?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Seeking Non-Pessimistic Modern SF - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

> Recent Entries
> Archive
> Friends
> Profile
> my rpg writing site

August 28th, 2007


Previous Entry Share Next Entry
11:42 am - Seeking Non-Pessimistic Modern SF
Reviewer james_nicoll has several times commented on the depressing state of modern SF, especially US-written SF. Depressing not that it's bad, but that that it is almost universally depressing, pessimistic, and often openly nihilistic. I agree, and it's starting to become fairly annoying. I find myself reading increasing amounts of non-fiction or rereading older SF, and the occasional bits of fantasy that is not too horrid to read (I'm considerably less forgiving of faults in the quality of fantasy than SF) because it's becoming increasingly difficult to find SF that is not too grim for me to be willing to read. I enjoy moderately optimistic books like Sons of Heaven, the finale to Kage Baker's excellent Company series or (despite being rather light) Ken MacLeod's 2006 novel Learning the World. However, I also enjoy work by authors like Alastair Reynolds, and while not my favorite of his work, I enjoyed his latest work The Prefect, and like about half of Iain M. Banks' Culture novels, neither author is noted for writing novels that are vastly optimistic or hopeful, but both authors generally manage to avoid bleak nihilism.

However, even mixed work like their's is becoming difficult to find. I loved Ian McDonald's marvelous Chaga/Evolution's Shore and its even more fascinating sequel Kirinya (and eagerly await the possible third book), but his two most recent works, Brasyl and River of Gods were simply too pessimistic for me to finish. They were both well-written, and I made it most of the way through River of Gods before it became clear that the optimistic or at least neutral endings that seemed likely or at least possible were not going to come to pass.

One of the worst parts of this trend in fiction is also one of the most telling – the increasing popularity of the near-future terrorism novel. We have the conservative version, where evil terrorists are threatening all that is right and good and must be stopped by heroic agents of the government, an excellent example of this vile sub-genre is Quantico by Greg Bear

However, this sub-genre also has a liberal version, where the US, and perhaps much of the rest of the first world creeps toward fascism because of a mixture of real and imagined (or manufacturer) terrorist threats, a good example of this being The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod. I'm obviously far more sympathetic to the liberal version, but to be quite honest I have absolutely no interest in either sort of novel and look forward to the time when people in the US (and to a lesser extent the rest of the First World, stop being to monomaniacally fixated on terrorism.

I am seeking SF, and other novels that are not too grim or pessimistic and that avoid nihilism. Having a novel that deals in some way with transhumanism is always nifty, but is far from required. Modern SF that I'm interested in reading is becoming increasingly difficult to find and in addition to commenting and complaining about the state of modern SF, I'm also interested in finding recommendations for new books and authors.

In addition, to disliking overly pessimistic SF, I also (unsurprisingly) dislike military SF, pretty much all written comedy, and the vast majority of horror (everything that isn't actually occult action-adventure). The three most recent SF novels that I've enjoyed have been: Reynolds' The Prefect, Baker's Sons of Heaven, and Richard Bowes Nebula Award nominee From the Files of the Time Rangers. I'm also looking forward to Kristen Britain's The High King's Tomb, the 3rd in her excellent Green Rider romantic fantasy series, as well as Alastair Reynolds 2008 novel House of Suns, but that's not much to look forward to, and so I'm looking for advice for books of the sort I'm likely to like, preferably SF, that will either be released soon or have been released in the last few years.
Current Mood: hopefulhopeful

(61 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>
[User Picture]
From:dancinglights
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC)
(Link)
No suggestions, but I find I am running out of substantive, current music that I can listen to, for the same reasons. Sadly, it seems that any current artists whom I respect for their emotion and insight are bound to be bothered by the state of world affairs and, as artists, express themselves regarding it.

I just wish I had something happy and not mindlessly pop to listen to. I suspect it's the same deal across media, here.
[User Picture]
From:rialian
Date:August 28th, 2007 07:39 pm (UTC)
(Link)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:August 28th, 2007 07:56 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I've read a lot of 90s SF, so I'm mostly looking for work written in the last decade, and preferably the last 5 years.
[User Picture]
From:jordan179
Date:August 28th, 2007 07:09 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Optimistic future sf:

The Golden Age, by John C. Wright.

