The Future Of The Past

*Sorry about lateness.  I should know better than NOT to blog on Friday night.  Saturday morning we always have errands which ends up making the blog very late.  I’m not done either, I’m going to need to clean the cat boxes.  I’m being glared at by Greebo as we speak, I’ll have you know.*

Yesterday in one of the groups I belong to and check irregularly, someone posted an article from IO9.  Full disclosure, I didn’t read the article.  Life is too short to hang out at IO9.  But this is not about the article, not really.  It’s about the concepts which were summarized in the lead, and confirmed by those of my fans/friends brave enough to put on waders and climb down into IO9.

The concept of the article was this: with our communications technology and gene splicing and other goodies, we’re living in a science fiction world.  There is no point to science fiction anymore, except to “critique the world.”

This is a point of view I’ve often seen defined in panels too.  I call it the “we had to kill science fiction in order to save it” point of view. There was more to that, like there should be no “retro” science fiction.  There’s fodder for a post there, and there will be a post, about what is “retro” science fiction and whether there’s a use for it or not.

We will, possibly in a later post get into the whole concept and potential value or lack thereof of critiquing society; what it actually means and what it actually does.

Right now I want to concentrate on WHAT is science fiction after all.

I’m fairly sure I know.  I’m also fairly sure these people are spectacularly confused.  They seem to hold on to how science fiction was explained to me when I was eleven and stumbled onto it.  (I’d already read Have Space Suit Will Travel, at around 9, but it didn’t strike me as science fiction, just as a slightly fantastic present day adventure.  Look, guys, what did I know about what America was really like?  Remember I thought Denver was by the sea [I think I confused it with Dover. And now I have a story title that’s going to bug me till I write a short story.  The White Cliffs of Denver.])

I stumbled onto science fiction with Out of Their Minds, by Simak, which was and wasn’t a problem, because, you know, while it took place in the future, sort of, it was the near future and I could call it “fantastic adventure.”  But my second science fiction book was A Canticle for Leibowitz and that I could not just write off as “they made up some stuff, but it’s essentially the world as we know it.”  So I asked my brother what weird-*ss books he was reading (my early sf reading was standing up by Alvarim’s bedside, ready to toss the book in the drawer and run into my room at the sound of a footstep on the stairs.  you see, he’d told me not to read them, showing both a remarkable care for my innocence [SF in the seventies.  Yeshhhh] and a complete lack of knowledge of my character.  Yes, I also read Masters and Johnson standing up by his bedside table.  Did wonders for my English, it did.]

His explanation was “Science fiction are stories set in a future world.”

While this is, technically, true, of course, it neglects that little fact that making predictions is hard.  Particularly about the future.  And also that now that we have almost a hundred years of science fiction behind us, it makes a lot of the futures depicted in those books the future of the past.  Or in Sir Pratchett’s fantastically appropriate description “the future of another leg of the pants of time.”

I mean, the “The future is now” people are very funny.  Yes, we do have a lot of technological marvels (like, when haven’t we?  Even if it was just a better plow) and it’s affecting society (like, when hasn’t it?) BUT is it the future depicted in science fiction novels?  Pfui?  Do I have a flying car?  WHERE are my moon colonies, my weekends on Mars?

Second, “the future is now”?  Really?  I’m no longer surprised at their lack of understanding of gender.  I’m somewhat puzzled that they ALSO don’t get verb tenses.  I’m told that some very primitive societies have no concept of past or future.  Everything is an eternal now. (I don’t know.  I never did linguistics field work.)  For my money they’re more advanced than people who think there used to be a future, but now we’re living in it and time stopped.  (MAYBE that’s what’s actually wrong.  Maybe there’s a whole group of people we should never have taught to talk.  How much damage could they do by rhythmic blinking, after all.  Never mind.)

Do we have things that our parents didn’t have?  Bother.  We have things that were unimaginable when I was a little kid.  More so than your childhood, mine was temporally dislocated from the normal time.  I mean, I still remember my mother ridiculing the idea I’d ever afford a house with running hot and cold water.  (She built one herself 3 years later.  Never mind.)  I remember trimming oil lamps (partly because we had electricity — sort of — but it was really unreliable.  I am daily humbled by living among marvels of human ingenuity.

What I don’t imagine is that this is the end of the human ingenuity or the human story.  I don’t presume to say “we won’t go any further.”  And I CERTAINLY don’t presume to say “we should go no further.”

To say “we’re living in a science fiction future, there is no reason to write science fiction anymore” is wrong on EVERY front.

First, yeah, sure we’re living on  science fiction future.  Just like people in the 1930s were compared to their parents.  Your point is, precisely?  That’s a tautology on the order of “the black horse is black.”  Yeah, and so what, Captain Obvious?

Second, I don’t think science fiction is what you think it is.  We don’t each have a crystal ball and write about “the future as she will be.” See part about making predictions and how that’s hard, PARTICULARLY about the future.

So if you think the point of science fiction was to predict the future, then there was never a point to science fiction.  It’s sort of like saying the purpose of pigs is to fly because you saw a drawing of a pig with wings.  The only answer to that is “You’re not from around here” and by around here I mean reality.

