I read a lot of Harlan Ellison (worked on The Outer Limits, 80’s Twilight Zone, Babylon 5), and I was wondering what people thought of this quote from him:

[S]cience fiction is the only 100% hopeful fiction. That is to say, inherent in the form is, “There will be a tomorrow”. If you read a science fiction story, it says, “This will happen tomorrow”. Now that’s very positive, that’s very pragmatic, “We’ll be here tomorrow. We may be unhappy, we may be all living like maggots, but we’ll be here.” So that means it’s 100% positive.

Ellison has even said that his short story I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is optimistic, because in the climax, there is still room for self-sacrifice and defiance to authority.

I guess it comes down to whether you think a bleak future is better than no future at all.

Shameless plug for my work if you like Ellison or want to learn more: https://ndhfilms.com/ellison

    • Hackworth@lemmy.world
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      1 month ago

      I had no idea emo ducks admired humanity like that. Imma try and be better for y’all, bring that good bread. Wait, is bread bad for you now? I think I saw that in my feed while doom scrolling.

    • TheSambassador@lemmy.world
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      1 month ago

      For real! This is why a lot of modern TV is hard for me to watch. So many stories about mostly terrible people being awful without any humanity. Most people are good.

  • celeste@kbin.earth
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    1 month ago

    I guess “hopeful” means something different to me? I’ve read stories that made me think it would be better if there was no tomorrow, if it was going to be like that. I suppose the “hope” there is in the personal determination to act in the present to prevent that future.

  • Melmi@lemmy.blahaj.zone
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    1 month ago

    I can kind of see where he’s coming from, but only if you’re weighing it against an assumed future where we’re going to die out tomorrow. That’s a low bar for hopeful, and certainly not “100% positive”.

    I have a hard time seeing I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream or even worse, All Tomorrows, as “hopeful”. I’d honestly rather just die.

    Plus, not all sci-fi involves humans, and not all sci-fi is in the future. There’s scifi with no humans in it, there’s scifi set in the past or in an alternate present, and none of those qualify as “hopeful by default” in the way he defines it any more than any other fiction does.

    • cakeistheanswer@lemmy.dbzer0.com
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      1 month ago

      This is my one of my favorites for exactly this reason. Agreed, other than the triumph of what little humanity Ted has at the end there’s not much in the story.

      But despite being a famous asshole it always seemed Ellison loved this story, right down to actually re writing a happy end to the “I have no mouth…” adventure game in the early 90s.

      Speculation on my part, but I always thought for a famous pessimist he thought his warning might make a difference, which is its own kind of hopeful.

  • Deebster@programming.dev
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    1 month ago

    I think a lot of sci-fi is a warning, e.g. almost every distopian setting - I don’t think that’s hopeful, unless you argue that we’re sensible enough to heed said warnings.

    • Mouselemming@sh.itjust.works
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      1 month ago

      I guess the hope in writing it is that there’s at least some people who will heed. The hope in reading it might be that you’d recognize the signs in time to work for change. Or maneuver yourself into the evil dominators group if you’re deplorable.

  • thesmokingman@programming.dev
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    1 month ago

    I don’t know if I’d say “inherently hopeful.” Sturgeon’s approach to science fiction was “ask the next question” which is sometimes not so hopeful. I do think a lot of golden age and even new wave (which Ellison defined) is very hopeful. I think genres like cyberpunk and more modern interpretations of dystopian science fiction explore less hopeful situations. You also have stuff like “The Heat Death of the Universe” by Pamela Zoline which could be evaluated from many perspectives on hope.

  • VindictiveJudge@lemmy.world
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    1 month ago

    The entire cyberpunk genre is about corporations destroying society and the planet for profit and is near-future sci-fi. Dune is about how human nature doesn’t change, the same revolutions occurring again and again over thousands of years, with humans always being on the verge of self extinction and the only escape being to destroy civilization so hard that any conflict will always leave survivors that have had no contact with anyone else in millennia. Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy presents a world where the entire universe is utter chaos, worlds can be destroyed by a clerical error, and cosmically powerful beings do random things for shits and giggles. Starship Troopers, Warhammer, and Starcraft depict humans becoming the bad guys at an interstellar scale.

    So, no, sci-fi is not inherently hopeful.

    • FuglyDuck@lemmy.world
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      1 month ago

      I think the hope is more … meta.

      Science fiction is a brand of speculative fiction- it’s fundamentally asking “what if”. The darker side of sci-fi is a warning, and the hope is we pay attention.

  • NeptuneOrbit@lemmy.world
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    1 month ago

    I think what makes this argument true is that it’s FICTION. Even in a dystopia that is super bleak, with an ending where everyone dies, we can remain hopeful that it’s cautionary fiction.

    You could make similar arguments about any other fiction or genre as well. “All dark comedies are hopeful because they show the human ability to make light of bleak and tragically ironic situations”. “All horror movies are hopeful because the fictional creature at the center of the story cannot be real”.

    • snooggums@midwest.social
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      1 month ago

      I read his hopefulness about having a future as being in the context of the fear of total global annihilation through nuclear war.

      Tons od science fiction is current social issues in a new context which allows for lots of preconceptions to be ignored.

    • automaticdoor75@sopuli.xyzOP
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      1 month ago

      That’s true. The video that this quote comes is actually about Ellison trolling someone (and in a pretty mean way, too).

  • Meron35@lemmy.world
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    1 month ago

    No. On the Beach by Nevil Shute is a sci fi story about the survivors of a global nuclear war in Australia, and as a warning against the futility of war everyone eventually dies of radiation poisoning.

  • mysticpickle
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    1 month ago

    Science fiction is about the future. Implying that we have a future at all is inherently hopeful

    • rekabis
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      1 month ago

      Implying that we have a future at all is inherently hopeful

      Over the last year I have done a deep dive into climate science, the capitalistic and political responses to it, the collapsing Return on Research, and how modern agriculture at scale is going to be impacted.

      If humanity is either not already extinct by 2100, or at the very least caught in an unavoidable terminal decline leading towards it, I would be very, very surprised.

      There is a reason why climate scientists have begun to - very grimly - start calling themselves “climate pathologists” and - for the younger ones, at least - avoiding having any children at all.

      The vast majority of people have absolutely no clue how apocalyptically bad things are out there, and how on the one side capitalism is whitewashing the problem under the rug, while on the other side right-wing politics are trying to make everyone think it’s all fake.

  • MachineFab812@discuss.tchncs.de
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    1 month ago

    The only hope I see in it is the idea that humans will survive, and even a few of them will still mean well/have morals, ethics, sincerity, conscience, or any self-awareness … things that make the continuation of the species something resembling a good or even okay outcome, as opposed to an outright blight upon the universe.

    The amount of suffering portrayed is of little consequence to this, as we have plenty of suffering historically and in the now. Very, very few of those suffering the worst seem to prefer not existing, outside of the affluent countries, and I don’t accept value judgements on such things from any but the first-person perspective.

  • spittingimage@lemmy.world
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    1 month ago

    I don’t know about hopeful, but I’ve always thought it was human-empowering. When I was getting into scifi there were a lot of post-apocalyptic novels (yes, even for children) and in most cases the world was in the state it was because of our choices, for good or bad.