Most everything by Alan Dean Foster.

Most of Greg Egan's writing.

Most of Vernor Vinge's books.

One of the worst parts of this trend in fiction is also one of the most telling – the increasing popularity of the near-future terrorism novel. We have the conservative version, where evil terrorists are threatening all that is right and good and must be stopped by heroic agents of the government, an excellent example of this vile sub-genre is Quantico by Greg Bear

However, this sub-genre also has a liberal version, where the US, and perhaps much of the rest of the first world creeps toward fascism because of a mixture of real and imagined (or manufacturer) terrorist threats,


Why do you find the real situation (evil terrorists threaten the world) "vile" and the surreal situation (made-up terrorist threat pushes world toward fascim) acceptable?
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:August 28th, 2007 07:42 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Why do you find the real situation (evil terrorists threaten the world) "vile" and the surreal situation (made-up terrorist threat pushes world toward fascim) acceptable?

Because I see the world very differently from that. I'm not in the least worried about terrorism. Each year, the number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents is 15 x higher than the death toll from September 11, and despite the current administration having made no real effort to curtail terrorism internally or abroad, there have been no deaths due to foreign terrorism since then (I consider abortion clinic bombers and similar scum to also be terrorists, but they are a fairly minor problem). In vivid contrast, I see how playing up the fear of terrorism has allows the current administration to drastically reduce civil liberties in the US, while also doing its best to transform the US into a theocratic, reactionary police state (witness Rove's statements about a permanent Republican majority, and the fact that the fundys (quite correctly) consider Shrub to be the defacto head of the Religious Right). Thankfully, these vile individuals are also mostly idiots, so many of their efforts fail, but other succeed. I'm vastly more worried about the Republican party than I am about terrorism. In any case, I brief glance at your journal reveals that you seem to be on the other end of the political spectrum from me, which means that you are likely to be annoyed reading any of my posts that have to do with politics, since I consider the Democratic party to be significantly too conservative and the Republican party to be solely the party of racists, theocrats, and the greedy and utterly ammoral rich.
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:pompe
Date:August 28th, 2007 07:12 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I don't mind pessimistic SF, as long as it isn't too nihilistic. Similarly I don't mind mil-SF if it isn't war porn, but it usually is. Personally I have two big antipathies, I don't like it when the books are too long (which they almost always are nowadays) and I don't like when they are too gadgety. Try finding a decent modern SF novel clocking in below 300 pages in paperback... ...and preferrably not drenched in posthumanist sauce. Yeah, and I don't particularly like it when books are serialized either. (One reason to like Stross' SF works)

However, as for suggestions. That guy who wrote Seeker, maybe? (DeVitt?) Haven't read it.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:August 28th, 2007 07:52 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I don't like it when the books are too long (which they almost always are nowadays) and I don't like when they are too gadgety.

I don't mind well done gadgetry, but I know what you mean, and too long is a common problem. A novel that's 400+ pages better be exceedingly good, or I'm unlikely to finish it. I don't mind sequels or trilogies, but beyond that only a few series can maintain my interest. Also, it's very nice to sometimes simply read a stand-alone novel, something that is definitely becoming a bit of a rarity. I like about half of Stross' work - Accelerando and Singularity Sky were both marvelous, but Iron Sunrise was marred by having the villains be cartoonishly-evil Nazi-analogs, and I find that sort of thing to be pretty darn boring as well as simply gratuitous, while Atrocity Archives struck me as overblown mary sue fic for computer geeks.

Seeker is by Jack McDevitt, and I like about half of his work, but I find the other half a bit dull rather than repellent. Likely I should look at it, since it was a Nebula Nominee. Thanks.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:August 28th, 2007 07:33 pm (UTC)

On a parallel note...

