Thank you, Liza, for letting me join you today! I know we read and write sci-fi romance for all sorts of reasons, but today, I'm talking about how we use science fiction to explore our hopes and our fears.
Sci-fi universes tend to be either utopian (meaning people have solved most of their problems for most of the people, most of the time), or dystopian (people have created more problems for most people, most of the time). By and large, sci-fi worlds and universes fall somewhere between the extremes of the two.
Writers of earlier eras explored more utopian themes, using the relative stability and advancement of the day to imagine humanity striving towards potential perfection (that may have had a little "tunnel vision" feel to it, by today's standards). Given the data we have in the modern world, and the history we've highlighted, utopia seems a little far-off. Even, at least to me, suspicious. Nowadays, we're more aware of all the ways our society can go (or has gone) wrong.
My personal theory is that we focus on the "crapsack worlds" more than the happy futures, because we, as writers, find it more useful to help provide the human imagination a roadmap for getting out of trouble. But exploring utopian societies is still useful, in that we can give the human imagination a goal towards which to work. Star Trek has informed so many people working in space industries today that it has helped to bend our perception of the future and serves as a source of hope for many, and it's by no accident on Gene Roddenberry's part. He believed humanity could overcome our darker natures by exploring our commonalities and celebrating our differences, and he showed it in his storytelling.
But we ignore our shortcomings at our own peril, and science fiction reflects both our dreams and our fears. These days, our fears surrounding science turn a greater focus on our fragility both societally and biologically (zombie viruses, anyone?). We find our anxieties about a more connected global community in alien invasion stories. And, sometimes, our compassion as well. Aliens, whether they come from a different culture an ocean away, or a different planet light-years away, are a reality we must grapple with as thinking people. Even if we haven't yet found evidence for extra-terrestrial life, we must still explore our reactions and emotions about its existence, both to understand our own fears about the different and because one day, we will leave the bosom of our Mother Earth and go to other planets, where we will be the aliens.
Some things change, but people are still people. In the series I'm working on now (Scions of the Star Empire, a spinoff/sister series to Huntress of the Star Empire), the citizens of the overcrowded planet of Landfall, its moons, and its planetesimal colonies, are gifted with technology beyond our own, yet still struggling with class inequality, civil unrest, and corruption from within. Like us, they have failed to learn all the lessons their history should have taught them, but they're not without hope. They'll have to look to both the past and the future to chart a way forward through growing chaos.