Positively positive that positive SF doesn't have to be positive to be positive

Despite having fun with that headline, I'm talking about a serious subject. Over on his Twitter account, Jetse de Vries--editor of the upcoming Shine anthology of positive SF--says the genre is failing the people of the world, who are suffering from global warming, disease, hurricanes, job losses and so on. These people are looking for answers on how to improve their future, and "SF isn't telling them: SF only tells them how excriciably horrible the next apocalypse will be. Trust me: they *know*!"

Jetse adds: "I'm extremely tired of the argument that projecting the 'if-this-goes-on' future will prevent it from happening: people want *solutions* too. So yes, Paolo (Bacigalupi), make fun of me all you want, but while calling out FIRE, FIRE is one thing (SF is great at that), it's the firefighters who extinguish the fire & the foreseeing planners who try to *prevent* future fires. SF lacks the latter, unfortunately."

In closing, Jetse says that because SF isn't providing these answers, the genre has become marginal.

Since the biggest movie event of the year is a SF film--and people embrace all things SF in video games and Hollywood blockbusters--I wouldn't use the term marginal to describe the genre. Has literary SF become marginal? Yes, that could easily be argued. But even this lesser marginalization isn't due to a lack of positive forecasting of answers.

First off, I'd like to know what "solutions" the Golden Age of SF actually projected, or indeed any age of SF ever successfully projected. The most famous example given for the genre projecting positive answers was dealing with nuclear holocaust, as in Walter M. Miller Jr's classic A Canticle for Leibowitz. But these stories didn't provide answers on how to avoid destroying ourselves with nuclear weapons. Instead, the genre gave a warning. Humanity had to find our own way (and we still are).

Likewise with SF from all ages. Yes, the genre dealt very well with showing us how technology was changing, and how human could adapt and change with our technology. But on all of the major issues of the last century, SF either missed the boat or played catch-up once the issues were already being dealt with. For example, the Golden Age of SF of the 1940s and 50s took place when a lack of equal rights for women and people of color were pressing issues around the globe. But you do not find the classics of Golden Age fiction offering solutions to these issues (or even acknowledging they existed except in a off-handed manner). By the time the genre began to write about environmental and population issues in the 1960s and 70s, our society was already trying to deal with these problems--and again, the genre merely showed the problem, not the solution. Same with the current problem of global warming. While writers dealing with global warming show what could happen, I haven't seen one offer a valid solution that doesn't already exist in some way among the advocates and politicians trying to deal with the problem.

The truth is SF rarely gets in front of human understanding on the problems we create for ourselves. As such, it is difficult for the genre to provide answers for what ails humanity--especially problems created by social issues, which again is where I'd place global warming and most of the other items mentioned here.  We create our own messes, and we must find a way to clean up the mess even as we create ever more messes.

So what is positive about the genre? That's simple: SF's outlook on humanity's future. That humanity is able to always find a solution to the problems we create. That we as a species do not give into despair and give up. I would argue that this positive outlook is what is missing from SF these days, and also explains why the literary SF genre is in such trouble. SF found in video games and on the big screen generally keeps to the classic positive attitude of SF; while this doesn't totally explain their success, I believe it is part of it.

I'm all for positive SF, even as I also see a need for SF with a less positive outlook on life. And if SF can provide some positive answers for our future, even better. But based on the genre's track record, I'm not holding my breath.