Yes, yes, science fiction dresses itself in future tropes, gives dates, etc, but it’s actual and point of fact purpose, as a branch of fantastic literature, is to give the artist (or the craftswoman, in my case) a broad canvas on which to tell stories that can’t be told in our present-day, limited-to-reality universe.  Sure, it makes it interesting, and it’s one of the constraints of the genre (sort of, before you get into alternates and counterfactuals) that you at least do some hand waving at “how we get there from here.  The readers of the genre expect it, and it’s polite, kind of like it’s polite not to mention lucrative to meet your readers’ expectations.  BUT it’s handwavium for the paying patrons, not a fact of life.  Every science fiction universe, even the most grounded in reality is always “what might be” not “what will be.”  Because the future and reality are way more complex than you can cram in a book.

So there is a point to science fiction.  The same point there always was.  The future is by definition not here yet.  It never will be.  Because that’s the quality of the future.  It hasn’t happened yet.  (These people probably eagerly believe signs that say “Free beer tomorrow.”)

And I bet you that it surprises you.  I bet you there are wonders we can’t even dream of (though we try) waiting just around the corner.  And I’ll dream them until I get to see them.  And I’ll take as many of you as I can along for the ride.

These people belong to the future of the past.  The future that belongs to them (eh) is the future imagined circa 1930s.  A future of central control and exact distribution of limited resources.

They’re both disappointed they don’t have it — hence the reason that they think SF should “critique” things — and bewildered by the advances that have really happened, hence the almost forlorn lament that “we’re living in a science fiction future already.”

If you can’t imagine anything more than what we have, I suggest you’re in the wrong field of writing.  I hear there is a lot of demand for technical manual writers. It demands no imagination.  (Though it does demand a mastery of verbs, of course, which might be a negating condition.  On the other hand you can call machinery xyr and no one, not even the machines care.)

If this REALLY is the wildest future you can imagine, that’s fine.  Sit down,  stay here.  Rest (or bitch) a while.

The rest of us?  We can imagine a million interesting futures.  And we’re going to dream of them until we get there.

 

242 responses to “The Future Of The Past

  1. Science fiction, all sorts of speculative fiction, are about putting characters into difficulty in imagined worlds and seeing how they react. In that, it’s much like all fiction.

    • nonono, not like “literary fiction that critiques society” PTUI. 😉

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      What’s the difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy? 😉

      • Science fiction anchors itself in (largely fake, natch) plausibility. We know fantasy is impossible from the gitgo. This gives it both more latitude for invention and a more difficult task in drawing the reader in and worldbuilding

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Yet…

          In Chris Nuttall’s Sufficiently Advanced Technology, we have an extremely High Tech Society discovering a planet where humans are using “magic”.

          Sure, the magic is hand-waved as “even Higher Tech” but it looks like magic, ie people casting spells.

          IMO in some of the best Fantasy I’ve read, the magic could be “science” that operates by different rules.

          Poul Anderson famously said that FTL travel is magic because “we know that it isn’t possible”. Of course, at the time he said that it was true but scientists may be able to make FTL travel possible. 😀

          • sabrinachase

            Still, the underlying rules are science. In other words, they are consistent and you don’t need to *believe* in them for them to work. In a science-rules world, if you perform exactly the same steps in exactly the same conditions, you get the same result. In a fantasy world, the end result depends mightily on who is doing the experiment (Chosen One, magical talent, the foretold heir, the favored of the Gods, your animal spirit was feeling generous, the herbs were picked during an auspicious phase of the moon).

            Yes, yes, I know it can *look* like magic. But somebody, somewhere, had to construct the interface using science first.

            • Reality Observer

              Exactly. Science fiction is based on rules that we have already verified, and you do not violate those that are, as far as every experience tells us, absolutely verified, such as “two masses will attract each other”. You can play around the edges of that – such as postulating that gravity is actually a field that can be manipulated to change the inverse square law.

              Good fantasy is based on rules, too – even though it violates the rules of science, it has its own rules (you must be that chosen heir, etc.). As Sarah observes, though, when you go in that direction, you have to be very careful with world-building to make it plausible to the reader.

              Which is why Olde’s novelette should never have even been nominated. Obviously not science fiction, and not fantasy with any plausibility whatsoever in its “world building.” I would say it was pretty decent writing, assuming the translation is as exact as possible – but in some other genre. It’s value as “social criticism” – well, I am not fit to critique that.

              Life would be easier if we would just admit that “social criticism” is its own genre – and should have its own awards, in its own sandbox. Yes, I know that puts works by people like Swift into that genre, not “ours” – but when I think about it, that is exactly where Lilliput, Brobdingnag, etc. really do belong.

              • By those standards “The Lord Of The Rings” is more science fiction than “The Foundation Trilogy”.

                • Reality Observer

                  Wups! Caught me, Misha, and I was caffeinated at the time… Should have put “as known at the time” in there somewhere.

                  “Frankenstein” is science fiction – because it was plausible by the science of that time. (If someone writes the same thing it today, it is fantasy, without a doubt, just as much as, say, the “Twilight” books.) So is Verne’s moon tale, if just barely – he could have determined that accelerating to escape velocity with a cannon would have ended up with passenger jam – but that was rather specialized knowledge at the time.

                  Actually, this is why I classify, for example, “I Will Fear No Evil” (Heinlein) as fantasy, not science fiction. Maybe, possibly, we will be able to transplant a brain someday and get all the wires to connect properly – but it is highly unlikely that personality actually lives in the body, and that was just as unlikely an idea in 1970 as it is now. (It is well-written “social criticism,” in a way, although nowhere near award territory, IMHO.)

