Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age (1995) has had a significant impact on many people; not only is it one of the precursors to the Center for Science and the Imagination, but it has also been used by the likes of Amazon for code words related to the […]
This post is part of CSI’s Thoughtful Optimism and Science Fiction project. To learn more about the project, visit http://csi.asu.edu/category/optimism/. Listening to my co-readers react to the stories in Cory Doctorow’s A Place So Foreign and Eight More (2003), I’m thinking about how Doctorow’s free-culture politics and Creative […]
Time-traveling, a fantasy carnival and superhero fiction. We read a trio of Cory Doctorow short stories from the collection A Place So Foreign and Eight More (2003) – “A Place So Foreign,” “Return to Pleasure Island,” and “The Super Man and the Bugout” – and noticed a common trend between these radically different stories.
Space exploration has always been driven by both the imagination of the individual and the political will of nations. When the United States decided to go to the Moon it was an inherently political endeavor, part of the Cold War arms race; however, the majesty of the journey itself inspired the imaginations of millions of people to dream of traveling far beyond the Moon.
Near-future science fiction is notorious for its inaccurate predictions – from Blade Runner’s Replicants to the Back to the Future hover boards that people sarcastically mention at New Year’s parties. However, Kim Stanley Robinson’s dark political adventure Red Mars (1993) is spot-on with its predictions about virtual reality.
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars (1993) initially presents a markedly optimistic vision of the future. The terraforming technology he envisions has enormous potential: it enables colonists to leave an environmentally devastated planet Earth to create a utopian society out in space.
Have you ever thought about robots? I mean really thought about them. They are so prevalent in science fiction that it is easy to take the existence of robots for granted. But someone had to invent robots at some point, and for some reason. The answer can be found partially in the etymology of the word: the English robot comes from the Czech robota, meaning forced or compulsory labor. The term “robot” in its original use would be unfamiliar to modern audiences; it was first used by Karel Čapek in his work R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), a science fiction play from 1920.
Like any genre, science fiction has changed over the years. Just as romance novels evolved from sociopolitical fairytales to the popular, racy stories of today, so too science fiction has transformed. In the Golden Age, science fiction stories were mostly forays into the fantastic, the unreal: they were sweeping epics; they were grandiose space operas; they were explorations of sublime worlds, outlandish technologies, futuristic and expansive societies. Characters in this kind of science fiction were often merely vehicles for traversing strange narrative universes, the author’s intricately-fashioned galaxies and dreams.
Contemporary science fiction storytelling is dominated by gloomy, dystopian narratives. The Thoughtful Optimism and Science Fiction project at the Center for Science and the Imagination is an attempt to uncover an alternative history of the genre that focuses on more hopeful and inspiring visions of the future that are still thoughtful, critical and complex. A group of student researchers has been hard at work since 2013, laying the foundation for a public database and a series of essays, reflections and comments about the history of thoughtfully optimistic thinking.