Today, Slashdot asked the question: Ask Slashdot: What’s the Most Depressing Sci-fi You’ve Ever Read?
For me, it was The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Ray Bradbury brilliantly presented how the banality of evil could be exhibited wherever mankind ended up. The minor mundane awfulness of humans, even in what should have been fascinating circumstances, was depressing as all get out.
I was surprised to see other people listing works like Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and Childhood’s End. I get that many people view the cyberpunk futures from 1980′s science fiction as dystopian, but Neuromancer is so close to how the world actually turned out that I have trouble viewing it as super dark and it certainly did not depress me when I first read it. I felt that the humans in Neuromancer were perhaps not the better-than-now of space opera, but they weren’t worse either and Gibson did not focus on the trivial cruelties people inflict on one another like Bradbury did. Snow Crash might have struck other people as depressing for similar reasons, but it is another personal favorite of mine. Snow Crash is a fun adventure including fully-realized believable counterculture characters. If the future visualized there has commercial interests in government roles, I think that is just a clearer representation of how it has always been. King Henry the VIII repudiated the Catholic church partly because he wanted to remarry and partly because doing so allowed his people to loot the British religious establishment when he had a war to pay for. I’m not convinced that is terribly different from Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong business concern. And Childhood’s End might suggest that we are not all that evolved, but maybe we are not. My favorite part of Childhood’s End is where the guy is admitting to himself that he actually fears his children and their superior abilities. Perhaps the loss of individuality in Childhood’s End bummed some readers out, but I didn’t feel like that was exactly where the evolution was going. In ever sense, there is always a tension between individuality and belonging, but I don’t think a strong sense of being part of a greater whole necessarily has to equal total loss of self. Then again, I was really young when I read Childhood’s End, so maybe I just didn’t understand it.
Twenty years ago, it was as if someone turned on a light. The future blazed into existence with each deliberate word that William Gibson laid down. The winner of Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards, Neuromancer didn’t just explode onto the science fiction scene—it permeated into the collective consciousness, culture, science, and technology.
Today, there is only one science fiction masterpiece to thank for the term “cyberpunk,” for easing the way into the information age and Internet society. Neuromancer’s virtual reality has become real. And yet, William Gibson’s gritty, sophisticated vision still manages to inspire the minds that lead mankind ever further into the future.
Only once in a great while does a writer come along who defies comparison—a writer so original he redefines the way we look at the world. Neal Stephenson is such a writer and Snow Crash is such a novel, weaving virtual reality, Sumerian myth, and just about everything in between with a cool, hip cybersensibility to bring us the gigathriller of the information age.
In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous…you’ll recognize it immediately.
The Overlords appeared suddenly over every city–intellectually, technologically, and militarily superior to humankind. Benevolent, they made few demands: unify earth, eliminate poverty, and end war. With little rebellion, humankind agreed, and a golden age began.
But at what cost? With the advent of peace, man ceases to strive for creative greatness, and a malaise settles over the human race. To those who resist, it becomes evident that the Overlords have an agenda of their own. As civilization approaches the crossroads, will the Overlords spell the end for humankind . . . or the beginning?
In The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury, America’s preeminent storyteller, imagines a place of hope, dreams, and metaphor— of crystal pillars and fossil seas—where a fine dust settles on the great empty cities of a vanished, devastated civilization. Earthmen conquer Mars and then are conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race. In this classic work of fiction, Bradbury exposes our ambitions, weaknesses, and ignorance in a strange and breathtaking world where man does not belong.