In difficult and frightening times, writers can do something. We can write stories about how things could be better … or worse.
Stories of hope.
I began thinking about this yesterday, when the lovely folks over at Thinklings asked what books I’d recommend to others. I was in a funk, as I often am these days, and I was grateful for the distraction. I started making my list, which began with Poul Anderson’s “The High Crusade” and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars.” Books from 1960 and 1912 respectively, when things on the world stage were often darker than they are today. I looked at the list and thought: seriously? Do I want to include throwbacks from an even more difficult time?
And I decided yes, I do. Because so many of my favorite stories, even the outdated and dark ones, are stories about hope.
Old genre fiction and pulp, especially sci-fi, is inextricably of its time. Nothing ages as fast as yesterday’s idea of the future. And the social attitudes are, by our standards, utterly inexcusable. But they are still stories about moving past limitations: breaking the atmosphere, advancing the frontier, exploring the furthest reaches. People from different backgrounds (why do so many people forget that Captain Nemo was East Indian?) come together to overcome terrible challenges.
Genre fiction is great for this. Even dystopian fiction is, in its way, hopeful. In the far future of A Canticle for Liebowitz, where so much has been lost, there are still individuals who work to help others and to preserve ancient knowledge. And in the grim darkness of Warhammer 40,000, a universe so unremittingly bleak that it’s literally given us a new word for depressing fiction, there are still stories of great heroes … or just those who make the best of things.
We don’t read dystopian fiction because we want them to come true. We read dystopian fiction because we want to see the dystopia fall, and to see what not to do. And I find that hopeful.
Writers, we have a wonderful gift. We can write stories of hope. We can imagine ways that we all sort out our conflicts … or simply manage to temporarily ignore them in the face of a greater threat (aliens! Gods! Ancient monsters!). Or we can spin a yarn to make someone smile during difficult times.
Right now, I have two manuscripts going. One is a story about strange murders at a renaissance faire; the other is a sequel to Painter of the Dead. There’s some weird, dark stuff in those (especially the first one), but to me, they’re always about hope. Characters will come out the other side wiser, better, or simply tougher than they went in. Depressing endings? Those are for Shakespeare, and I ain’t no Shakespeare. I just want to tell a good story.
Happy writing! Let us be hopeful.