Writing Nice Futures

Abernovo

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I was at BristolCon this weekend (first since the Before Times!), and there was a panel entitled 'Love as a Positive Force', discussing why we should have love in all its forms in sff. So:

  • familial love (why does it have to be they-killed-my-family-so-revenge?), such as a supportive family giving the MC the strength to face the big bad;
  • platonic love, admitting that the MC's best friend is a loving relationship does not make it sexual, but gives the basis for mutual strength, and going into danger for each other, and could even be described as a partnership; and
  • sexual/romantic love, where the character does what they do for their sexual partner, the co-parent of their children, their potential date, etc.

None of it has to be perfect, and certainly not utopian. The characters can still argue, face difficulties in their various relationships, but the potential for layered character relationships is there. You could even extend that to community, with them working together, generally in synch, with the tension caused by situations, external pressures, and unintended consequences of innocent acts.

Part of that is of interest to me, as I prefer to look at the smaller scale impacts upon individuals, but it could equally be scaled up to larger situations, and resources (for instance) being the cause of strife between two decent communities/civilisations, which are brought to the edge of conflict, and have to work out how to manage before both going down the road to destruction.

Which also links in to the worst trope in romance, and other genres: this could all have been sorted out if you had bleeding well talked in the first place! And that kind of links back to @Mon0Zer0's post about Quaker meetings.
 

Toby Frost

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I think those are good points. My feeling is that the best stories have some kind of convincing emotional core, and that usually involves the relationships of friends and family. A friend of mine said about Frodo and Sam recently that while they technically could be gay, it's far more likely that they are just very good friends - and that there are a fair number of men who don't know what that is.

While there are certain societies that just can't live together peacefully (except while rearming to fight one another) there usually has to be some kind of compromise. I was thinking about several small planetary empires, where none can afford an all-out war, partly because their rivals would take advantage of their inevitably-weakened status. That could allow both intrigue and compromise.
 

Toby Frost

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I further wonder if a "utopian" society might have some way of identifying people with particularly dangerous personality traits (the "dark triad" of narcisissm, Machiavellianism and psychopathy springs to mind) and preventing them from holding high office. Of course, this would be a huge violation of rights to begin with, and would raise very serious questions about who gets to make such decisions and how, but that in itself could generate interesting stories.
 

Mon0Zer0

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I further wonder if a "utopian" society might have some way of identifying people with particularly dangerous personality traits (the "dark triad" of narcisissm, Machiavellianism and psychopathy springs to mind) and preventing them from holding high office. Of course, this would be a huge violation of rights to begin with, and would raise very serious questions about who gets to make such decisions and how, but that in itself could generate interesting stories.

Interesting little comic by Jun Chiu here about the invention of a cure for psychopathy

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sknox

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I think you can choose whatever future you care to paint. It will matter only through the eyes of characters. That's where you'll sell it to the reader.

When I read the OP my first thought was the second chapter in The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. While the Martian couple isn't at all happy with each other, they plainly lead an idyllic life. Bradbury doesn't describe political systems or economies or any of that. But the words themselves are calm and quiet. Unruffled, save for the sniping between Yll and Ylla. Even the fact that Yll has a gun doesn't seem to imply that the Martian culture is anything other than unruffled.

So, it's possible for you to write a story that addresses none of the larger systems mentioned in this thread. Or that addresses just one or two. Go ahead and invent your version of happy. Don't worry whether it works or not; your characters will convince us.
 

Mon0Zer0

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Bradbury doesn't describe political systems or economies or any of that.

Agree with the bulk of what you've said there - but one challenge is publishing. Other than dystopia fatigue, one of the motivations that some people currently advocating nice futures (the "solarpunk community" for one) have is to envisage or proselytise political and economic systems, in a similar way to the league of left wing writers had certain writing rules. Social engineering is a key goal of some publishers calling out for solarpunk collections.
 

sknox

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So, there it's a matter of engineering the story to fit the programme. That's fine; it has a long pedigree in SF, stretching back to the 19thc. Or heck, right back to the originator, Thomas More's Utopia. If I were aiming for such publishers, I'd take a good look at their submission guidelines and at what they currently publish. Then give 'em what they want!
 

