 pm

    Nice to see that you’ve been added to the blog Clyde :-)

    An answer, and a few minor caveats to raise dealing more with choice of wording than with anything else I think:

    Answer:

    It’s as simple as this: conflict makes a story. Thus we see stories in all varieties on media where something problematic occurs and characters have to deal with it.

    Caveats:

    That being said, while Dystopic fiction is far more predominant than Utopic fiction, I don’t think they *exclusively* want Dystopic scenarios, they just want them to a larger degree than they want Utopic visions. But perhaps I’m just holding you accountable for too much semantic precision.

    My last caveat is that I don’t think Transhumanism *promises* a techno-utopia. This distinction is more important than it seems. Transhumanists desire it and advocate for it, and try to strategize ways in which we can push the odds in favor of a Utopic outcome, but the non-inevitability of a Utopic outcome is what most Transhumanists try to promulgate (or at least duly-acknowledge) as they should. Indeed, the ambiguity and uncertainty of the ultimate outcome is both far truer and far more important a message than any promise of a guaranteed good ultimate outcome could be. The future is in our hands and Man gained slippery fingers along with his opposable thumbs. The *potential* promise is what Transhumanists stand behind and *should* stand behind, and the peril isn’t something that should be ignored — indeed, it really needs the *most* attention, since *it* is what needs preventing, not the beneficial potentialities. We address the potential perils and pitfalls in an effort to better secure the potential promises and Utopic-outcomes. Again, I’m a nit-picker when it comes to semantic precision, but I also think it’s important that unflinching certainty and over-optimism isn’t associated with Transhumanism, since that’s more of a misleading misinterpretation of much Transhumanist rhetoric than it is a real indicator of popular attitudes in Transhumanist communities. The smart Transhumanists promise nothing, and emphasize the dire ambiguity and non-inevitabiliyty of our hoped-for and worked-toward Better Future rather than it’s inevitability, for it’s what really needs attention. The beneficial outcomes aren’t to be ignored either, they’re good for drawing people in, making them interested and anticipatorily-invested, but Transhumanists also must be sobered by the very real dangers possible as well, so as to help prevent and mitigate them.

    But again, perhaps I just ask for too much semantic precision.

  • David Brin on May 24, 2013 6:51 pm

    This matter has been getting a lot of attention, lately. For example, Neal Stephenson’s Hieroglyph Project aims at encouraging a re-engagement of science fiction with positive thinking… though not always positive or happy endings. The distinction is that dark stories that actually engage the reader or viewer with a unique or interesting failure mode are helpful, if they become “self-preventing prophecies,” that gird us to prevent the scenario portrayed.

    Greg Bear, Vernor Vinge and I are also part of this movement, and there was positive news last weekend when Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel “2312” won the Nebula Award over a field of opponents almost all of whom were either deudal-mystic fantasies or despair-wallowing dystopias. Only… note the average age of the optimists versus that of the award-campaigning dystopia wallowers. Alack.

    Elsewhere I go into what I believe is the fundamental reason that so many authors and producers and directors go straight for the most dismal, civilization-hating and dystopia spreading messages they can find, almost always portraying society and its institutions as useless and our fellow citizens as hopelessly foolish sheep.

    “The Idiot Plot” shows why even the NOTION of civilization is treated with contempt by almost all novels and films. You have to keep your heroes in jeopardy! But that need as evolved into a wretched cheat… the blanket assumption that you can only create close-hero jeopardy by assuming the worst… so that the heroic plot won’t be inconvenienced by the availability of the worst danger to any action plot. Help from a society that works. See: http://tinyurl.com/idiotplot

    It is thus LAZINESS that underlies most of today’s dystopia fixation. Not any political agenda, nor even snarling-stylish cynicism. But storytelling sloth. Set up a situation in which all is rotten, drop in some plucky resisters… and voila! The plot unrolls on its own.

    Contemptible. That laziness should be the prime driver behind a trend that is spreading poison through our nations and citizenry, telling them that it’s all useless. Don’t bother trying. You cannot succeed at this shared project. We’re all (except for the romantic few) dooooooomed.

