Thursday, January 3, 2013

Towards a cartography of hope

For the start of a new year, some state of the world reviews:

Bruce Sterling and John Lebkowsky on The Well (in conversation with other participants)
Charles Stross (again, in conversation with others).

They're not entirely doom-y, you're dealing with SF authors and tech experts after all, but they do flag up the morass of environmental, economic and political problems coming up.

As I walked to a pub on New Year's Eve, I was talking to a friend about the search for a narrative of hope for these troubled times. Who's on the bridge of the Good Ship, and where are they taking us? Do they have our consent? What is it that we can look forward to in the future?

If I've remembered our conversation correctly, she pointed out that psychologically speaking there was nothing more corrosive than false hope. And in many senses we're still dealing with the hangover from the twentieth century - the utopian century par excellence - when a thousand isms pointed the way towards a better tomorrow.

I agree, but what also concerns me is that without some kind of map, a story we can tell ourselves as communities, as societies - however adjusted for pragmatism we make this vision  - we avoid the danger of false hope only to fall into the politics of cultural despair. 

Whether your brand of doom is Daily Mail or the more apocalyptic ends of the environmental movement, recording the failings of contemporary Britain is not enough. Similarly, an ethic of resignation, a la Silverweed from Watership Down, does not appeal to me on an emotional level, nor do I believe you can raise people to sainthood fast enough to make it work as a political solution.

As an inveterate reader of science fiction, I believe in the need to describe possible futures to improve the present and avert both cultural despair and the TINA we find ourselves in at the moment, politically speaking. Technology is one strand of this, but I'm mainly interested in tech in as far as it provides game-changers for economy and society.

Or: It ain't what you've got, it's what you do with it.

So, one of the main themes on this blog for 2013 will be examining these futures, to provide a cartography of hope, but also to look at where these debates are already happening.


  1. You may find Asimov's Three Kinds of Science Fiction interesting:

  2. "Gadget sci-fi: Man invents car, holds lecture about his invention.
    Adventure sci-fi: Man invents car, gets into a car chase with a villain.
    Social sci fi: Man invents car, gets stuck in traffic in the suburbs."

    Gadget sci-fi tends to make me glaze over, adventure sci-fi is fun, but it's the social SF I'm interested in here.