Optimistic Sci-Fi

I had forgotten how much I missed optimistic Science Fiction. When we look back at the history of science fiction, the first decade of the 21st century will be remembered for an adventure into grittiness, pessimism, and exploration of the devils, rather than angels of our nature. Perhaps it was a needed excursion, but it has been an exhausting decade.

Perhaps science fiction simply reflects its era, and the last decade has certainly been an exhausting look at the devils of our nature in reality as well as fiction. Just as I am glad to see the pessimism and grittiness of the last decade give way to the hope and optimism of an Obama administration, I was glad to leave the movie theater from the new Star Trek movie feeling like the shadow of the last decade has lifted.

To be fair, television series like Battlestar Galactica were excellently produced, directed, and acted. The genre is better off for its existence; indeed, the darkening of Stargate SG-1, and the darker themes in Stargate Atlantis relative to its parent series made for compelling, interesting science fiction.

But I lost sight of the fact that optimistic stories, those that did not rely on racism, prejudice and other human failings had all but vanished from television. Even Star Trek, which always showcased the elimination of racism hundreds of years in our future, trotted our a grittier, conflict-ridden series in Enterprise, in which the ongoing conflict between the humans and vulcans was a thinly veiled metaphor for modern-day racism and hatred.

The thematic changes are even reflected in the lighting. Even shows from the 90s like Babylon 5, which tried to paint a more realistic, gritty face on science fiction, featured relatively bright settings and an overall optimistic theme. After several seasons in which the heroes battled relatively evil (but sometimes ambiguous) villains, they emerged victorious, and the victory was soaring and uplifting. In contrast, virtually all shows in the last decade have involved morally ambiguous heroes and dark, gritty sets.

Again, there is certainly a place for that sort of thing, but the utter lack of optimistic, bright, unambiguous science fiction over the past decade has fatigued me in a way I hadn't realized at all until I stepped out of the theater from Star Trek this weekend. Having gotten past the unpleasant future of the Enterprise world, Star Trek (the new movie) features a racism-free future, flawed but uplifting heroes, and bright, large sets that evoke feelings of optimism. I have to say: it felt good.