    With cordial regards,

    David Brin
    http://www.davidbrin.com
    blog: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/
    twitter: http://twitter.com/DavidBrin1

  • Joe Haldeman on May 24, 2013 7:34 pm

    Fiction is about trouble. A person or group is in trouble and either improves the situation (comic pattern) or fails (tragic pattern) or goes off on some tangent (literary pattern). A story that starts out with a utopia and doesn’t expose a flaw in it is pointless, or at least boring.

    Joe Haldeman

  • Kate McCallum on May 24, 2013 7:57 pm

    Just as positive psychology can help assist the individual in achieving a healthy outlook on life so too can the stories, visuals and images we bring to the world. I believe it is ESSENTIAL for us to begin to show through our art and stories solutions to humanity’s challenges. When we continue to show and tell dystopic realities and futures we will indeed create them. If there is no plan, vision, solution shown to us how can we begin to achieve what it is we need to do to make our existence positive. As a 30 year entertainment and arts professional, we created the c3: Center for Conscious Creativity to support artists and content creators dedicated to creating more socially beneficial content. We teamed up with The Millennium Project to assist them in engaging the creative community to become aware of the 15 Global Challenges and solutions they address annualy in their STATE OF THE FUTURE reporrt so that artists and writers might find inspiration to include these ideas/themes/data into their stories and projects. Hollywood Health and Society at USC also does this great work. I am so tired of the aliens are the bad guys we have to kill off because they are going to destroy us plotline. Ted Turned spoke at the Producers Guild of America Conference in 2011 and said he was concerned about two major issues; 1) We must stop the nuclear weapons and 2) We have to get a PLAN for humanity’s FUTURE! So agreed and what better way to portray the “plan” than through our art and stories! And news of course! Members of this organization are brilliant, leaders and highly capable individuals who can help. The storytellers need to interact with you all. Let’s create a conference together in LA to bring the Lifeboat members to Hollywood. We stand by!

    Please visit http://www.consciouscreativity.org and http://hollywoodhealthandsociety.org for more information.

  • Clyde DeSouza on May 24, 2013 8:08 pm

    wow. I just woke up (Dubai: 7:00 am) to some great input. I’m going to go through the points made in the comments, and reply during the day.
    but for the easy one: @ Sharad: I’d urge you to work on a beta team of readers right here on Lifeboat. Put in a post on the Facebook page to recruit some very learned volunteers.
    Next step, a good editor/proof-reader, and then waste no time in self publishing it. Stories that make you think science, are in scarce supply. Amazon your manuscript. Subjects like life extension, Cryonics and more are much needed food for thought for the very scientists and engineers that make these disciplines happen.

    All the best.

  • Clyde DeSouza on May 24, 2013 8:18 pm

    Good points Edward.
    » While in fact, the survival of humankind depends upon total and full cooperation between individuals, communities, nations, etc. I think it is important to teach people a great value of social altruism as a driving force for societal survival and advancement as a group, nation or even human civilization…

    I keep thinking (and hoping) that once we are on the ramp-way to Singularity, altruism might just gain a foothold, possibly because petty greed might start diminishing… racial profiling might wane (an amped transhuman body could be any color, and once we get into floating mind-uploads, one could be a blue “avatar” avatar if one chooses to be)

    Yet, even as I type this, I remain ambivalent on if our true ‘human’ nature will persist, like a virus, rearing it’s ugly head every now and then.

    Maybe this is what I’d like to see in fiction, solutions to problems that don’t exist but might come to pass and how to prepare and overcome them.

  • Franco Cortese on May 24, 2013 8:32 pm

    Wow indeed! A comment by Joe Haldeman himself! Congrats Clyde, you just got a response from a Very Big name in SF (Hugo, Locus & Nebula-winning, and very good besides). It’s an honor, Joe.

  • Clyde DeSouza on May 24, 2013 8:40 pm

    Khannea, thank you for writing in. I won’t hesitate to state, and at the risk of patronizing you, that I’m becoming a fan of your writing. I’ve only seen some of your thoughts/writings online, but I believe that you should, at the very least, compile them into an anthology for the betterment of the Transhumanism movement.
    I say this in all sincerety.

    » I believe westerners by and large realize that they have inherited a level of affluence never before seen on this planet (and — not seen in many other places on the planet).

