Well, wasted a lot of Saturday trying to write a blog that was so gloomy that even I felt like taking a running jump off a tall building towards the end. After a bit of consideration, I have decided to abandon that and instead talk about a show that no doubt everyone else knows about since it's been on the air since 2013.
This is the work of genius cartoon show Rick and Morty created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon. It is a cartoon following the adventures of the drunk/mad/amoral genius scientist Rick and his hapless 14 yo grandson Morty. The premise is that Rick has the ability to travel between multiple alternate dimensions of time and space and make lots of fart jokes.
This means that not only are we constantly exploring strange new worlds, but that we're also repeatedly encountering multiple versions of the lead characters. In one episode, the two leads even replace -- and bury in the back garden -- two of their alternate selves who are killed in an accident. This is necessary because Rick has spectacularly f**ked up their origin dimension and...oh, well watch the episode 'Rick Potion #9' on Netflix....
I won't spend too long breaking down the ins and out of the show, partly because I'm incredibly lazy but mostly because it's been done much more effectively by others. Check out Wisecrack Edition's analysis of the 'cosmic horror' philosophy of Rick and Morty, above, and also their podcast the Squanch, which breaks down each season three episode fairly comprehensively.
What I will talk about is how the existence of a such a clever show challenges writers of speculative fiction.
I've been reading fairly sizeable chunks of new short SF this year, partly on magazines, partly on websites and partly very new fiction for the Milford SF writer's conference. I have to say that much of it seems positively tame and certainly restrained compared to the wild, inventive and very contemporary plots of Rick and Morty.
For an example, see Wisecrack's discussion of the season three episode 'The Ricklantis Mixup' (WARNING: Spoilers!):
This discussion gives a good impression of just how smart, sophisticated and dense each episode of Rick and Morty tends to be, in addition to being very funny.
This might sound like blasphemy, but I think that in places this cartoon equals (exceeds?) Douglas Adams in wit and philosophical sophistication (although it's certainly much cruder than Adams ever was....)
So writers of speculative fiction (like me) find ourselves challenged; can short stories still deliver and inventive punch, even though we're less burdened by dick and fart jokes? I think the challenge is on...