Near-future sf is not impossible, says Gareth L Powell

Paul Raven @ 28-10-2008

Gareth L Powell has decided to refute Charlie Stross’s recent claim that near-future science fiction is impossible to write. As a quick recap, Charlie said:

We are living in interesting times; in fact, they’re so interesting that it is not currently possible to write near-future SF.

Gareth sees that as shrinking away from the challenge:

I don’t see SF as a dry, intellectual game of prediction. I don’t feel the need to be proven right by posterity. If the immediate economic future looks a little uncertain, I’ll fudge a little. I’ll make my best guess and hope for the best. I’ll write a story about people.

After all, this kind of uncertainty is hardly new. Science fiction writers in the 1980s had to consider the fact that the futuristic stories they were writing could be rendered obsolete at any moment by a full-scale global nuclear war – but they kept on writing. They made some basic assumptions and they went for it.

For instance, William Gibson wrote Neuromancer in the early Eighties, at the height of the Cold War, when the superpowers were on the brink of a holocaust, and as far as he knew, he could have been vapourised before finishing the novel, but he finished it anyway.

I’m going to side with Gareth on this one – after all, we publish near-future stories here at Futurismic, and no other type!

But what about you lot? Do you find the plausibility of the predictions in a piece of near-future science fiction as important as the plot and the characters?

Near future SF: connecting you to the future

Tom James @ 02-10-2008

I do go on about Charles Stross’ postings – but he is pretty good. As such, more comment from the Autopope on what constitutes near-future SF:

In my view, near-future SF isn’t SF set n years in the future. Rather, it’s SF that connects to the reader’s life: SF about times we, personally, can conceive of living through (barring illness or old age). It’s SF that delivers a powerful message — this is where you are going. As such, it’s almost the diametric opposite of a utopian work; utopias are an unattainable perfection, but good near-future SF strive for realism.

[image from dan taylor on flickr]

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.


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?

Internet = Short Attention Spans

Arun Jiwa @ 23-06-2008

hardwired io9’s Michael Reilly linked to an article in The Atlantic, written by Nicholas Carr on how the Internet is changing our reading habits. Michael summed it up in the following line:

The internet is giving us a form of ADHD when it comes to reading, and we should be scared of that.

Ok, Carr does mention the first half of Michael’s point in his article:

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

But the second half of Michael’s point is more or less implied by his view of Carr’s article.  Carr doesn’t try to inject this opinion into the piece, IMHO, but looks at the question from different angles to patch together a picture of how we’re changing in response to new forms of media.  He mentions anecdotes, and expresses professional opinions of sociologists, media mavens, bloggers, and neuroscientists.  

Reading, explains Wolf, is not an instinctive skill for human beings. It’s not etched into our genes the way speech is. We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic characters we see into the language we understand. And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains. Experiments demonstrate that readers of ideograms, such as the Chinese, develop a mental circuitry for reading that is very different from the circuitry found in those of us whose written language employs an alphabet. The variations extend across many regions of the brain, including those that govern such essential cognitive functions as memory and the interpretation of visual and auditory stimuli. We can expect as well that the circuits woven by our use of the Net will be different from those woven by our reading of books and other printed works.

This article is well worth a read, if not for Carr’s anecdotes, then for the interesting behavioral points addressed by Carr.  Speaking from experience, I don’t find that the Internet has affected my ability to read for pleasure.  Reading long dry books has always been hard for me, and of course the Internet can be a distraction (so what else is new?). What about Futurismic readers, do you find it hard to read longer works because you’ve gotten used to reading short short text bits on the Internet?  Or, are you like me, the type who can balance reading weighty novels with a daily diet of RSS feeds?

[image by twenty_questions]

Edelman dissects the Bourne Trilogy

Tomas Martin @ 07-10-2007

David Louis Edelman, author of Infoquake, has an excellent blog post today about what Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass’ work on the Bourne trilogy of films implies about the American view of its own government. The complicated paranoia of current world events and the question of how far do you break the rule of law to get the bad guys is one of the key moral choices of the new millenium and near-future SF writers like Edelman are an important part of understanding what’s going on now and what’s going to happen in the future.

[via Pyr editor Lou Anders’ blog]

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