My thoughts on optimistic SF.
I don't claim to write optimistic SF for the same reasons I don't call myself a hacker or a feminist. I think "author of optimistic SF" is a title which must be bestowed upon me by others, rather than claimed. To do otherwise seems presumptuous.
Despite my reluctance to apply the term to my own work, I don't write dystopian fiction. While the backstory for my invented universe contains what I promised my wife I wouldn't make my characters call a "nanotech-induced zombie apocalypse", Nationfall is part of the backstory for Starbreaker. The series itself takes place later, in the society the survivors rebuilt after learning from the past. It's an open society where people are free to live, work, and prosper without unnecessary fear of violence or discrimination. It's a world where liberty, justice, and equality under law for all aren't just empty words or hollow ideals.
However, it's not a utopia. Corruption and abuses of power remain a problem, and must be opposed by those willing to uphold their rights and those of their fellows with diplomacy and force of arms. Reform and further progress are still necessary, but in my imagined society both are possible, and can be set in motion by individuals. And my own tendency towards cynicism and misanthropy results in a tone which might be more appropriate to film noir.
Why do I write such fiction? I do it as both an act of rebellion against the current popular trend towards the depiction of dystopian societies, and for my own sake. I don't want to write about real life in real America as I understand it. I don't want to depict a society in which corruption, discrimination, inequality, widespread poverty, and perpetual war for nothing of lasting value might as well be part of the status quo. Depending on where you get your news, dystopian SF might as well be a new form of realistic literary fiction.
I refuse to be part of that. I refuse to write such fiction. Instead, I choose Romanticism; or, if you prefer, optimistic SF.
Introduction to Excerpt
Naomi Bradleigh is one of the central characters in my Starbreaker sequence. Her exotic coloration (normally pale skin, white hair, and scarlet eyes) is not a result of albinism, but of her ancestry. She thinks of herself as human after growing up in human society and participating in human culture. She lives in London, is a classically-trained dramatic coloratura soprano and pianist, and until recently one of the driving forces behind the progressive metal power trio Crowley's Thoth. It is her association with the band's deceased founder, Christabel Crowley, which places her in a delicate situation nobody should have to face.
Excerpt from Without Bloodshed
Naomi Bradleigh pressed a hand to her belly, hoping her empty stomach's snarling remained unheard. Two constables took her from her home and brought her to MEPOL before breakfast, which meant her only food today was a handful of hothouse strawberries eaten before her shower. She refused all offers of coffee or water, afraid of a ruse to get fingerprints or genetic evidence without a warrant or her consent. "Do you make a habit of starving your suspects into submission, Inspector?"
She considered the office as she waited for her captor to deign to answer her. The constables who came to her home did not bring her to one of the bare interrogation rooms she expected from watching the occasional police procedural drama, but directly to the office of Inspector Alan Thistlewood. Thistlewood's right hand trembled as he held the phone to his ear, and his gaze lingered on her in a manner which made her wish for a weapon. "No, not yet. I got evidence of motive and opportunity. She'll incriminate herself if we keep up the pressure. Everybody does."
Thistlewood hung up, and studied Naomi until her urge to draw her cardigan tight around herself threatened to overwhelm her. "Hungry, Ms. Bradleigh?"
"Lunch would be pleasant, Inspector. I would also like to speak to my attorney."
"Why do you keep mentioning your attorney? Trying to hide something?"
"I would hide everything from you, Inspector."
He leaned towards her, as if sharing a confidence. "The more you tell me, the more I can help you."
I used to be an Adversary. How can I just sit here and wait for rescue which might not come? I should be my own savior. Naomi eyed Thistlewood's revolver, which rested in a shoulder holster under his right arm. The belt holding his service gladius hung from a coat tree by the door, out of his reach. She entertained the notion of overpowering the inspector, taking his weapons, and using them to force her way to freedom. The revolver held only six rounds, but the short, broad-bladed sword suffered no limitations save those of her own strength and stamina. Let violence be my final resort. I can do much to resist before resorting to arms. "I will tell you nothing without my attorney, Inspector."
