Believing In The Future – A Guest Post By James Cambias
I’ve got a new book coming out from Baen, called The Godel Operation. It’s an attempt to do far-future, hard-SF space opera. The story is set at the end of the Tenth Millennium, when a billion worlds circle the Sun. It’s full of Big Stuff: giant space habitats! An exawatt laser powered by black holes! The planet Mercury dismantled and turned into a titanic computer ring around the Sun! It was a lot of fun to write, and I’m working on a second novel in the same setting.
That second book is a lot harder to write. The problem isn’t the story or the characters. I think it’s a good solid book and I expect I’ll be pleased with it when I’m done. But I’m having a lot more difficulty making myself believe it.
Despite a genocidal war in the Fourth Millennium, and various tyrants, menaces, and perils, my Billion Worlds setting is fundamentally optimistic. We will spread beyond Earth, we will build great things. The people of the Tenth Millennium aren’t looking back, they’re facing ahead: a mature Dyson Sphere civilization ready to spread across the Galaxy.
I could believe that last year as I wrote The Godel Operation. The first year of the “Lockdown” was no handicap for a self-employed writer. I just spent more time on my porch and less time in coffeeshops. (It probably made me more productive, to be honest.)
But now . . . four months into 2021 it’s a lot harder to be optimistic. At times I honestly believe I am watching the end of America, possibly the end of civilization. How can I write about remaking the Solar System when science is being turned into propaganda and technophobes shut down powerplants and eviscerate space exploration?
It’s worthwhile to look back and remember what the legendary writers who built the science fiction genre had to live through. The darkest time of the Second World War was probably 1941-1942. Britain’s survival hung by a thread; Russia was reeling under German attacks; unprepared America saw its navy wrecked in a single morning.
And in those dark times Heinlein wrote “Universe” and “Methuselah’s Children” and “Requiem.” Immortality! Space travel! Voyages to the stars! Asimov wrote “Robbie” and “Homo Sol” and “Foundation.” Artificial intelligence! Galactic federations! Planet-spanning cities! Jack Williamson wrote “Collision Orbit.” Terraforming! Antimatter!
In the worst years of the 20th Century they looked ahead. When “serious” and “realistic” thinkers in government and the academy assumed democracy and freedom were obsolete, crazy dreamers wrote trashy pulp stories . . . which inspired the men who went to the Moon a generation later.
When the armies of ignorance and fanaticism are chanting dirges of despair, science fiction writers have a duty to refuse to sing along. Our job is to remind people that it doesn’t have to be like this. Remind them that their children can reach for the stars instead of grubbing in the sustainable manure pile. Keep the flame burning, even if it has to be through self-published books and samizdat fanzines. When the Empire of lies falls, our Foundation will endure and inspire the ones who will colonize the Solar System.
So that’s our job now: we have to make ourselves believe in an optimistic future, because that’s the only way that future will ever come about. Now, if you all will excuse me, I have to get back to work. There’s a future to build.