Wayne Mack

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One thing to consider is that many dystopian stories are based on conflicts in the meaning of utopian society. As a writer, I don't think it is necessary to push things all the way into dystopia, but there is room to show different 'ideal' situations and show non-violent means of resolving conflict. This would create interesting logic puzzles ala Mr. Asimov's robot stories.
 

Harpo

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The future will always need a yang to its yin, balance in the force, eddies in the space-time continuum, furniture carpenters who specialise in skeleton-shaped cupboards, et blimmin cetera.
 

Stephen Palmer

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I further wonder if a "utopian" society might have some way of identifying people with particularly dangerous personality traits (the "dark triad" of narcisissm, Machiavellianism and psychopathy springs to mind) and preventing them from holding high office. Of course, this would be a huge violation of rights to begin with, and would raise very serious questions about who gets to make such decisions and how, but that in itself could generate interesting stories.
Interesting thoughts. Worth pointing out that human rights - very valuable of course - are a Western, individualist concept which many in the East don't "get," because their mode of thinking is group/community based. If we prioritised community over individual here, we might not be in such political and ethical trouble.
 

sknox

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>Worth pointing out that human rights - very valuable of course - are a Western, individualist concept which many in the East don't "get," because their mode of thinking is group/community based.

I Shoulda Thought o' That Dept.
Of course our notion of human rights centers on the individual, but I should have thought of the implications. The arrogance, even. That "human" must necessarily mean "individual."

Why not "village rights" or "clan rights" or "tribe rights"? We have a little of that with the special status of native inhabitants in several countries. But for the fantasy writer, this has some real potential. It's intriguing to me to think of what a legal system might look like if it were based on the hearth or village, or on family or clan, with rights at the individual level being either subordinated or even non-existant.
 

Dave

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Firstly, if it were possible to have a utopian world without any problems, any story set there would be very dull. Where is the conflict to come from is everyone is satisfied? The characters will be dull too. They all would have experienced similar lives without any hardship or suffering, and all be thoroughly nice people. There would be no villains to exploit them.

Human nature is just not like that. In the real world; even a future world with genetically similar humans, controlled by "happy drugs" and wanting for nothing, there would still be differences. Those differences would become amplified over time, even in a world of plenty for everyone..
.I think you'd have to have some way of dealing with the drive for status and domination over others, otherwise it wouldn't get very far. "Alpha Male Island" surrounded by seas patrolled by robo-sharks, might be a solution.
I don't think you even need "alpha males" or females. Suppose that all the money in the world now was collected up and then evenly distributed back to every person equally, how long do you think that would last? Some people are less intelligent and some would make bad decisions with their money, some people would spend it all, some would save it all, some would be robbed, some would steal and scam from others, some would invest in projects and make more money, some are just not entrepreneurial. Some people would be generous, some would exploit others for all they could. Some would really shaft people and hoard their gold, some would give everything freely to charity. Within a very short time you would be back to having rich and poor people again, and people who will starve if not supported. The world requires that there are poor people for it to work, and there have always been poor people, and always will be poor people. I'm not looking for a political discussion here, just making a point on human nature.

Yes, for sure we hold altruism up as an ideal. I don't see altruism as enough of a driving force to overcome this. As I see it the basic human drivers are accumulation of wealth and sex (and addiction). Men and women will do anything for wealth and sex, they have no inbuilt moral compasses when they believe no one is looking. The man with the 3/4 full tank of fuel will still put another £10 in if he thinks there is a shortage and if he can. Even the man with enough toilets rolls for a year will still clear the supermarket shelves of the very last roll, and then sell it back on eBay to the highest bidder. This is what humans do. We rob from charity boxes. We are happy to fly-tip on our neighbours property if it means that we don't have to pay to dispose of it. We murder people for money. We commit adultery with our neighbour's wives. We are happy for ocean islands to disappear as long as we can maintain our own fossil fuel driven lifestyles. As a species, we are happy to wage a relentless war on life on this planet, and we are cruel beyond belief. We are despicable.
 