    Again, I agree here, and a funny/interesting thought occured to me as I was writing the story of The Dirrogate. — Digital Surrogates, when they do become common-place, I mean it’s not ground breaking stuff here, just teleconferencing with Augmented Reality– But when they do become common-place, will it mean that physical boundaries get broken?

    What I mean is, will there be hope for an intelligent but non-westerner in say Africa or S.E Asia to attain the same level of affluence via his/her Dirrogate?… tele-traveling to the “west”

    »This truism is parsed very precisely by Peter Diamandis when he rightly perceives “humans are pattern recognizers of imminent trouble”.
    What if we could “build a mind” plugging this trait in for the better good of our species (or the future evolution of our species)…

    Kurzweil says “pattern recognition” is one of the keys to understanding how the mind works. I’m sure patterns can be literal and metaphorical “motifs”.
    This is the kind of fiction I’m looking for.
    For what it’s worth the oft cited “The Matrix” is a work of fiction that I classify as Dystopia transcended. It fueled thought and was not just empty calories that today’s scifi books and films are.

    Hoping soon that you put a cover image to your thoughts and publish them.
    Kind regards.

  • Clyde DeSouza on May 24, 2013 8:48 pm

    Flashgordon, Marcus,
    »A utopic scenario might need to focus on the dangers of failing to achieve what we can, of dealing with boredom, or nothing happening, of our own actions and yet together, a lifting of our state of being.
    Utopic would require the main character to be US not the individual…

    That sums it up nicely. No wait…
    » dystopic sci-fi allows people to deny their own agency as offered in the storyline. They know it’s not real, therefore any sense of a personal responsibility for their own action is also, not real.

    That sums it up better. authors, movie-makers have audiences that they can mold…like playdough. It’s a responsibility to enlighten and not dumb down pliable minds.

  • Clyde DeSouza on May 24, 2013 8:59 pm

    Tracy, will have to put your book on my to read list.
    ».In utopian fiction, drama is often hard to write, with little in the way of “gritty” conflict. The stories are often exploration, discovery, and enlightenment through the sharing of ideas.

    Yes, I understand what you mean by Gritty. I translate it to the common man’s language “Oh it was a page turner“
    I also call it the 10 second multiple orgasm story.

    » Getting the right audience can be tough, as the niche for higher-minded readers is a bit smaller than for general action/adventure/horror science fiction. However, once you reach those people with your work, it is rewarding…

    I can’t profess to be a brilliant literary writer, but took on the challenge of trying to address lay-people with a theme of transhumanism and the human lifecycle transcendence. (Singularity?)

    » Dystopia, I would like to think, is something of a phase for entertainment right now as well. Perhaps in the future…

    What people don’t realize is, today’s scifi is slowly breeding a generation of Luddites. — Now that’s Dystopia, if I can ever predict a Dystopian Future.

  • Clyde DeSouza on May 24, 2013 9:12 pm

    Franco. Semanitics is very important. Thank you for lending insights on the importance of articulating thoughts and choice of words.

    Ambiguity does not help, it just wastes bandwidth on online discussions.
    Your points taken!
    »It’s as simple as this: conflict makes a story. Thus we see stories in all varieties on media where something problematic occurs and characters have to deal with it…

    Yes, correct. What I want from (Utopian) science fiction, and not all the time mind you… is that there be stories where real problems are predicted, and plausible solutions shown.

    Now we can’t formula-lize this kind of scifi, as it will soon get very boring. But what’s gotten boring and a real danger (making luddites out of YA sci-fi readers) is the forumla-lization of Sci-fi as it stands today.

    »My last caveat is that I don’t think Transhumanism *promises* a techno-utopia. This distinction is more important than it seems. Transhumanists desire it and advocate for it, and try to strategize ways in which we can push the odds in favor of a Utopic outcome…

    Well said. I’ll keep this in mind.

    Now, forgive my ignorance, I’m a first time fiction writer (yes the writing in the book will show that, but the story is also trying to do many things..hard science, everyday lingo..yada yada)… and I’ve got a ton of catching up to do on the fiction of the old masters, and today’s best selling authors… but where is Joe’s comment? Did I miss it?

