When we think about the future these days, it can often look bleak. That’s true of both reality and in fiction, since we tend to create futures that reflect the present, so they feel more real. But since there’s more than enough uncertainty and darkness in real life currently, here are some worlds I turn to when I need to remember there’s still hope for the future.
In all rights, Doctor Who should be a petrifying view of the future. After all, around just about every corner in time and space there’s either a horrible monster or fascist pepperpot waiting to kill you (and/or chase you down a corridor). But it so often bypasses its monsters and aliens to deliver us futures and times where humanity, in big steps or small, has not just survived insurmountable odds but often flourished. As ever, Tom Baker said it best:
Beyond that, it gives us a universe that is so beautiful, so vast and full of things to discover, that its intangible allure can spark a wanderlust quite unlike anything else. The Doctor, who’s traveled for over a thousand years, still finds things to appreciate and explore, and is desperate to share that passion and love for what’s out there with the people who accompany him on his journey. If that’s not hope, I don’t know what it is.
Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction
Edited by Jetse de Vries, Shine is a collection of short stories from a diverse array of science fiction writers that is set across many worlds that aren’t necessarily perfect (or even utopian). In fact, many of the worlds featured within are downright miserable.
But each one takes the development of these futures—whether it’s a profound change through new technology, or even just societies and humans simply rejecting the pessimistic views of their worlds to inflict wider change—and offers a ray of brightness regardless of the dire state of the worlds they initially represent. It’s a short story anthology that relishes in the dark worlds that scifi often portrays by imagining what it would take to make them better, brighter ones. A T-Rex plays electric guitar in one of the stories too, which is an always welcome jolt of levity in any story.
It might seem strange to say a series where a giant race of robotic squid-monsters called Reapers come to harvest the galaxy of all intelligent life in an endless cycle is something I feel presents an optimistic future, but at its core, Bioware’s RPG trilogy is a story about hope and unity and there being a bigger, better place for humanity in the wider world.
It’s only set about 170 years in the future, and yet it’s a world where humankind has come together as a single people—united as the Systems Alliance—and colonized worlds in our solar system and beyond, invented Faster than Light technology, discovered other sentient life, and taken a prominent place in a larger galactic ecosystem unified throughout different species among the stars for the good of all. When the robotic squid-monsters do show up, its’ a series about standing together in the face of unfathomable odds, and in spite of great differences, and triumphing because of it. Even in its darkest moments, Mass Effect strives to show a future worth fighting for.
I first read this book because former io9 and Gizmodo Editor-in-Chief Annalee Newitz wouldn’t stop raving about it last year, but Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves ended up being one of my favorite books of 2015. It opens with the near-extinction of humanity and the ravaging of Earth (spoilers but not really!) but doesn’t revel in the disaster. Instead, the book chronicles the next generation of humanity that develops thousands of years after it, and evolves into a sort of appreciation of Earth as the home of our species. In a weird twist to the scifi optimism trend that usually sees humanity’s bright future to be found among the stars, it’s a romantic view that instead despite how far we grow and evolve as a species, biologically or technologically, our home will always be close to our hearts—and worth protecting at any cost.
In many ways, Star Trek is the most iconic take on hopeful science fiction. After all, it imagines a society that’s post-crime, post-discrimination, post-money, and an Earth united amongst its own nations and amongst a federation of different species through the ideals of inclusiveness and mutual betterment. The original series not only envisioned a better future, it did so at a time of social upheaval in America, at the height of the civil rights movement.
From its very beginning Star Trek prided itself on presenting a universe where exploration and scientific discovery are the noblest of pursuits, and where conflict was solved with diplomacy rather than war (and sure, every once in a while, some phaser-ing). Some of Star Trek’s greatest moments might come from when it subverts that idealistic worldview—see, of course, the sublime Deep Space Nine—but more than anything, it’s a series about exploration and the insatiable quest to boldly go where no man has go before.
These are just a few of the scifi series I turn to in the times I need some comforting about our place in the world and the future beyond it—but that’s just me. When you want to find hope for tomorrow in your science-fiction, what series do you turn to? Let us know in the comments below.