                  • Reality Observer

                    BTW, anyone know who needs to be told to send a takedown? Check on the pub date just popped up a pirate site on WordPress…

                  • The Other Sean

                    There’s an Italian doctor who’s talking about performing not brain transplant, but a head transplant – or should that be a body transplant?

                    See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/science-or-science-fiction-how-an-italian-doctor-hopes-to-perform-first-human-head-transplant-a7007676.html for one article I’ve seen covering it.

                    • Chrismouse

                      I also saw an article recently, although I don’t recall exactly where, of a Russian gentleman witha degnerative disease who was planning to be the guinea pig for a brain/head transplant possibly within the next year or two.

                      Which was slightly scary and also reminiscent of the Vorkosi-verse’s clone-brain transplant, which also kind of confused me. They had brain transplants and regeneration, but they couldn’t hack rejuvenation? That just seemed scientifically wrong to me, but then, what did I know?

                  • C S Lewis in “That hideous Strength” has attempts to keep a head alive separate from the body. That whole trilogy is science fiction (fits the science of the time) although it reads very old fashioned now.

                  • Um… actually it is no such thing. We know there are cases of transplant where people got memories… (transplant of organs, not the brain.)

                • Hmmm. If personality doesn’t live in the body, where is it?

            • David Weber actually has some fun with that in Hell Froze Over, er, The Road to Hell, as a master wizard tries to figure out a repeating rifle.

              • Gate: Thus The JSDF Fought there has a wizard learn about science – and uses it to improve her magic; particularly ballistic physics.

                • Patrick Chester

                  Yeah, I need to catch up on that. Her trip to Japan led her to getting a ton of science textbooks. I’m sure hilarity will ensue.

                  (I did find a clip where she starts using magic to fling bladed weapons at that dragon, whilst commenting that she needs to increase the velocity more. Cue dragon pincushion. I spoil myself when I find clips on episodes I haven’t seen yet, but I still enjoy the episodes when I see them in full context.)

                  • Manga’s slower than the anime, which has a different ending than the LN, webnovel. Manga’s also not finished yet, so we will see what will happen.

                    I think there’s a sequel? I’ll have to look and see. I know MeiCon became a spinoff series.

                    • BobtheRegisterredFool

                      MeiCon?

                    • Mei Company is the fictional manga/anime that the main character of Gate: Thus the JSDF Fought there, Itami is a huge fan of. He and another one of the soldiers, who shares his same hobbies, sing the opening during their first expedition out to contact and talk to the locals – forgetting that the radio was left on, so everyone in the 3rd Recon ends up (having no choice but to endure) listening to them.

                      The premise of MeiCon is actually an interesting one, which defies the setup implied in Sailor Moon – Magical girls who spend their nights fighting evil and having adventures aren’t likely to do well in school, and have little hope of going to college and finding a job.

                      Takumi Yanai’s good at this kind of thing, honestly.

                      Oh yes, there’s a new series of books for Gate, the first being published in 2014. To me it makes sense, because there’s still a lot to be dealt with. I can only HOPE that YenPress will pick it up.

            • Terry Sanders

              My own take is that magic is science in a world with a different metaphysical base.

              A place where (to make up an example) things usually fall because that’s what they do. And levitation is the ability to persuade them *not* to. In other words, where the basic metaphysical principles are animistic rather than materialistic.

              C. S. Lewis once pointed out that magic, alchemy, and science as we know it coexisted, until we figured out that science *works.*

              Of course there’s nothing to keep us from postulating that magic didn’t work because we weren’t doing it right, and writing about a world where both work. But even there, they’d work *differently.*

              Clarke was talking about fairy-tale magic, which is something else altogether.

          • Chris Nuttall… you mean the DRM-free E-book writer? A dream for many a nightmare for the big 5.
            The iPod wielding Ivan the Purrable… sounds like a fantasy. The stories with ancient civilization cats trying to protect and steer humans to a better future? If that is the deviation, and all other parts of the story line believable; I could stretch that to be considered SF. Stirling’s “In the Courts of the Crimson Kings” not only has the #1 bad-*ss title of any book, but is also a sterling (pun unintended) example of alternative speculative fiction. That is, the deviation from our universe occurred in our own past.
            All SF galactic empire sagas have FTL as a possibility, and the fun part of them is the different techniques the authors go to give you a different rationale for how to achieve FTL.

            Point is: if well written, I enjoy reading them all. The ‘art’ of the writer is having made the exceptions, the story then proceeds in a believable manner. No gimmicks like sex-less pronouns, no use of the word Ancillary nor Dinosaur/Human pairing are required. Define your universe, your future and write a great novel based on those deviations.

          • Sadly for Poul Anderson, I knew time travel was impossible next year, but it will have turned out I was wrong.

        • The fun part is that we know FTL is impossible, and we know no such thing about dragons. Yet the first is SF and the second fantasy.

          • Reality Observer

            Not quite. We don’t know that FTL is impossible. Right now, what we know is quite a few ways to achieve it which won’t work. (“Keep on pushing” is the simplest of those, of course.)