  • flashgordon on May 24, 2013 9:48 pm

    Hello all,

    I’m afraid the discussion has gotten so involved already. I can’t make comments on everyone’s points. I’d just like to point out the inverse of people not wanting to talk about irrationality/rationality, they also don’t want to talk about and do mathematics. I’ve also found that mathematicians often don’t want to talk about irrationality and pseudoscience(Galileo for instance, and mythology in another instance).

    I didn’t get into talking about irrationality vs rationality just cause I wanted to(although I’ve had a lifelong interest in what makes bullies tick). I just have always tried to understand the connections between all things. Soon I found mythology interesting because as Jacob Bronowski likes to point out, poetry(mythology) and mathematics share a common property of analogy. Soon, I did a certain amount of studying archaeology and anthropology and paleontology and so on and so forth. likewise, I didn’t get into trying to understand the brain and A.I. just because; it’s just something I was led to as I tried to understand everything in terms of everything else.

    But anyways, I’ve certainly found Clyde’s experience interesting in the light of my experiences of really so many different people not able to talk about either the rational side or the irrational sides of the human experience.

    Marcus’s point about responsibility is interesting in the light of some recent reading. My father has wanted me to read a collection of secular humanists writings. In one article, the point is made that secular humanism is emancipatory, and that belief in God takes away responsibility.

  • Franco Cortese on May 24, 2013 9:51 pm

    My pleasure, Clyde. And no worries — Joe’s comment is still in the “comments” section of the admin interface (i.e. what you use to create your blog posts) waiting for you to approve it I think (just hover your mouse over the entry to see those options — pending entries are in yellow); it was sent about 45 minutes after my initial comment.

  • Clyde DeSouza on May 24, 2013 10:46 pm

    Thank you Joe for weighing in, and thanks to Franco for pointing out!
    »A story that starts out with a utopia and doesn’t expose a flaw in it is pointless, or at least boring…

    Yes the 3 act play, I’ve stuck with that structure in my story, and at the end there is a payoff yet with un-answered questions (food for thought for the reader)… every trilogy writers formula, though I will say that I stopped at that point in the story as it had resolution. It now gives me time to research more on AI, Cryonics Mind-uploading and mythology (my terminology for Religion)

  • David on May 24, 2013 11:43 pm

    If we want to evangelize the truth then we need to continue to write dystopias. If you look at human history there are many (many) more bad decisions than good ones and there’s no logical reason to assume that our collective wisdom is going to advance as fast as our science. Also, I am a scientist and I’m not doing research to advance humanity, I’m doing research for the same reason as most scientists: pure curiosity, the need to make the unknown known.

  • Clyde DeSouza on May 25, 2013 1:02 am

    Hi David, I suppose my gripe, as I mention in the article above, is that we need to cut back on the idea seeding that technology will lead to a Dystopian world.

    Dystopia in and of itself, is certainly a valid and needed, in doses. It being the staple diet of science fiction in the movies and in books is what I object to.

    There’s no thought put into the Dross that’s passing off as “science fiction” today. Compare the science in films such as Avengers / iron man etc.. with say “minority report”. That’s what I mean about the state of Dystopia today.

    The only dystopia I see is the degenerating of a generation of minds…
    A great foreshadowing if you ask me… when it comes time to simulate a “mind”. :-)

    That mind will certainly pass the Turing test. There won’t be a real yard-stick to measure anything by. BAM!… Luddite Singularity!

    »Also, I am a scientist and I’m not doing research to advance humanity, I’m doing research for the same reason as most scientists: pure curiosity, the need to make the unknown known.

    This caught me off-guard, I’ll admit. As someone who wishes he (myself that is) could be a good scientist, I would of course be researching and experimenting because I’m curious, but also because of satisfaction that I’d be contributing to the betterment of the human condition. After the very first successful experiment, my priority would have changed… advancement of Humanity would drive the curiosity.
    Well that’s just me, an author.

    Thank you for the point of view, it did make me re-think.

