Sunday, August 24, 2008

British and American SF

io9 has an article entitled “Charles Stross Explains Why UK Scif Is More Hopeful Than US Scifi.” The title left me baffled, as if I had seen an article entitled “Stephen Hawking Explains Why Siberia Is Hotter Than the Photosphere of the Sun.”

My impression has long been that British science fiction is darker and more depressing than what’s produced in America. Stephen Baxter is generally quite downbeat, as (to a lesser extent) is Alastair Reynolds. If I had to describe the mood of either author’s works in a single word, it would probably be “bleak.” Peter F. Hamilton is more upbeat, but I still don’t think I’d call him optimistic.

Even more positively portrayed futures usually seem to be used as setting for dark stories. Neal Asher’s Polity universe is very optimistic in most respects-life is very good for the great majority of humanity- but the plots and events are usually pretty dark. Iain M. Bank’s Culture is perhaps the most utopian society in science fiction, but it’s largely there as a backdrop for some of the most depressing stories in science fiction.

I haven’t read Ken MacLeod, but my understanding is that a number of his books portray an anarchosocialist future society in a pretty positive way, so there’s that. Still, darkness seems to be the general trend.

I’m not saying this as a criticism of these authors; I like dark. But I’m wondering: Is my assessment correct, or is there some big strain of optimistic British SF that I’ve missed?

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