Guest: Let’s Try Optimistic Futurism! I Did (Sort Of) by Jordan Smith

Will The Future Be Entirely Bad? Can A Good Book About The Future Say Otherwise?

If you’ve read any stories about the future you may be a very gloomy person. After all, isn’t it hard to think of stories about the future that aren’t overall very depressing? In books about the future we see dazzling technology, interesting characters and plot lines, but mostly pervasive negativity, from the classics of Orwell and Huxley, to newer titles like The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games. But what if the future is going to be more complicated?

There’s a problem I have with the way in which a lot of these books are looking at the future. In a sense what dystopian authors are saying is that our societies have certain good qualities and they are beginning to slip away. But how do they justify that prediction? Why are they saying we will become the society they claim we will? Or put another way, why is the prediction they’re making about the kind of society we will be salient or likely to be in the near future? The more you can answer that question about the predictions in a dystopian story the more powerful it is.

All of my thoughts in this line of reasoning were of course a great theory about the way dystopia ought to be. But now I’m in the process of writing my own dystopian story, and I’m finding it’s not so easy to take my own advice! When I began writing it I set out to make the predictions I was conveying really have a basis in what was most likely or plausible. This included making some pretty optimistic predictions I believe are fairly likely about society. However, as I was writing I was finding that the story really needed a heavy dose of darkness to come off as something I thought readers would enjoy. Writing optimistic predictions seemed automatically unserious. Writing gloomy predictions seemed automatically cerebral and relevant. Why is that? Isn’t the good news sometimes among the most relevant? Certainly I’d say it is.

From medical innovations like penicillin to the passage of The Civil Rights Act and women’s suffrage in the 20th Amendment, history’s good news is often some of it’s biggest news. Yet subconsciously I don’t often think of good news as big news, and I suspect that most of us don’t. I tend to think that if I’m really writing about what is relevant it has to be writing that’s gloomy. And when I think about what an interesting artistic experience is, I assume it often has to be a dark one. What’s a good novel? A brooding one. A good painting? One showing great suffering and tribulation. A great piece of music? One of somber moodiness.

Of course none of that is exactly true either. Many good and substantive things in music, books and art can be at least partially optimistic, even sunny. Paul McCartney’s songs often have a happy-bent with a brilliant tune. Thomas Hardy’s books can have the gloomiest endings but also the most affectionate and idyll shared moments between characters. Monet’s seascapes are richly fascinating but often literally sunny, and life-affirming as they invite you to peer out onto a coastal horizon.

No, I realized while writing, it’s not fair to say a good book has to be a definitively dark one, even if that’s a good book about the future. But it’s hard to imagine a good story of the future that’s entirely happy and sunny. So I ended up mixing the two, and I think that’s where there’s a certain artistic sweet spot. When you talk about something dark but convey other emotions with it in a way it makes the darkness that much more effective. Besides, that’s what allows you to make some gloomy predictions about the future without seeming melodramatic.


Meet Jordan Smith

Author Jordan SmithI am an attorney who lives in Columbus, Ohio and just turned 30. Before law school I earned a B.A. in Political Science and spent far too much time working for, volunteering for, obsessing over and breathlessly arguing about political campaigns.

I continued to study politics and have several other intellectual interests. In 2011 during my last semester at one of the world’s most expensive law schools I realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer but rather an entrepreneur. While I dabbled in the world of startups in 2012, I realized in February of 2013 that I really just had to write science fiction. So I spent a great many hours of 2013 writing and editing my first novel that I plan to release soon. Check out my website for details and blog posts about science, the future, the writing process, etc.

For more and to contact the author, visit Jordan Smith via his website, Twitter, and Facebook.

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