  • James Blodgett on May 25, 2013 10:36 am

    You guys may be interested to know that Lifeboat is already giving a Lifeboat to the Stars award for the recent SF story that best inspires travel to the stars. The prize will be awarded at the Campbell Conference which will be held June 12–16 in Lawrence Kansas. We also hoped to produce a bibliography of past SF stories that inspired star travel. I am chair of the committee working on that. Unfortunately we are having problems, partly my fault. However, it is still a good idea. Perhaps others, such as Campbell conference attendees and those posting on this blog, might want to step up to the plate and help produce something like that. Also, the URL below gives information about the Hieroglyph project, an attempt by SF writers to inspire the future, sponsored by Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination and science fiction author Neal Stephenson. http://www.fastcoexist.com/1681961/can-science-fiction-write…ave-itself

  • Ron Helwig on May 25, 2013 2:29 pm

    Just to toss in my two grams of silver, I think part of the desire for dystopian sci-fi is due to the economy and culture. Sci-fi that was hopeful was created during hopeful times. The economy (at least in America) was booming and we were seeing progress made in the culture. But governments and politicians have eroded that hope by destroying the economy and turning people against each other with divisive issues.

    One example me and a few friends like to use is abortion. Those who want to run our lives keep talking about it as if it was important — its a divide-and-conquer tactic. They pose the problem as having two sides: pro and con. But me and my friends see a third option, using technology to make the issue moot. Once we have cheap and plentiful artificial uteruses that can incubate a fetus to birth, the problem goes away. But so many people are too entrenched in their two-party ways that they can’t conceive of anything else. That will change when the tech does finally come along.

    I think that once people’s perception of the future start improving, then we will see a return to an appreciation of hopeful science fiction.

  • Joe Nickence on May 25, 2013 3:37 pm

    In the early part of the 20th c., there were storytellers in the Utopia/Dystopia camps. I refer to Hugo Gernsback’s “Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660″, and Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”. Transhumanism, as a discipline, is something that can’t be vilified or elevated easily to the general public. My own first experiences with the concepts of transhumanism came from reading SF, and numerous conversations with a close friend dealing with “what if”. There are going to be many taboos to overcome. One of the most obvious will be religious, which you and I have briefly covered before.

  • John F Fellows on May 25, 2013 3:53 pm

    In 1992 I gave a talk, ‘The Human Enterprise is a Failure, So Now What…‘
    It provoked a very strong reaction to the room of environmental activists and spiritual pacifists, with the pacifist spokesperson screaming as they exited the room. We long for Utopia as we envision our world unfolding into the future as dystopia.

  • Clyde DeSouza on May 25, 2013 10:37 pm

    No like buttons on the blog, so i’ll send a shout out to James, Ron, Joe and James(Fellows). Thank you for the good input.

    @Ron: » I think part of the desire for dystopian sci-fi is due to the economy and culture. Sci-fi that was hopeful was created during hopeful times.

    You’re right, and this is what I replied on the Facebook discussion of this topic:
    “You’ve aptly noted how (and why) Captain America and the other super heroes were born during the period in which they were… and why they’ve made a comeback. OK, that, and also because we seem to be on a trip towards meeting Kurzweil’s singularity prediction of 2030.- Some genius at Google/Hollywood must have mulled it over:

    If we can’t get computers to think smart by 2030…let’s dumb down the human mind… meet computers half-way… Ba-da-bam! Singularity!“
    (only kidding on that last bit of-course!)

    @John Fellows: Is there any online version of the talk? I’d love to take a look.

    @Joe: Good to see you on Lifeboat! Yes, the religious (ok I call it mythology now-a-days) is an angle that I had to tread cautiously on in my book. With no intention to convert readers, but to hopefully open their minds, hence the line in one of the chapters “Others didn’t use logic, they evangelized that catchall phrase ‘have faith’”…

  • Eric Klien on May 26, 2013 3:10 am

    Everyone should check out the comment by David Brin that was posted on May 24, 2013 6:51 pm but was caught in our spam queue.

  • Clyde DeSouza on May 26, 2013 7:25 am

    Thank you David Brin. for commenting.
    I also recommend that everyone read David’s reply. I for one, am going to quote him in future posts to bring the point across.

    »For example, Neal Stephenson’s Hieroglyph Project aims at encouraging a re-engagement of science fiction with positive thinking… though not always positive or happy endings.

    I’d joined the forums earlier this month after hearing about the Hieroglyph Project. My post, was on the idea of using Digital Surrogates (Dirrogates) and Augmented Reality for Digital Resurrection.
    One of the ideas being, investigating it’s possible therapeutic benefit to people (humanity).

