Ash gray skies and toppled down buildings. Earth in 500 years, either under water or polluted beyond belief. Dystopia is a huge trend in science fiction these days.
I’ve heard its popularity attributed to the current economic downturn, as well as to global warming.
I don’t doubt that these have an influence on all fiction, not just the speculative kind.
Specifically, I think science fiction has turned sharply in the direction of dystopian futures for one main reason. Space is way more boring than we thought it would be.
In Ancient Greece, people used myths to explain the unexplained bits of nature. Why does the sun come up every morning? Someone must be doing it. Why not some dude in a chariot?
The trend continued through the ages, myths being largely replaced by the Bible or other religious texts.
Then in the 17th and 18th centuries, science slowly became something that wouldn’t get you thrown in a poop strewn, rat infested dungeon.
Many of the mysteries of nature quickly became mundane. Tectonic plates rubbing weren’t quite as interesting a cause of earthquakes as Poseidon’s trident striking the ground when he was pissed. Writers turned their eyes upward and imagined what could be happening up there with all those twinkly things. Science fiction was born.
Up until the 60s, you could still write a story about the scantily clad amazon women that surely inhabited the moon. Then came Martians and ice creatures, back when Pluto was still a planet, not a confused little space rock.
Now, every time Curiosity sends another crystal clear image back to earth, we know that the best we can hope for are carbon traces of alien paramecium locked in prehistoric ice. Green guys are pretty much out of the question.
Also, we could probably make personal jetpacks right now, but think about the liability issue. The manufacturer would get sued every time some dumbass sailed one into the side of a mountain.
We also had high hopes for checking out other solar systems and getting our Star Trek on. While I hate to dash anyone’s hopes, it turns out that space is freaking huge.
Bu… bu… but wormholes! Well maybe that will work, but that’s what the last five decades of books have been written about. Every time something gets either proven or disproven, it’s one less piece of fodder for the writer’s imagination.
Where does that put science fiction?
It leaves the genre pondering the future of Earth in hundreds or thousands of years. And let me tell you, it’s not looking good.
Let’s face it. It’s more interesting reading about teen eat teen battles than Jetson utopias. Government shutdowns in 3019? I think I’ll pass.