Reality Skimming

Ursula Pflug – My thoughts on Optimistic SF

Ursula Pflug

Ursula Pflug is author of the novel Green Music and the story collection After The Fires. Her new story collection, Harvesting the Moon, is coming out in fall 2013 from PS Publishing, with a preface by Candas Jane Dorsey and an afterword by the author.
Also in fall 2013, Blue Denim Press will be releasing a new novel, The Alphabet Stones.
Pflug teaches creative writing to adults at Loyalist College and organizes Cat Sass Literary Nights, a reading series in Norwood, Ontario. Her home page is at

My sister and I, a year apart, were childhood reading buddies. Sometimes, we literally read the same books at the same time, over each other's shoulders. We switched from British juvenile fantasy to juvenile and YA science fiction in grade six, discovering Heinlein and going on from there. We were nerdy science lovers and SF offered a community in which that didn't mean social ostracism, as, I think, it still can. Science fiction has often been called a literature of ideas; it's imaginative scope, often in terms of setting, appealed hugely to my curiosity and thirst for adventure. I love to travel off the beaten path and some of my thirst for the unfamiliar surely stemmed from my reading material. When I was a little older, I was impressed by how writers including Maureen McHugh and Ursula K. Leguin explored issues including gender and economic disparity. Such works can give us hope--what if, in other places and times, folks have found solutions, however provisional, to problems we are still struggling with, here on earth. It doesn't matter if they're invented--the important part is the hope. It's difficult to act without hope.

Folks have occasionally said my work is a little on the dark side, but melancholy might be a better descriptor. I feel that we don't always need happy endings--we're grown-ups, and real life is full of ups and downs. I've noticed lately that people who watch incredibly violent television can be the same ones who browbeat writers for not being optimistic enough. Deconstructing the dark in the world and in ourselves is the first step in the process of transformation. We cannot change what we don't understand and haven't yet named. One example of a dark writer I find inspiring for his darkly scintillating intelligence is the 20th c. literary giant Kafka, who, of course, wrote speculative fiction by any other name. He predicted the incomprehensible bureaucratic hells of the current period in ways that are both subtle and scathing. Was it "dark" of him to warn us where we were headed? I don't think so--I think it's the opposite--that to warn, or even just to draw clearly, are forms of optimism--they infer that we have the power to change things we're not afraid to look at. Fahrenheit 451 is another classic example--look at Bradbury's remarkable prescience: the decline in reading, the prescription drug abuse, the greater and greater immersion, to the near exclusion of all else, in electronic feeds of various forms including interactive screens. To me this is optimism, because it requires the courage to not pull the wool over our own (or any one else's) eyes. So I take a kind of backward approach. As well, it seems to me anything that boosts reading, writing and literacy is in itself a project in optimism. I'm personally not particularly drawn to horror fiction, but if that's what people want to read--well, the important part is that they're reading.

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