            Unlike the basic equation velocity = time multiplied by acceleration, however – well, you need a copious supply of coffee to get an inkling of the math; plus, in my experience so far, an equally copious supply of your favored alcoholic beverage for when you knock off studying, and pain relievers for the hangover the next morning before you dive back in. Quantum entanglement is spooky…

            Dragons, now – well, it depends on what you call a dragon. The traditional depictions are physically impossible in an Earth environment. Different concept, different world – well, no, they are not at all impossible.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              What! You’re Saying That The Dragons Of Pern Are Possible!!!! 😈

              I’ve been told that some of Anne McCaffrey’s fans did a work-up on how much her Dragons would have to eat to survive.

              Apparently all of Pern could not have feed a single Weyr of Dragons.

              Oh, Anne McCaffrey was a little embarrassed. 😉

              • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                Sorry that should been “The Dragons Of Pern Are Not Possible”. :embarrassed:

              • by that math, wouldn’t all of the earth be insufficient to feed one clutch of pteodactyls?

                • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                  The Dragons of Pern were IIRC the size of 747s and (by all descriptions) warm-blooded.

                  While I may be mistaken on the “all of Pern couldn’t feed a single Weyr”, the fact was that the calculations showed that McCaffrey’s Dragons should have been eating more that what she showed them eating.

                  Basically, McCaffrey made some mistakes on how much food animals that size should have eaten.

                  • Yeah, from the descriptions, she assumed they would eat like reptiles, where their energy requirements would have needed them to eat more like similarly-sized bats (as in, approximately their body weight per day).

                    • Well, depending on how their telekinesis worked, their requirements may not have been quite that high.

                    • Might be their digestive tracts were just very very efficient. Or perhaps their musculature allowed more thrust per caloric unit/

                    • Perhaps they converted water, retaining the H2 and passing the O.

                  • well, a little smaller, Ramoth was supposedly the size of an L-1011, who was supposed to be the largest dragon .

              • {shakes head}

                Let me get this straight… You’ve got living creatures generating what amounts to a warp- and time-drive, and you suddenly have a problem with them not eating enough in the stories…?

                Imma gonna just sit here and giggle, for a bit. The last thing one ought to be worried about is a realistic depiction of the eating habits of McCaffrey’s dragons–For the love of God, she’s got them violating the laws of space and time, by “going Between”. How much bloody energy does that take, d’you suppose? How much would you have to eat, in order to generate the necessary chemical energy to do just one of those jumps, supposing that it required anywhere near the amount modern physics suggests it would? I mean, seriously–I’ve seen calculations that make it pretty clear that one Alcubierre shot would take energy on the level of what we’ve managed to produce since the beginning of recorded history, crammed into one moment–And, that includes all the nuclear weapons we’ve detonated.

                So, yeah… The food requirements for real dragons issue leaves me kinda nonplussed, here. Hell, to make it all work for y’all? Why don’t we posit that each dragon has a bunch of zero-point energy sources built into it, and go from there?

                Yeesh. Some people–Sometimes a story is a story, ya know? You stop and try to work it out, and the magic goes away, and you’re left with a pile of papier mache and a deflated balloon. Don’t analyze, enjoy–It’s like wotshisname and Fall of Angels, L.E. Modesitt. Just posit that they fell into a pocket universe where dragons work, and leave it the hell alone…

                • The Other Sean

                  Do you know how much you need to eat to power warp- and time-drive for a L-1011-sized dragon? 🙂

                  • Nobody knows… But, if we’re gonna try to fit this into a world with spacecraft, like McCaffrey does…? Yeesh.

                    I gotta admit it–The first time I read the books, I was like “WTF? How the hell does this even make sense… Dragons? Breathing fire? Doing hyper-jumps? In a universe that’s supposed to be ours, with star-drives? Naaah… Can’t go there. Sorry.” In order to keep going, I had to turn the dial on my “willing suspension of disbelief” meter up to about eleven or twelve, and then I managed to lose myself in the story–And, the story ain’t half-bad, so long as you don’t stop to think about the details of it.

                    Which, to my mind, puts it squarely into the “fantasy” category.

                • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                  Well Kirk, it was her fans who did the calculations and enjoyed her work. [Wink]

            • Ways that don’t work mean impossible.

              “The traditional depictions are physically impossible in an Earth environment. ”

              You need to be more explicit here.

              • Ways that don’t work mean impossible.

                How so? We have a history of doing things that were deemed impossible, until someone did them. Flying, breaking the speed of sound, landing people on the Moon, etc.

                • If you had offered a way that doesn’t work as proof that those things were possible, you would have been justly laughed at.

                  And FTL is not like any of those. It’s more like mass without gravity.

          • Dragons are SF if you can make one. Fusion powered dragon with a plasma gun down his throat, could be something, eh?

      • In my opinion it’s largely cosmetic. If the impossible thing is being done by a gizmo with a brushed aluminum cover and a bunch of flashing lights, it’s science fiction. If the impossible thing is being done by a bubbling cauldron and a muttered incantation, it’s fantasy. If the impossible thing is being done by something that can be described as “noisome”, “squamous”, or “hirsute”, it’s horror.

        Personally, I like to mix things up and pick some from column A and some from column B.

        • Zelazny was great at writing fantasy that felt like sci-fi and sci-fi that felt like fantasy. Jack of Shadows.

        • I think Chewbacca might disagree with you about your definition of horror. 🙂

        • If there’s a zeppelin, it’s alternate history. If there’s a rocketship, it’s science fiction. If there are swords and/or horses, it’s fantasy. A book with swords and horses in it can be turned into science fiction by adding a rocketship to the mix. If a book has a rocketship in it, the only thing that can turn it back into fantasy is the Holy Grail.