"You were Christabel Crowley's neighbor, which afforded you opportunities to get close and kill her." Naomi shook her head, unable to believe Thistlewood insisted on beating this hobbyhorse of his into the ground. "Crowley kicked you out of the band, and believed you seduced her boyfriend, which gave you motive. I bet she hated sharing the spotlight with a freak like you."
Thistlewood wasn't the first to call her a freak. Life with congenital pseudofeline morphological disorder, or CPMD, meant she grew up around people who called her worse names. Her eyes had slit pupils, her ears resembled a cat's despite being flat against her head like a normal human ear, and her fingernails curved over her fingertips to create claws. "Now you're just being tiresome." She kept the rest to herself. You think I seduced Morgan? I count the days to every Winter Solstice and an excuse to kiss him.
Naomi ignored Thistlewood's questions, for she deflected each of them half a dozen times already. Morgan would call even the deflections a mistake. So would Edmund and Sid. They kept telling me I should treat the police as my enemy and give them nothing but name, rank, and serial number if I ever found myself in their custody. His aftershave reeked of alcohol as he leaned over her, staring into her eyes. "You might be a freak, Ms. Bradleigh, but you got a hell of a body. Do you work out?"
She suppressed a shudder, and considered Thistlewood's revolver again. The weapon waited within her reach, its polished wooden grip a dull gleam beneath the antiquated florescent lights. No. This is just a new tactic. He hopes to use my revulsion in his favor. Naomi narrowed her eyes as his hand gripped her thigh too tightly to be a mere caress. "When did groping a woman become an acceptable interrogation technique?"
Thistlewood loosened his grip, and smoothed her skirt with a lover's delicacy. However, he continued to lean over her. His hand trembled through the layered chiffon and the silk of her stocking. "I hoped you'd incriminate yourself, but we can convict you on the evidence alone. Juries hate women like you." The hand slid up a bit. "But I can suggest a plea bargain which will get you a very lenient sentence if you cooperate."
"For your sake, Inspector, I hope you don't use that line at pubs." She slid her hand behind his head, and gently pulled him close enough to whisper in his ear. "You don't need a line with me. I'm in your power, right where you want me. Morgan Stormrider never had me like this." He wouldn't want me this way, which is why he's a better man than you'll ever be.
Naomi held her need to fight back at bay as Thistlewood's creeping hand slipped between her legs. I dare not kill him. His death would bring rest of them down on me, and he might stop me if I go for his gun now. I need to lower his guard. I bet Claire would seduce him, or at least let him think she was seducing him. She shifted in her seat, parting her thighs a little, and arched her back. "Am I the reason your hand trembles, Inspector."
"Are you telling the truth?" Thistlewood's voice was lower, rougher. He strained against the seam of his uniform trousers, and for a moment Naomi wished Morgan was leaning over her, his lips inches from hers. "Stormrider never had you like this?"
"He never had me at all." Naomi let her voice settle into a seductive purr as she slid her other hand along his waist, before letting her fingers curl around the revolver's grip. She slid the weapon free of the holster, and dug her nails into the nape of Thistlewood's neck when he tried to pull away. Smiling as he yelped in pain, she ground the muzzle of the revolver into the soft flesh beneath his jaw while thumbing the hammer back. "Neither will you, Inspector."
She kicked his feet out from under him, and her claws, which she filed so that they would not interfere when she played a keyboard, tore into Thistlewood's flesh as he fell. She sprang out of the chair and retreated before he finished collapsing to the floor. She adjusted her grip as he rose to his knees, glancing at the sword; she held the weapon in both hands, as Morgan taught her, despite her insistence on needing only a sword for self-defense. I should have told him I was an Adversary.
He stared at the weapon, stared at her, and could not get the words out right away. "You stole my gun, you treacherous bitch."
"You violated my rights and tried to extort sexual favors from me, but you insist I'm the villain here? You certainly think highly of yourself." She smiled behind the iron sights, and put her teeth into it. "I can be reasonable. If you do as I tell you, I might forget this ever happened."
She shrugged, and the revolver pointed at his belly instead of his groin. "Now you have cause to arrest me. Try not to make a complete botch of it."