Someone over at the 365 Tomorrows forum recently observed that a lot of sci-fi first contact stories end with humanity blowing themselves up (and often the alien beings, as well). And it’s true – sci-fi is, among other things, often a cynical foray into prophetic speculation. We observe humanity in the world around us, we see the violence and degradation proliferating through all cultures on the planet, and then we write our stories and discover that the people in the books look disquietingly like people today. Big surprise, huh?
Not all sci-fi is bleak and cynical, of course, but a large part of it is. Every story is an expression of the author, so some part of the author is conveyed into the setting and tone of the story and the portrayal of the characters. Folks who write sci-fi also tend to be the rational sort, and in my experience rational people also tend to be highly cynical, and we see that in a lot of stories. Sure, most sci-fi is about hope, about seeing mankind stretch his own limits and exceed his boundaries, but we just can’t help but think that in some ways, mankind will never, ever change. The stories themselves are usually no less entertaining for it – after all, every story needs some sort of conflict in order to work well – but that bleak outlook on the future condition of men’s souls will probably always be a major underlying theme in the science fiction genre.