This train of thought was brought about by some comments on the Darker Matter web site about my story Chaos Theory. This comment was made:
Wonderful story. I'm not at all disappointed that he didn't indulge in his darker side, although I'd expect to see stories of a darker nature in Darker Matter.
Followed by this from the editor:
It's an interesting point. I think Chaos Theory is almost certainly the least dark story DM has published so far. I was conscious of that when I chose it, but I enjoyed it so much I couldn't resist. It's also worth pointing out that the name "Darker Matter" is not intended to indicate that the magazine only publishes dark stories - it's just a bias.
All of which has me wondering if the readers out in general public (read non-writer readers) really want all the dark fiction that is available. I honestly don't know. My fiction tends to be the opposite of dark, that is, hopeful. I don't say light because that implies humor. While some of what I write is humorous, even slapstick, dramas still predominate. In my stories, the good guy almost always wins. Even today, when my own life is in a shambles and stress attacks from every direction, my fiction betrays me. I'm an optimistic person, and my fiction reflects it.
My impression is that my work is well received by readers who don't write. Even my darkest of stories, Oh, Mallary! ends with the main character at peace with himself. It seems I'm not wired to write dark fiction, in the same way I'm not wired to write literary. Utilitarian and fun, that's me.
It begs the question of what people really like to read. I don't think that is necessarily reflected by what editors buy, especially in short fiction. What do readers generally want from a read? It used to be escape. During the Great Deprssion and World War II, people wanted to get away from reality.
That sense of escape, though certainly still available, seems to have taken a back seat to literary credibility, as demonstrated by Harlan Ellison. You would be hard-pressed to find more talented master of the English language than Ellison, yet his fiction takes work to read. Drugs and pushing the boundaries were the word of the day.
Today, there really aren't any taboos left to break. What worked as a Dangerous Vision in 1968 isn't worth a blink today. If the literary way is the right way, why is J.K. Rowling wealthier than the Queen of England? Why? Harry Potter is fun. It's escapism.
I've been told on a number of occasions that a story of mine was fun to read, and not always the same story. That gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. What more could a writer want than to give the reader something fun? Why, then, is so much dark fiction out there?
Is today's science fiction, as a genre, too literary and pessimistic? Has it fallen far behind fantasy because that is now where the reader can have fun?
I think the pendulum is moving back in the direction of fun, and I submit the recent popularity of space opera as my example. Big, preposterous, and perhaps a bit melodramatic, but definitely fun.