.matthew.

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(Perahaps a Fermi paradox solution - civilisations that get to post-scarcity fulfull all their needs and then just stagnant, before being wiped out by natural causes or perhaps even themselves, because they don't see the point in just doing the same things again and again and again....)
This is actually a fairly common event just in terms of societies at large. Once they reach a certain level of comfort and security, birth rates tend to drop off a cliff. In terms of a future universe, how would this play out? Would humanity be constantly on the verge of extinction?

In a post scarcity future, I worry about a humanity stripped of purpose. I think we're already seeing this in action with the internet and everything. I just can't help seeing pictures of people taking jolly selfies in front of graves, or the rise of hikikomori and mass depression in the young due to atomisation and not think of mouse utopia. Look at lockdown, it drove most of us batty!
For me, this is a weird one. From outside the fold so to speak, I still understand the need for religion, for purpose, for community. Not everyone needs it, but without a central form of such, it's very easy for degenerate or dangerous ideas to propagate.

There would need to be communal spaces, dances, cultural centres arranged around a global spiritual belief system (not necessarily a religion, but something that would provide a set of cultural stories that facilitated peace and understanding between different regions and had customs and rites that brought purpose and meaning).
Exactly right. Nations are built on culture and any major differences within, always lead to division.

I further wonder if a "utopian" society might have some way of identifying people with particularly dangerous personality traits (the "dark triad" of narcisissm, Machiavellianism and psychopathy springs to mind) and preventing them from holding high office.
Those would be good ideas in general, but what of those whose roles rely on such manipulative clinical thinking? If your society has outside enemies, someone would need to sacrifice what is right for the safety of everyone else from time to time. Take assassinating a dangerous dictator or setting two hostile powers against each other as examples.

Suppose that all the money in the world now was collected up and then evenly distributed back to every person equally, how long do you think that would last? Some people are less intelligent and some would make bad decisions with their money, some people would spend it all, some would save it all, some would be robbed, some would steal and scam from others, some would invest in projects and make more money, some are just not entrepreneurial. Some people would be generous, some would exploit others for all they could. Some would really shaft people and hoard their gold, some would give everything freely to charity. Within a very short time you would be back to having rich and poor people again, and people who will starve if not supported.
A very good point and the only way that world could work would be with constant corrections by the state, completely at the expense of personal freedoms.
 

Toby Frost

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Firstly, if it were possible to have a utopian world without any problems, any story set there would be very dull.

I don't think that's what's being suggested, just a world that's better than our own, if only slightly.

We rob from charity boxes. We are happy to fly-tip on our neighbours property if it means that we don't have to pay to dispose of it. We murder people for money. We commit adultery with our neighbour's wives.

Do we? Not everyone does this, just A-holes. The question is: how do you keep the A-holes from ruining everything? That, surely, is the interesting bit.
 

Mon0Zer0

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A very good point and the only way that world could work would be with constant corrections by the state, completely at the expense of personal freedoms.

One of the things I love about Mr Robot, is that it deals exactly with the problems of redistribution, and how vulnerable any form of redistribution is to attacks by people who control the platforms and the political spaces we use are. Sam Esmail, an Egyptian American was specifically writing with the Egyptian revolution in mind, and how the democracy movement was perverted by authoritarian forces. In Mr Robot, the destruction of the debt system created severe distribution problems and allowed 'E corp' to corner the market in cryptocurrency.

Without wishing to bring politics in, but one of the predictions of the big M fella (last name rhymes with / is Groucho's surname) was that production and distribution would (by the natural process of history) become sufficiently advanced as to eliminate scarcity. The knock on effect of this would be that currency itself becomes obsolete. If price is contingent on supply and demand and there is infinite supply, the price becomes zero. People would just walk into stores and take stuff because "to each according to their need". It's the Star Trek solution.

