Why near-future science fiction is difficult

Paul Raven @ 11-09-2008

Here at Futurismic, our fiction guidelines state that we’re looking for near-future science fiction only. There’s no elitism involved – we just like to have a niche to focus on, one that (we hope) fits with our readers as well as it does with the editorial team.

But there is an argument to the effect that, in some ways, near-future science fiction is more challenging to write well than the out-and-out fabrication of, say, space opera. Few would know that better than Jetse de Vries, who has just finished a four and a half year stint as fiction co-editor for Interzone magazine. De Vries has been doing some thinking-out-loud about the problems of near-future sf from the writer’s perspective:

It’s what makes writing near-future SF such a daunting task, and a kind of catch-22 exercise: if it looks too believable it (most probably) won’t happen; if it looks too implausible it might very well happen.

So if you dive into the world of tomorrow, you need to find a balance between not being too conservative in your predicitions, but also not too ‘off-the-wall’, either. For example, back in 1997 the movie “Wag the Dog” satirised the Clinton/Lewinsky affair by fabricating a war to cover up a presidential sex scandal. Nowadays, one would not only wish it was only a sex scandal they were covering up, but — much more importantly — that the war was ‘fabricated’ instead of real.

[snip]

So what’s a poor SF writer to do? Well, dare to make mistakes, try to ride the fine line between extrapolating too straightforwardly or too crazily, and face complexity.

I hear that: the older I get, the more relevant the old aphorism seems to become – the truth really is stranger than fiction.

How do the writers among you approach plausibility in your near-future science fiction stories?

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5 Responses to “Why near-future science fiction is difficult”

  1. tobias buckell says:

    I was just author-whining about this: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2008/09/11/north-pole/

  2. Tom Marcinko says:

    It’s a challenge, that’s for sure. If I were looking for a way to show-don’t-tell mean-spirited Dickensian pennypinching heartlessness, I’d have to reject charging rape victims for forensic testing as over-the-top if not hysterically preachy.

  3. Tom Marcinko says:

    P.S. That story alluded to above is apparently even worse than it sounds.

  4. jon says:

    perhaps ‘plausibility’ shouldn’t be a requirement of near-future SF then? if anything could happen tomorrow, no matter how crazy (explain that concept to someone from 5 Aug 1945 or 10 Sept 2001) then the only boxes to be checked are: “is this set in the near future?” and “is it a good story?”

  5. Paul Raven says:

    Interesting point, jon – I’ll not presume to speak on his behalf, but I think the latter qualification is the one that Chris (our fiction editor) is most interested in.

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