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Jetse’s Challenge

Well, I’ve finalized a few writing projects. “Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang” is completed, done, finished (the text handed in the other day) and I have pretty much tidied and prepared a few more stories for sending out (some minor editing was necessary on them all: “The Broken Pathway”, “Solvjaynghi’s Christmas Wish”, and the piece I sent to Nemonymous for the Cone Zero anthology.

Today, I whipped off a little Biblical End Times zombie piece for Bits of the Dead, which the lovely and talented Tristan (Facebook profile again, as that’s all he’s got!) pointed out today — though by one definition, my piece may be a touch too “blasphemous”… we’ll just have to see — but I’m casting about for something bigger to start in on, before any peripheral projects command my attention.

And what did I stumble upon but this long-ago challenge put forth by Jetse de Vries?

So here it is: write an ambitious story about how the future changes for the better: one that is convincing, as well. As realistic and plausible as you can get it. Then send it my way when I re-open Interzone for email submissions (probably May 2007, but keep an eye on our website and, or to another market. Get it out there.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we should go back to unlimited, naïve optimism of the pulp era, or the 50s. It also means we shouldn’t aim at the romance genre’s HEA (happily ever after) as a prerequisite. No: we live in the 21st Century, so give me a 21st Century story. Let it be grounded in the real, but a real that is more than just nihilistic, cynic, diffident, or disinterested. The progress can be incredibly hardfought, the progress can be met with all possible resistance, have setbacks, and all. But in the end, let there be some kind of progress.

In short, give me a gritty pollyanna, and show me it’s not an oxymoron.

And, while we’re at it, let it be ambitious. Joe Sixpack getting a better job is trivial. Jane Doe winning an office argument is boring. Reach for the sky: try to find at least a partial solution, a partly positive development from the great problems of our time. You could do worse than reading through Edge’s article “What Are You Optimistic About? Why?”, where some of the greatest minds of our time answer exactly that question. Obviously, Jason Stoddard and I are not the only ones who are tired of this trend of depressive thinking.

Don’t be a part of the problem, be a part of the solution. Write that story: it’ll be a hard, enormously hard. But the reward is phenomenal. Be inspired, and then be an inspiration. Let’s face the future with a smile.

By the way, the link is to his more recent post, where he expresses disappointment at how little response there’s been to this idea. Well, the one story I’ve sold to Interzone (where he edits) is dark and gloomy as all get-out, and actually, that’s a trend. Of course, there are pieces that have happy endings, and there’s things that I write that are just weird — not so much bright or dark as the colors are all from another universe — but I think that I do have a tendency to write dark, dark fiction.

It may be a product of recent history and culture. The people writing SF now grew up in a world where people had stopped so much worrying and panicking about nuclear holocaust, and sort of shrugged and said, “Ah, well…” And yes, as kids, we noticed. One of the most frightening experiences of my childhood was happening onto some kind televised of government discussion of the effects of nuclear blasts at this and this and this distance from the epicenter. (Which, trust me, is far more damaging for a young mind than any nudity, sex, cussing, or drug abuse in a fictional TV program.)

When I was growing up, in Canada, the economy was a mess, and good people were out of work by the truckload… and I know it was like that in the 80s in the UK, and that in the US life under Reagan was pretty rough for average folks.

It seems to me that these kinds of influences — the way societies felt and grew in our youths — may have a bigger effect on the shape of the SF of the present. I don’t know if such a phenomenon is present in other genres, though it’d be interesting to compare.

But none of that is an excuse. Maybe it is time for an intervention. Readers and editors and SF authors take the genre aside and say, “Listen, buddy, we love you. But those Philip K. Dick drugs aren’t doing you any good. The paranoia… yeah, yeah, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to fear. But things don’t have to be so bad. Look on the bright side…”

We can’t put the genre on Prozac, and let it talk out its fears and anxieties, but maybe we can turn the tide a little, if we use our imaginations. So maybe it’s time for me to do my bit, and inject something positive, optimistic, and beautiful. I mean, things don’t have to go badly. And if we keep assuming they will, mightn’t we be risking a self-fulfilling prophecy?

I think I’m going to work on having something a little more optimistic for the next e-subs period that Interzone puts on… provided it’s not too soon. (Else it might have to be the following one.) If nothing else, it’ll be a nice surprise for Jetse, who must get gloomy reading all that negative slush!

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