The Hopetopia Bar: L.X. Beckett on Writing Science Fiction that Dares to Dream

The Hopetopia Bar: L.X. Beckett on Writing Science Fiction that Dares to Dream

L.X. Beckett

This fall L.X. Beckett transports readers to the year 2101 in Gamechanger. The Clawback project is working hard to restore Earth after ecological disaster and war devastated the planet, but there’s an underground group fighting against them. Lawyer Rubi finds herself caught in the middle when she gets a new client: Luciano Pox, an online terrorist sabotaging the Clawback. To celebrate the book’s release, Beckett reflects on the importance of hope for both humanity and the Earth in science fiction, and the struggle to keep that alive in our world today.

Optimism, these days, is a little like helium. It’s invisible. It’s generally reckoned a not-bad thing to have. It might, like many invisibles, seem unimportant… well, unless you happen to need an MRI. Really, how big a deal can helium be when we use it to fill party balloons? 

And how much can optimism matter when it doesn’t even, you know, trade on the stock market? It’s not bitcoin, you know, it’s not real.

Do we really need to think twice before frittering it away?

I am, at my core, a peppy person. I’m upbeat, cheerful, and willing to point out the upside of any situation. When my fellow Torontonians moan about the weather (seriously, on a fine summer day not long ago, someone told me “Sure it’s nice now, but winter’s just around the corner!”) I tell myself at least a sense of shared adversity gives strangers a way to connect. 

Like many others, I’ve had to fight tooth and claw to retain a sense of optimism over the past few years. I’m not oblivious. There are lots of reasons to focus on the bad. I’m human; I have dark nights of the soul. A buoyant temperament feels like a shabby defense against the dark arts unfurling in the daily headlines.

One such bleak moment, for me, came a few months ago. I was among a group of supersmart innovator types, the sort of people who can’t open their mouths but that something astounding drops out—ideas about culture or technology or socioeconomics or privacy legislation or the future of currency—and all of these folks were pretty much under the age of 35. At a certain point, the group started reckoning on how long the world had left. How long they had left. Maybe it’ll last to 2035? Maybe?

If you happen to buy into the idea that grief has stages, what I was hearing had gone well past denial. It was bargaining. Bargaining on a generational scale.

I felt a harrowing, abyss-deep sadness for everyone in that room. As that group of thoroughly brilliant individuals cast the bones to see if they could mentally allow themselves to hope for one and a half more decades of life, they were steeling themselves for less. For worse. No amount of helium could get their balloons aloft.

This is not an article on how our wealth-grabbing dipshittedness as a species might bring about a global human extinction event. There are plenty of articles about that. You already know the basics of the problem: too much carbon and fascism in the air, more going in every day. Keeping my flicker of optimism alive has involved, mostly, not reading those.

So is hope just about preventing total near-term human extinction? Is that good enough? 

No way!

Survival is a pathetically low bar. Mere survival implies barely making it through the coming catastrophes. It’s asking Santa to deliver you into a Lord of the Flies scenario and thanking him meekly for considering it. It’s… well, it’s all the stuff we’ve been reading in dystopias, during these recent boom years of post-apocalyptic supergrim science fiction. 

The worst is easily imagined. And imagining the worst leads to paralysis.

So…. Hopetopia! Hopetopia is disciplined, rigorously imagined science fiction that envisions ways to not only maintain a foothold as a viable species on this planet but to continue to thrive as a pluralistic, equitable, high-tech society.

Is that ambitious? Totally. So what? 

Is it unrealistic? We won’t know if we don’t cast our hopes out beyond 2035, I’m pretty sure about that!

Science fiction inspired the engineers who put humans into space.  As readers, they knew that novels where we make it out to Proxima and meet googly-eyed aliens were aspirational, limit breakers, apparently beyond physics and our technological abilities. Yet even now that dream has concrete effects. We have cosmonauts in orbit above the earth, contributing one more step and so much knowledge to the vast exploration dream.

By the same token, science fiction that dares to dream up better futures here on the ground doesn’t have to be naive or laughable. It doesn’t have to be chirpy, pie-in-the-sky stuff, devoid of anger. We can write hopeful novels where we broom or transform whole institutions, all the dysfunctional cultural structures that are torpedoing us in the now. 

Don’t let the “topia” fool you—you can create futures where things are nuanced. Where a few things are just plain bad, but things improve for the world and for humanity. Where love endures amid loss, and beauty remains.

Whatever your aspirations for your nearest and dearest, for the greater mass of humanity, and for the planet, hopetopia’s time has come. Find the emerging technologies, the real-world leaders and the fictional futures that nourish your optimism. Write them down, talk them up, and share the links. Bring out your dreams, in all their scary vulnerability, and knit tomorrow with them. 

Twenty-first century humans need stories and movies and TV shows where we terraform the Earth so it remains habitable for humans. We need novels and graphic novels and dance performances and plays and burlesque numbers where we bioform humans so we can remain on the Earth as it changes. We need to fill our heads and the dreams of our current school kids, media consumers, newshounds, pundits, philanthropists, policy-makers, and most of all our innovators with aspirational futures. Futures that aren’t all top-down Atwoodian nightmares where patriarchal elites and capitalism have us locked in a constant psychadelia-soundtracked racist, rape-culture nightmare, an amped-up version of the worst trends driving events today.

Maybe this sounds easy. I know, I swear, that it isn’t. I was writing my own hopetopia, Gamechanger, during the fall and winter of 2016-17. It was hard going toiling to finish a whizbang adventurous book about a 2100 where fandom makes things better and lots of things turn out okay, just as so much of what was around me… well, it wasn’t okay. Not even a bit.

In the end I told all the why-bother voices, the ones in my head and the ones coming from every corner of the real world, that the rising despair around us made finishing the book more important, not less. 

Compassion and optimism are choices, as fatalism and paralysis are choices. I choose optimism. I choose, in my arty way, to fight.

Aim high, dream big, and dare to imagine a world that isn’t in a galaxy far far away. That planet’s fine. It’s waiting for us; it’ll keep. 

Meanwhile, take a look at the story in our own backyard. Start picturing a world that can continue to welcome and shelter us, one we fought to keep, one that our descendants will be proud to call home.

L. X. BECKETT frittered their misbegotten youth working as an actor and theater technician in Southern Alberta, before deciding to make a shift into writing science fiction. Their first novella, “Freezing Rain, a Chance of Falling,” will appear in the July/August issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2018, and takes place in the same universe as Gamechanger. Lex identifies as feminist, lesbian, genderqueer, married, and Slytherin, and can be found on Twitter at @LXBeckett or at a writing advice blog, the Lexicon, at lxbeckett.com.

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