          ― Debra Doyle

          • “I built a Death Star–it was destroyed by rebels. I built another Death Star–it was destroyed by rebels. I built a third Death Star–it burned down, fell over, and then was destroyed by rebels…”

          • So any Dungeons and Dragons group that played Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was no longer playing a fantasy RPG? 🙂

            • As long as they didn’t have the Holy Grail!

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              Dungeons and Dragons isn’t authentic unless it is weird fiction. You have to ruin it by removing the science fiction and horror from the kitchen sink of the original to call it fantasy.

              Says the guy who is pretty sure he has played the least D&D of us.

              • No, you are correct. Even the Dungeons and Dragons animated cartoon included sf elements. (The kids ran into aliens and helped fix their spaceship.)

      • In the broadest possible definition: a science fiction story makes the assertion that “This could be possible!”

        Perhaps it’s a story occurring in another reality where the laws of physics are just a little bit different, or on an alien planet (SC Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy) that has some aspect to it that humans can use for ‘magic,’ or there’s some aspect of our reality that used to be ascendant in the distant past and will be in the future, or that we’ll rediscover (could technically rate Wheel of Time as SF by those criteria).

        Matthew Woodring Stover explains how the alternate fantasy world of Overworld could exist in his books. The same principle could hold true for China Mieville’s Bas Lang stories (yeah, yeah, he’s a socialist, but when he gets off politics he tells a good tale), and CS Lewis goes the route of ‘magic was possible in the past’ in his Space Trilogy and the ‘magic is possible in other dimensions’ in Narnia.

        So, claim that it’s possible, then it’s SF.

        • Reality Observer

          I can roll with that. However, it does have to be consistent, as in there is a logic to the whole. A logic that puts limitations on it, too. (No, sorry, Mr. Huevelt, the air doesn’t also disappear just “because.” We don’t even have to mention the poor goldfish… Badly. Written. Fantasy. Period.)

      • Okay, here’s a thought experiment.

        Suppose that we have a story in which two characters are able to share thoughts under certain conditions–say a state of physical fatigue like a runner’s high. Let’s say that they are both runners, and they have a similar schedule, so that every morning (assuming that they are both working out) we have Character A jogging in Park A who starts getting sense impressions and thoughts from Character B who is running on an indoor track at a university, and vice versa.

        Suppose that both characters receive an independent conformation that the persons and places that they “daydream” about while running really exist–some kind of telepathy is occurring.

        Character A, let’s say, is bio-medical tech at a local hospital and fixes EKGs and such. She starts looking into the phenomenon in terms of brain function and explores what is happening from a medical standpoint.

        Character B, on the other hand, is a grad student in comparative religion. He is convinced that what is happening is a mystical experience and begins researching it that way, looking into the faith traditions of dervishes and Sherpas.

        Is this a science fiction story or a fantasy story? Does it become one or the other at the point where the author comes out and says that the experience has either a scientific or a spiritual basis? What if the author leaves it ambiguous and never commits one way or the other?

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Nod.

          IMO there is a grey area between SF and Fantasy where people will disagree about “is it SF or Fantasy”.

          But then, I believe that telepathy (and other psychic stuff) is in the grey area (at best) between SF and Fantasy.

          • Once you start in on Quantum Mechanics the boundary between SF and Fantasy is gone, all that remains is what type of handwavium and incantations are employed.

        • (This reply could have been put a lot of places above, but I put it here since I love thought experiments).

          At some level, genres (like science fiction) are collections of expectations that can be placed on a work. You can also think of it as a collection of applicable tropes. (A work can defy tropes in a genre that it’s associated with, but usually has to put effort into it). If we see an Dwarf or Wizard in a story we mentally categorize as fantasy, we don’t necessarily need an explanation, we can accept the tropes apply. If we see a Dwarf or Wizard in a story we mentally categorize as Science Fiction, we expect to see some explanation of ‘high-gravity worlds’ or ‘sufficiently advanced technology’ for their presence in the story.

          The genre of the story of the runners is determined subjectively by how the author and readers collectively perceive its relation to the tropes of the genres, and may end up either, neither, or both. The author’s word and reputation is going to determine where it is initially placed, but the collective opinions of readers (especially those with influence, like critics or literary educators) can shift it. Neil Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon is science fiction because he’s a science fiction author. A Midsummer Night’s Dream and 1984 are literature because Shakespeare and Orwell are important, and Science Fiction works can’t be important (tongue firmly in cheek).

          One of the things that I like about anime/manga is that there seems to be a much more open admission that a work isn’t necessarily a single genre but can fit multiple genres. There’s no reason you can’t have a story with a mystery plot (and the associated tropes) in a fantasy setting (with the associated tropes). There’s no reason it has to be one or the other, it can be both. I suspect the reason we narrow it down to a single genre is the bookstore needs a single general category to lump similar works together, so for that you have to pick one.

        • Chrismouse

          I…kinda want to read that story.

    • The fact that they can’t see a point to fiction except as a critique of current society . . . shows that they also would object to romances, mysteries, well-researched historical novels, and any more-or-less contemporary story that *doesn’t* expressly critique current society.

      Wait, they *don’t* see a point to any of these. Because their own imagination is stunted enough that the idea of literature-as-entertainment , or literature-as-possibilities – really, of literature-as-fun – just passes them by. Like color to the blind, or music to the tone-deaf.

