Darko Suvin writes: "Whether island or valley, whether in space or (from the industrial and bourgeois revolutions on) in time, the new framework is correlative to the new inhabitants. The aliens -- utopians, monsters, or simply differing strangers -- are a mirror to man just as the differing country is a mirror for this world. But the mirror is not only a reflecting one, it is also a transforming one, virgin womb and alchemical dynamo: the mirror as crucible."
Suvin seems to be saying that Science Fiction, like so much of popular culture, both reflects and directs the zeitgeist of what's going on. But there's some interesting play with language and the subtle suggestion that we can learn something about ourselves by pondering on the nature of our speculations: What is it that we want to find? What does a future we might call utopian even look like? What do our utopian yearnings say about us?
Also embedded in Suvin's thought is the notion that Science Fiction is at least partly akin to the act of psychoanalysis, that speculating on the nature of our speculations yields something productive. I would argue whatever is gleamed from this introspection is far more valuable than anything we might guess correctly about the future.
I can trace my own interest in Science Fiction to an early fascination with the future. I was excited as child of eight, nine, ten, eleven, to think about robots, to imagine myself piloting a spaceship, cruising the galaxy the way I rode my BMX bike around the neighborhood.
"Today’s science fiction, he argues, is fixated on nihilism and apocalyptic scenarios—think recent films such as The Road and TV series like “The Walking Dead.” Gone are the hopeful visions prevalent in the mid-20th century. That’s a problem, says Stephenson, author of modern sci-fi classics such as Snow Crash. He fears that no one will be inspired to build the next great space vessel or find a way to completely end dependence on fossil fuels when our stories about the future promise a shattered world."
I'd argue that SF has always been pretty pessimistic and that this perceived optimism owes more to these childish future dreams than it does to the genre. Look at Frankenstein, 1984, and Brave New World, arguably the most literary of all SF, not a ray of sunshine among them. How about, hmmm, Slaughter House Five and Scanner Darkly? Nope... Even Asimov's utopian stories were about aberrations, glitches in the system, rather than on how smoothly everything is working in the future.
There are two separate processes at work here: one is art, which needs conflict and drama in order to be compelling. The other is a composite, an amalgam of naive hope for the future coupled with the understanding that humankind is on an upward march and things are slowly getting better, the universe slowly coming into focus. Neil DeGrasse Tyson didn't need SF to inspire him to think that the solar system is cool. I think we can all agree that the solar system is super cool. But you can't get any art out of the solar system until you start talking about how much it seems to hate us, lobbing asteroids at us, bathing us in radiation, dooming us with a slow march towards absolute entropy.
Two things: 1) SF nostalgia is not really a product of Science Fiction as a genre at all. 2) Thinking about the nature of our wonder, pondering the boundaries of our imagination is useful and productive psychological self-reflection. We need more of that. Less futurism. As I wrote in Nathaniel's newsfeed:
"If SF is analogous to those ancient stories of magical islands or magical locations one valley over, then futurism is akin to people who have never been anywhere, imagining what they will find when they travel to that island or that valley. That kind of speculation rarely produces much accuracy."