This is, sort of happening. See Jeremy Rifkind's Zero Marginal Cost society. But, as economist Yanis Varoufakis' has noted instead of replacing the old modes of production and distribution with abundance, something more terrible is potentially taking its place: technofeudalism. Even with Amazon's walk-in fully automated supermarkets we're not seeing this leading to basically free goods, we're seeing systems that introduce artificial scarcity controlled by platforms that mediate everything you see in the world and violate individual sovereignty.

Streaming services, are essentially artificial gatekeepers to scarce media. You can watch as much as you like, but it's kept behind a paywall. This is artificial because digital products are infinitely reproducible. Same with NFT's. The blockchain itself is a ledger that proves ownership, but ownership in the digital space is entirely synthetic.

Other than stories by the politically dubious Zero HP Lovecraft and maybe Black Mirror, I've yet to see a flurry of writers covering these kinds of timely issues. I've been trying to write stories about technofeudalist dystopias under the banner Serfpunk™.

Back onto Utopias:
This is actually a fairly common event just in terms of societies at large. Once they reach a certain level of comfort and security, birth rates tend to drop off a cliff. In terms of a future universe, how would this play out? Would humanity be constantly on the verge of extinction?

I kinda think our only hope as a species is in colonisation and terraforming. Declining birth rates could indicate colony collapse as per mouse utopia. Our hope is in growth - and growth can't be maintained on earth alone.
 

.matthew.

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Streaming services, are essentially artificial gatekeepers to scarce media. You can watch as much as you like, but it's kept behind a paywall. This is artificial because digital products are infinitely reproducible. Same with NFT's. The blockchain itself is a ledger that proves ownership, but ownership in the digital space is entirely synthetic.
There are two ways of looking at that. While I absolutely agree with the infinite reproducibility of digital products, they are still required to cover their creation costs. So for me, the issue is with the artificial pricing of goods, particularly in the case example of small digital artists and platforms like Patreon. They totally deserve a fair (and generous) wage, but at the same time, many end up essentially selling the exact same amount of labour to vastly more people, at zero additional cost to themselves, often raking in millions a year.

Another problem is caused by whoever operates these platforms, being able to control what people see. This in the future could easily lead to a technocracy, which then creates lots of underground organisations and plenty of drama for internal storylines.

I kinda think our only hope as a species is in colonisation and terraforming. Declining birth rates could indicate colony collapse as per mouse utopia. Our hope is in growth - and growth can't be maintained on earth alone.
Indeed. I remember that mouse study from years ago and it was just plain depressing. The striving for new worlds and specifically the desire to create a new world for personal future generations is what leads to growth.
 

Mon0Zer0

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There are two ways of looking at that. While I absolutely agree with the infinite reproducibility of digital products, they are still required to cover their creation costs. So for me, the issue is with the artificial pricing of goods, particularly in the case example of small digital artists and platforms like Patreon. They totally deserve a fair (and generous) wage, but at the same time, many end up essentially selling the exact same amount of labour to vastly more people, at zero additional cost to themselves, often raking in millions a year.

Agree, but the right of creators to get paid is a moral issue. The problem of infinite reproducibility is an economic issue. The solution emerging is artificial scarcity enforced by platforms and algorithms.

In effect the wage system, for some, has already returned to a feudalist patronage model, rather than the market model of the last 200+ years.

Another problem is caused by whoever operates these platforms, being able to control what people see. This in the future could easily lead to a technocracy, which then creates lots of underground organisations and plenty of drama for internal storylines.

Plenty of ripe storylines there for sure, not really fodder for Nice Futures, though.
 

AllanR

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as per mouse utopia
I have a hard time referring to that experiment as a utopia. It had more the trappings of a prison. Food, water, under constant surveillance, and limited stimulus.
Also be careful what you read into it, over the years a wide range of interpretations of the data have come out.
 

Mon0Zer0

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I have a hard time referring to that experiment as a utopia. It had more the trappings of a prison. Food, water, under constant surveillance, and limited stimulus.
Also be careful what you read into it, over the years a wide range of interpretations of the data have come out.

Fair comment.

I can't help being reminded of it whenever I see analogues in human society, though. Surveillance, for example.
 

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