(Link)
...I'm really annoyed by environmental politics over the last two years. Fifteen years ago, the message was something like, "Here's what we need to do to save the Earth," followed by a list of helpful hints. Now, it is all doom-and-gloom of the worst fearmongering variety. If you take a typical screed on global warming or peak oil and change the environmental terminology to Dominionist terms (say, "spriritual warfare"), you could get something that sounds like Jack Chick on crack.
[User Picture]
From:xuenay
Date:August 28th, 2007 07:55 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Haven't really kept up with recent scifi, though After Life pops to mind as a good one. (I should get around finishing it some day.)
From:5eh
Date:August 28th, 2007 08:31 pm (UTC)
(Link)
ugh, I feel your pain. good luck!
[User Picture]
From:postrodent
Date:August 28th, 2007 08:42 pm (UTC)
(Link)
You are reading Charlie Stross, right? If you steer clear of the dark-fantasy and Cthulhu stuff, his work is usually fairly optimistic. _Glasshouse_, the sequel to _Accelerando_, is out in the US now.
[User Picture]
From:derekcfpegritz
Date:August 28th, 2007 08:49 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Actually, a lot of the Singularity-related fiction that I've been writing is largely positive. But as far as everything else goes--like the Mythos fiction I'm writing now, and my venture into Clive Barker ripoffdom, "Li'l Ditty 'bout Jack and Diane"...well, it may sooner have you slitting your wrists than having good thoughts about times to come. :)
[User Picture]
From:andrewducker
Date:August 28th, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC)
(Link)
River of Gods has at least a vaguely positive ending.

You'd probably like Necroville/Terminal Cafe.
[User Picture]
From:dreamlibrary
Date:August 28th, 2007 11:04 pm (UTC)
(Link)
If you're interested in wandering to the magical realism aisle, you might like The Stone Raft, by José Saramago. While generally classified as literature, the way the fantastical elements of the story relate to the author's acute sociopolitical and historical consciousness remind me of what I love about smart speculative fiction.
[User Picture]
From:used_songs
Date:August 29th, 2007 01:19 am (UTC)
(Link)
I couldn't resist jumping into your comment here. Is The Stone Raft as chilling as Blindness? I read that on the recommendation of a colleague and, while I really enjoyed the craft of it, I found it very depressing. That said, I have recommended it to a lot of people.
[User Picture]
From:yukon_jack
Date:August 29th, 2007 02:22 am (UTC)
(Link)
Happy belated birthday, by the way! Haven't had the chance to check in on ye olde Friends List enough of late.

I read extremely little SF anymore but I just got done reading Spaceman Blues by Brian Slattery, out from Tor. It's funny, it's got characters representing a variety of ethnicities and sexualities, it's really well-written, and it's not ungodly depressing. I really, really enjoyed it. I'd also second the above Saramago rec.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:August 29th, 2007 06:13 am (UTC)
(Link)
Thanks, and also that book sounds interesting.
[User Picture]
From:risu
Date:August 29th, 2007 03:32 am (UTC)
(Link)
I'd like to second Greg Egan, e.g. Schild's Ladder.

Also, the webcomic _A Miracle of Science_ (complete).

Arguably, _Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom_. I found it a bit subtly sad, but can never figure out why; objectively it seems pretty optimistic.

Perhaps the anime Kino's Journey? I haven't seen enough of it to know whether it's optimistic. As Wikipedia says:

A phrase repeated in the anime and novels is "The world is not beautiful, therefore it is." Kino's Journey explores what the anime director Ryutaro Nakamura described as "a radical sense of 'beauty," [1] and brutality, loneliness, nonsense, oppression and tragedy are often juxtaposed against compassion and a fairy-tale atmosphere.

I've seen three eps; so far I think it's extraordinarily optimistic, though it's showing that optimism off through folly and unpleasantness, which is a strange thing to say, but true.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:August 29th, 2007 09:50 am (UTC)
(Link)
I have very much enjoyed all of Cory Doctorow's work - my favorite so far being Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, which is simply the most brilliant urban fantasy I've ever read. I've liked about half the Greg Egan I've read.
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:sythyry
Date:August 29th, 2007 06:59 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Well ... you might like A Marriage of Insects. It's really romantic SF, though it looks like romantic fantasy.

> Go to Top
LiveJournal.com