Honest Uplift a Guest Post by Author Stephen Cox

The Bookseller polled agents recently, and they saw one major trend for 2022 as ‘Joy-seeking, as readers continue to gravitate towards books that inspire, lighten, and distract...’ They also dubbed an increase in science fiction sales as showing the desire for ‘escapism’. Almost any book distracts, or could be used to ‘escape’, but never mind.

As I hear some sneering from all around me, some thoughts.

People are allowed to have different tastes in what they read and write.

I want my work to bring other people joy. Primarily I hope it entertains them, but if that inspires them, or lightens their load a little, what is wrong with that? Uplift is good, it is not pandering to immature tastes.

Writing can do this in many ways, some lighter than others. I pass over those for whom joy is the perfect description of a skull split in two.

Let me briefly outline a capable non-SFF book I read, as Voltaire said, in a spirit of inquiry. The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella. Her heroine is a brilliant hardworking corporate lawyer whose domestic ability is that of a toddler. She is blamed for a terrible error at work that costs the firm millions, she flees in shame to the country, where she somehow agrees to be housekeeper to a demanding nouveau couple. Somehow, despite several amusing really-she’d-be-sacked-on-the-spot incidents, she pulls it off. When early on, the handsome, tanned down to earth country fellow hoves into view, the rough ending of the book is clear – as clear as if his name was LOVE INTEREST. So, it did the job of lifting my mood, but it is not set in a world of real consequences.

I prefer uplift which is honest - physical reality and other human beings can be horrible, and some things don’t end well. In Our Child of the Stars, my heroine spends much of the first book fearing her child will die or be taken from her. The couple has been through an awful couple of years, and they have to rebuild their relationship. But the reader gets joy from their successes.

My first defence of joy is for its own sake. People can write SFF as light as Kinsella, or stuff which is Reservoir Dogs on coke, or the Iliad in space. Even if the characters are knee deep in shit, blood, and pessimism, there is joy in dry boots, being alive and a joke afterwards. Much dark writing gives the glow of doing a marathon in the rain. The end is the stronger for what you went through.

Are trends and labels helpful? I look awry at noblebright fantasy if its aim is monotone characters. I prefer the flawed person muddling though. We hold golden truths in clay vessels. Solarpunk looks for sustainable futures and hopepunk could be an attempt to placate the gloomerati by saying hope is spiky. But it is spot on - it can be radical to offer hope.

My second defence of joy is around what we owe each other. If the powers that be cannot achieve mindless adoration, a cynical detachment and universal despair work almost as well for them. Science fiction has the power to imagine better futures and hint how they might be achieved. Utopias might not be practical, we might not like what we might sacrifice to get there. But let us not concede the future must be as a few thousand over-wealthy, over-spoiled, and largely white men want it to be.

Science fiction can be clear eyed about the challenges we face. We are fond of writing warnings, often whole dystopias. We have been making these for decades and with each one coming real, we tell people we told them so. Scaring people more may not stir them to action. Adding hope, adding joy, lifting them up may do so.

Novels need to be stories before they are sermons. Terry Pratchett gave us people we cared about, made us laugh, and landed some interesting messages on the sly. I remember the old vaudeville motto, ‘Make them laugh, make them cry, make them think, and send them home with a song.’

You can read the review for Our Child of Two Worlds at https://sfbook.com/our-child-of-two-worlds.htm