Every year, the Science Fiction Writers of America gather in May to vote on and announce the Nebula Awards for best novel, novella, novelette, and short story published in the genre the previous year. The SFWA also votes on the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation. The winner for 2015 was “Mad Max: Fury Road” a reimagining of the Mad Max films that made Mel Gibson an international superstar in the early 1980s. The other major competitor was “That Martian” that was directed by Ridley Scott and starred Matt Damon as an astronaut marooned on Mars.

Brad Torgersen, a science fiction writer, published a lengthy essay on his blog that suggested that the pick shows a marked shift by the science fiction establishment from the way it used to regard the future.

“The Martian” is perhaps unique among recent science fiction films in that it depicts a future that is not horrible. Humanity is starting to explore Space again in a big way, sending explorers across the interplanetary gulf to Mars. The conflict concerns a man, played by Damon, who must marshal all of his scientific knowledge and courage to survive with limited resources in the most hostile environment a human has ever had to face until a rescue can be mounted. Equally as courageous and skilled are the people back at NASA on Earth and the crew of an interplanetary ship that must sacrifice safety to go back to Mars and rescue their crew mate.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is set in an Australia that has been ravaged by a war that has brought down civilization. The future is as bleak as that of “The Martian” is hopeful. The conflict not only pits its characters against the ravaged landscape but one another, with gangs and tyrants making an already horrible situation worse in the fight over diminished resources. The movie is replete with violence and degradation.

Space exploration used to be a favorite theme of science fiction. Now, the favorite theme is dystopian futures, the more horrible, the better. If the movies do not depict teenagers murdering one another, as in “The Hunger Games,” it is of futuristic biker gangs creating mayhem as in “Mad Max.” The old fashion stories of exploring the high frontier seem to have lost favor and are regarded as passé.

Oddly, that feeling is not shared by audiences. While “Mad Max” did a very respectable $378 million worldwide, “The Martian” beat it out soundly by making $630 million. It looks like the people still like space adventures along with dystopian stories.