Yesterday I went to Picocon 25. I think this was my eighth Picocon; I know my first was in 1999, and I think I’ve missed one since then. In the past few years it’s been a sort of marker for the peak period of activity in British fandom, which runs through Eastercon and Sci-Fi London to the BSFA/SFF AGM event, so 2008 now feels like it’s really started.
It was neither the best nor the worst Picocon I’ve been to, but it was a pretty good one. Notable bits: Paul Cornell’s perhaps slightly disorganised but very entertaining talk on “doing it all” as a writer (ie working in tv and comics and prose and etc); lunch at what I fondly think of as the Princess Diana Memorial Pizza Restaurant; much good conversation in the bar with too many people to mention; very briefly meeting one of the Whogasm girls; and, along with Paul, Paul, Liz, Alex, Nick, Andrew, Tom, Simon, and a guy called Matt who none of us knew but seemed to be a decent chap, winning the annual Picocon quiz, thus gaining copious amounts of Lindt and a signed proof of Cory Doctorow’s new novel, Little Brother. (This will now be slowly passed around the members of the winning team. What we do once we’ve all read it I’m not sure, unless only one of us likes it.)
The afternoon panel — traditionally Picocon has one programme item for each Guest, then a panel with all the Guests on it in the afternoon — was not terribly well structured. The topic was “Futurism Sucks!”, which seems to have been suggested by Cory Doctorow based on an impromptu talk he gave at some other event and not discussed by the panelists beforehand such that before long there were several competing definitions of futurism in play, never mind the question of whether they each sucked or not. As a result, the discussion had a habit of touching on (to me) an interesting question, and then wandering off again, although a large part of the time it circled around environmentalism and portrayals of global warming (or not) in sf. And there are a couple of points that were raised that I just want to note down.
- Kim Stanley Robinson aside, there are not many major works of science fiction written in the last decade that have climate change as a central subject. There are dozens of novels where global warming is mentioned as a background detail; it’s just not treated as a part of the world the protagonists will be engaging with.
- Someone suggested that climate change was a more common subject in YA sf, suggesting Julie Bertagna’s Exodus as an example. I haven’t read Exodus, so I don’t know how it tackles climate change, and I haven’t read enough YA to know whether the assertion is true in general. (I have to say that from reading The Inter-Galactic Playground it is not true, but I’d be happy to hear of other examples.)
- Personal assumption: the scarcity of climate change sf is both noteworthy and significant. This is something sf should be dealing with.
- Caroline Mullan suggested a possible reason: that climate change has rapidly moved from being a scientific problem to a political one. Sf writers are (in general) still more interested in the former kind of problem than the latter, not least because it tends to be easier to make stories from them, which is why we don’t see much climate change sf, and the stuff we do see comes from writers who (like KSR) are interested in politics. Possible counter to this: we’re seeing a lot of political sf dealing with the War on Terror, its rationale and consequences, so we do have plenty of political sf writers.
- Final observation: when Paul Cornell suggested that it is still possible to imagine a future in which humanity comes to terms with climate change, most of the audience laughed. That, to me, suggests another reason why we don’t see much climate change sf: people don’t believe it can be dealt with, and don’t want to read about it being coped with. Which is a bit depressing, really. It seems to me it should be possible to think about meaningfully dealing with climate change in a way that isn’t wish-fulfillment. I’m reminded again of the quote from the LRB article on this topic about needing “pessimism of the intellect combined with optimism of the will.”