      • Oddly, I don’t see a point to “socialist critiques” — they’re just theology without theos.

        The history of social critiques indicates the majority of them get their basic facts wrong (I’m looking at you, Sinclair Lewis) and the goals toward which they would steer us involve driving into Scylla rather than Charybdis.

        Getting social critique from that lot is akin to getting instruction in table manners from a gibbon.

      • there are times when I think the correct observationj is that fiction is serious to the exact extent that they can say it’s about them.

    • I’m not sure. In science fiction sometimes the imagined world or universe it is set in is the most interesting aspect of it and merely exploring the imagined world and its ramifications are sufficiently interesting. Seeing how the imagined world reacts to the characters (or events) might be more important than the other way around (if the other way around is even needed). I know that some stories are better for the imagined world than what happens to the character. Can anyone think of a science fiction story where there are no characters put into danger to see how they’ll react at all?

      • I can, but it’s a grey-goo environmental story about astronauts accidentally destroying the life on Mars because their garbage is full of nutrients that attract martian plants, but also bacteria that kill the Martian plantlife. That’s about it. And maybe the one about the school children on (Venus?) who lock the Earth kid in the closet and forget about her when they go out to enjoy the first hour of sunlight they’ve ever had. That’s about it.

        • Anonymous Coward

          Sounds like some of the Worst of Clarke.

          • That second was Bradbury. I started to avoid Bradbury when I found most of his stuff depressing. It was not a surprise to learn he said that he wrote not to predict the future, but to try to prevent some futures.

            • There’s a lot of depressing short story SF. I’ve found the shorter the story, the more likely that the end is going to be an unhappy one. Usually (though not always) there’s a twist of some sort involved, and the story more or less exists to showcase the twist.

              ‘The Twilight Zone’ is a perfect example of the type of storytelling involved.

              • I remember a different TZ. There was the story about the tank crew on maneuvers going back and dying at Little Big Horn … not exactly grey goo. I’ve fond memories of “The Mighty Casey” which I don’t recall as grey goo. “To Serve Man” may fit the definition of grey goo but I think it more a cautionary tale.

                • Patrick Chester

                  “To Serve Man” = Beware of Very Friendly Aliens Who Say They Only Want to Help You?

                • I don’t think I’ve seen the tank crew episode. I’m guessing that was one of the episodes in the revived series, of which I think I’ve seen exactly one episode.

                  Not all of the Twilight Zone stories had bad endings. There were some that had indifferent ones, and some that had good ones. My favorite of the latter was probably the Santa Claus episode, which was part of the original series, and was also remade for the new series (and happens to be the only new series episode that I’ve seen). But more often you get something that focuses on the darker side of things, like “The Monsters On Maple Street”.

                  • Joe Wooten

                    No, the tank crew at Little Big Horn was in the original series. I remember watching it in the 60’s and on re-run in the 70’s.

                    • It was Season 5, episode 10: “The 7th is Made up of Phantoms”. That was one of the only TZ episodes that I saw at first airing.

                    • Terry Sanders

                      Yeah. George Takei had a bit part.

                  • The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street is one of my favorite TZ episodes. Many episodes were downbeat but I still really liked them. There were a few I didn’t like such as “The Lonely”. Trivia: Jack Warden played in both “The Lonely” and “The Mighty Casey”.

          • Clarke wrote a book called Ghost From the Grand Banks. Some of the greyest grey goo I have ever read.

        • I remember that one about the kid in the closet. I freaking hate stuff like that and avoid it like the plague. Yes, some people are jerks, let’s move on to something interesting please.

          Lately that’s all there is to read. Profoundly annoying, is what I call it.

      • Hal Clement made a career of that.

  2. Wash: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science-fiction.

    Zoë: We live in a spaceship, dear.

    Wash: So?

  3. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    I’ve heard it said that any definition of Science Fiction will “leave out” works that most people will consider Science Fiction. 😉

  4. BobtheRegisterredFool

    Over on Sad Puppies 4 I suggested aspects of WWII for the 1941 related works retro-hugo. Science fiction war amirite? That said, I originally wanted to make a joke about women in combat and the Japanese comfort woman system.

  5. Time stops for nobody at all. There is a tomorrow that we cannot fathom. Certainly I know several people at work who fear the near future as we’re not looking forward to regime change.

    Never stop dreaming. Those folks at IO9 did. Dreams are the bedrock to building our tomorrows.

    On Sat, 30 Apr 2016 17:59:26 +0000

    • “Never stop dreaming. Those folks at IO9 did. Dreams are the bedrock to building our tomorrows.” Exactomundo Stephen! Although there is one facet of SF that involves “If this goes on…” as a cautionary tale to explore how our new technological prowess as would be gods can cause us to forget our moral groundings (not talking grey goo here, more Those who Walk Away from Omelas), to me the other facet of dreaming up what we could do, so that future generations make it so should never be neglected. Why do we have cell phones? I would argue it’s more because Roddenberry dreamed them up as necessary to get out of the way of his storytelling on Star Trek, than because our technology just grew that way.

      • I have my own set of issues with “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” largely because I really, really, wanted to see that city burn.

        • Yeah, I always thought that should have been “Those who walk away from Omelas… then come back later with lots and lots of really big well armed friends and burn the f—er down.

          • But then it wouldn’t have been a LeGuin story, and it wouldn’t be in lit fic anthologies.