    The premise being, if VR is used to help soldiers, Autistic children, those in rehab… How much more effective would AR be?
    The post is here: http://hieroglyph.asu.edu/forums/topic/augmented-reality-and…oved-ones/

    Thanks David again. You summed it up well with this phrase
    “Storytelling Sloth”

  • Michael Smith on May 26, 2013 10:24 am

    Many people are addicted to drama and negative emotions. Rather like many people are addicted to eating sugary snacks. Tastes good at the time, even if it has negative affect effects. In the case of violence, drama and cruelty in sci fi I find I often don’t feel so great the next day. Or have obsessive negative thoughts that I then chose to clean through meditation or healing.

    Why do some many scifi books focus on the dystopian? The same reason that much TV news focuses on the bad news and not the good. If it “bleeds it leads”. There is a large meme structure for violence and negative situations in most human groups these days. And these themes both feed into that and are fed by it. The same is true of the sex meme structure and the religious one. (And both are used in many scifi books too).

    Utopian scifi books that comes to my mind include 2150 AD and Stranger in a Strange Land. Although the heros in both are killed their ideas are seen to live on.

  • Marcus Barber on May 27, 2013 3:35 am

    Some delightful observations here, many thanks to the contributors.

    The theme I’m seeing emerging here is the idea of agency and then extent to which people feel they have control over their own lives. The dystopic sci-fi is often reflective of a belief that the individual has no control, or at the least, lacks full control. To an extent that is accurate and fair enough.

    And as David Brin commented, it’s a lazy approach because no one has full control, some have more than others. Kate McC’ pointed out the idea of people planning as per the 15 Goals from the Millenium project. By recent book is aimed fairly and squarely at providing a process through which people can plan for their live.

    But it requires a discipline. The ‘set and forget’ model of an effective future has pretty much evaporated for most people on this planet. The degree to which a person takes ownership of their chosen future is a commitment to it. I’d suggest also that for most people on this planet, life is not all doom and gloom nor filled with wonder — it’s a pretty mundane existence.

    Writing about a mundane existence in a sci-fi setting would possibly be as Joe Haldeman suggests ‘pretty boring’ and yet I wonder if we’re missing something by ignoring the boring and mundane? Certainly some gritty movies out of Europe over the years have explored the human spirit dealing with the drudgery of every day existence.

    If technology is going to free many from the drudgery or work, what kind of drudgery will it be replaced with? Which swings me back to the idea of Agency — hands up if you’ve mapped out a personal plan for your own life? Complete with a compelling Vision, identification of core strategic issues, well founded exploration and understanding of available capabilities?

    When I ask that question to an audience, it doesn’t matter if they’re CEO’s or school kids, the numbers are about the same — for every 50ppl I see about 3 or 4 hands go up.

    I’m slowing edging my model into schools — I love the idea of human agency, grounded in a realistic understanding and preparation for the unexpected (good or not so). The point we begin to see Utopic sci-fi re-emerge will be the leading edge of society saying ‘we’ve had enough of this crap’. It will be the indication that the public are ready to move toward something better.

    For now the lazy dystopic sci-fi allows everyone to wallow in self pity that it’s all beyond their control

    Sharad I’d love to read your draft and offer some thoughts
    Marcus :-)

  • underbrain on May 27, 2013 10:17 am

    Please see this: http://spacecollective.org/projects/Polytopia/

    For a basic foundation on this answer. there can be no YOU-topia.. that is an artifact of monofactory industrialization. POLY-topia is possible and we are building it every day. I am Gen 6 at spacecollective and i am open to taking on a Lifeboat member as a Descendant if they be willing to make measured contribution to our site. We have been around a while and stay in the back currents of the InfoOcean. Please do explore our Cargo from the Future.

    As to dystopinaism — easy — safe time produce scary stories and scary times produce stories of golden ages, fantasies, and escapes.

  • Paul Glover on July 4, 2013 9:43 am

    Completely agree. While utopias typically float in clouds beyond reach, my novel dramatizes step-by-step how utopia is constructed. And maintaining the drama of things getting better is an immense challenge.

    The novel is based on my book “Los Angeles: A History of the Future” http://www.issuu.com/metroeco/docs/lahof