As summer turns to autumn in the Northern hemisphere, and the global doom and gloom of ever new pandemic variants roll on, it is easy to forget that once upon a time speculative fiction had a utopian calling. The “scientific romance”, as it was often called in the 19th century, sought to entertain, of course, but also to illuminate the reader and whisk them away to a better future. A future that is separated from the present not only by time, but by Progress writ large.
While contemporary SF tends to succumb to the temptation of merely projecting present challenges onto a date set later than our own, classic speculation took the liberty to invent futures both whimsically and radically different from the author’s world. What more, these imaginary realms were oftentimes presented as aspirational – more appealing than the reader’s own reality. Alas, with the exception of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (and possibly Iain M. Banks’ Culture), one has to think hard to name any widely-known current SF universe one would actually like to inhabit.
While grittiness seems the dominant narrative mode of present-day sci-fi, there are utopian currents within the genre that offer relief from these dark overtones. One such stream is the emerging sub-genre perhaps best labelled as “solarpunk”.
You may have noticed our slightly different cover this quarter. It is the work of Belgian artist Dustin Jacobus, and seeks to convey at a glance some of the solution-oriented optimism that typifies solarpunk. But don’t take our word for it. In his essay, Eric Hunting offers a more substantial introduction to the resolutely positive outlook of this sub-genre.
David Kyle Johnson and Mina also return with fascinating essays on SF philosophy and speculative linguistics, respectively. And our autumn issue is, of course, filled with a band of stories ranging wide from humans wishing to make good impressions on invading aliens, to extra-terrestrial visitors who don’t at all seem interested in Earthlings.
the SPJ co-editors & crew