            It would have been a Hoyt-Correia-Williamson novel, published by Baen in ink made from the tears of literature faculty and tree-hugging “pacifists”. (You know, the ones who throw rocks and bottles and break windows at anti-war protests.)

            • “…published by Baen in ink made from the tears of literature faculty and tree-hugging “pacifists”.”

              That’s the Special Edition printed on baby seal skin with type made from whale ivory, right?

              Story Numero Uno in the Angry White Men Destroy SciFi anthology, “Return to Omelas.” It’s a Dinochrome Brigade story, naturally. Because megatons per second, baby!

          • Takes too long. Go to the child, say a kind word, watch the city collapse.

  6. The White Cliffs Of Denver: When The Front Range Fell. Or, a billion seagulls flew in and crapped all over the Front Range.

  7. One of the best functions of SF is to soften the blow of what sociologists have termed “cultural lag.” Cultural lag occurs when technological advances occur to swiftly for out religious, ethical, legal (and other cultural) institutions to absorb on both the large-scale and personal level.
    When thoughtful SF authors explore these technological (and sometimes social) areas and their possible impacts on society and the individual _in advance_ through their stories, readers familiarize themselves with the concepts and ideas and are thus better to cope with them in reality. It softens the blow of ever-encroaching cultural lag that the intellectually or emotionally unprepared can’t handle–or have a much more difficult time doing so. SF, done in this light, provides a much-needed psychological buffer between the present and possible futures.
    SF is _not_ meant to be predictive. Sometimes it gets lucky, but this has never been its main function. There will always be a need for SF that explores how technological advances might change our lives–and how religious or legal institutions might or might not be able to adapt. The birth control pill, anyone? SF didn’t see that one coming, but in the years since its use, how have religious and legal institutions evolved to account for its existence? This is but one example (though we missed it) of how SF will always have the _means_ to explore serious issues in advance and to be a reverse canary in the coal mine when it comes to lessening the blow of cultural lag. You know, SF provides a way for us to see what may be coming, or what to look out for, that other forms of literature never did and still doesn’t. While there is a wide spectrum in the types of SF being written today, when it comes to technology–which is forever advancing and always will be–there will always be a need for SF writers to hopefully work out some of this technology’s positive uses, or unforeseen pitfalls. At least some of us won’t be as surprised or shocked or rolling up in a ball of pearl-clutching angst as those who claim there is no need for the genre any longer. What a narrow, uninformed view they must have.

    • The birth control pill, anyone? SF didn’t see that one coming, but in the years since its use, how have religious and legal institutions evolved to account for its existence?

      Rereading Brave New World now. Huxley didn’t specify a pill, but he had the “Malthusian Drill” for women, which was some form of simple, effective birth control. And Abortion Centers for when the birth control failed.

      • Reality Observer

        Plenty of other stories (from Before The Pill) that just assumed that conception had become a purely voluntary act.

  8. People like to pretend that they are living in the future that was envisioned by writers of the past, but they aren’t. What some of the very wealthy ones (globally speaking) are living in is an artificial environment made to resemble the future as it was envisioned.

    The important things, the things that keep us alive, are essentially the same as they were a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago. five thousand years ago.

    Human beings survive by making shelters from the weather, covering themselves by clothes, eating plants which require cultivation in soil, eating animals that need to be raised and then slaughtered, and so on. The survival of the species requires that men and women mate, that women give birth to children, and that men protect the women and children while they are vulnerable.

    Some people on this planet are able to avoid doing the labor of these things, because other people do them in a way that’s more efficient than the ways that they used to do them. Many of the people who don’t have to do the labor are also ignorant and self-centered enough to think that just because they don’t see the farms and the factories such things must not be important.

    But that isn’t really new, either. I suspect that the aristocracy of Babylon and Rome also thought that they were living in a world where the need for struggling against the natural world had been abolished.

    • Excellent points.

      What we are living in is a world where opting out of those required roles or functions is not instantly fatal, either to a bloodline or an individual, In direct contract, to varying degrees, to the case in those -100, -1000 and -5000 year periods.

      Today individuals who opt out of defending those vulnerable due to extreme youthiness or pregancy/early childrearing are able to do so while still propogating their genes; individuals who opt out of participating in procreation are not tipping the tiny hunter-gatherer band towards dissolution or contributing to the vulnerability to disease through the absence of their genetic diversity; individuals who opt out of the backbreaking work of growing and raising food are not driving the village towards starvation, and so on. While there is no question that the gods of the copybook headings will eventually reassert themselves, for now we live in the age of the consequence free opt-out.

    • Nonetheless, you have entire movements and IMHO one of two major political parties in the United States that denies that the survival of the species requires that men and women mate, that women give birth to children, and that men protect the women and children while they are vulnerable. Especially that last part about men being needed for anything.

      • And what is worse is that they insist that the fantasy world that they inhabit is not only achievable, but has, in fact, been achieved, and that those who point out that the real world has not, in fact, changed at all are trying to “turn back the clock”.

        I don’t particularly want the state of affairs that exists, nor am I trying to force it to exist, I am simply pointing out that it is what exists. But in their mind if everyone believes that X is Y–or at least loudly states it at every opportunity–then X will magically turn into Y.

        By saying that the emperor has no clothes they think that I am somehow stealing those regal robes which they think should exist.

  9. When I read FUTURE SHOCK years ago, I thought, “But SF fen — and writers — expect such exponential change, so it is more like FUTURE REALIZATION than SHOCK. Not exactly as we may have imagined it, but recognizable in broad terms.”

    • It’s still a bit of a…. um… shock absorber. After hiring him and our best friend, in Dan’s old work group, they asked two questions in interview, in addition to the normal ones “Are you a science fiction fan? Do you by any change write it?” People who did were MUCH better able to integrate new stuff in their thought process. Their group consistently outperformed every other.

      • I had a totally different reaction to Neil Armstrong stepping foot on the moon. My mother and grandmother were glued to the TV. I just kept popping into the living room to watch periodically because I mistakenly thought this was merely one step on the path to the future. I still find it hard to believe that many/most Americans switched into been there done that, waste of resources, don’t need to do it again mode soooo quickly.

        But, then again, we did the moon as a government prestige project. Private enterprise will accomplish the return. At least if we elect people who will unthrottle the economy so that there’s enough “excess” profits to pay for it.

        • Thing was, the moon landings were done wrong, and you’re precisely right, in that they did them as a prestige project.

          Had we had the sense to do it as an infrastructure project, and had the vision to develop the necessary industries to attract us into orbit and deeper space, things would have progressed far differently. As it was, there was no “there” there, for justification to build the necessary orbital resources. It’s possible that we were overreaching the technology, as well–I’m thinking that the whole enterprise of exploiting the solar system isn’t going to be really worth it until we get our suborbital boost shit together, and develop some decent thrusters that don’t require the boosting of multi-billion dollar’s worth of fuel into orbit. Recent developments with this microwave thruster give me hope that the course of space exploration is going to follow the one that presaged the exploitation of the New World–There was, you should remember, a huge lag between the Columbus voyages, and the actual exploitation.

          This time around, however, there are no indigenes to worry about, and it should go easier. I’m guessing I’ll see significant penetration and utilization of orbital assets before I’m old, assuming we’re not killing ourselves off in the interim.

          • Unfortunately, a “prestige project” was pretty much guaranteed due to the political situation. If the first satellite had been a US one instead of Sputnik, and the first man in space had been a US astronaut instead of a Soviet cosmonaut, then things might have been able to develop more naturally (for one thing, the Soviets might have decided to let their program develop more naturally). But the need to “catch up” and show that the Soviet way wasn’t really the vanguard of the future impacted things.

            In that vein, my suspicion is that the US half of the Space Race might have still done more good than harm. Knocking Soviet space prestige hard enough that the Soviets basically “forgot” that they’d ever intended to go to the Moon provided a nice boost in Western morale during the height of the Cold War.

            • And it proved crucial to Regan’s bluff that we would develop SDI. Their top men knew that we were no where near to having the tech to make it happen, and told their political leaders so. But… we HAD gone to the moon when they could not. If we could pull a rabbit like that out of a hat once, they feared we could do it again.

              • You know, if they had kept at it that SDI shit would be flying today. You’d be able to zap a North Korean missile sitting on a launch pad as soon as they lit the fuse. Thanks, George Bush and Bill Clinton.

                • We have SM-3s that can shoot down a ballistic missile, phalanx guns can be used to shoot down artillery and mortars, and a naval vessel with a laser cannon as its main gun.

                • My recollection is that Bush did initially try and keep SDI going. IIRC, his proposed system was referred to as “Brilliant Pebbles”. But for whatever reason – I assume that a Democratic Congress had something to do with it – nothing further happened.

                  Bush 43 started things up again with some advanced warning systems that were supposed to help against Iranian missiles. But the systems were to be built in Eastern Europe, the Russians threw a hissy fit, and on the anniversary of the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, Obama announced to the Poles that he was bowing to Russian pressure and cancelling the project.

                • SDI was killed by attacks on a multitude of fronts: misrepresentation of goals, misrepresentation of costs, accusations of taking money from the needy, accusations of imperialistic motives, etc.

          • “I’m thinking that the whole enterprise of exploiting the solar system isn’t going to be really worth it until we get our suborbital boost shit together, and develop some decent thrusters that don’t require the boosting of multi-billion dollar’s worth of fuel into orbit.”

            Two words:
            Project.
            Orion.

            • Yeah… Get back to me when you finally get the environmental impact statements past the EPA. By the time you manage that, the rest of us will have left for the stars aboard ships with inertialess drives, and whatever else a few thousand years of progress brings…

              I’m not even seeing the laughter ending, after you present your serious plan for detonating nukes in or near the planetary atmosphere, for at least a century. Although, the induced apoplexy in the agency might well serve to help shut the thing down.

              • I mean, you asked for a method, you didn’t say it had to be doable in the current regulatory environment.
                If you want to get tons of materials up into orbit, though, that’s probably the cheapest and most effective option.

                • LOL… I’ll grant you that. I should have said a “practical and realistic” method, I guess.

                  At the rate the EPA is going, though, we’ll be able to scamper to orbit by climbing their stacked paperwork, so maybe it will all work out in the end…

                  • It is both practical and realistic scientifically, just not socio-politically.
                    The American space program up through Apollo was designed to accomplish 3 things;
                    Boost the morale of the American public (and our allies).
                    Show the Soviets that we could land a warhead anywhere wanted to.
                    Prove to the rest of the world that American technology was superior and thus a good investment.
                    Once that was accomplished the political impetus to continue evaporated. All the von Braunian visions of space colonization/exploration were merely propaganda to keep public opinion (and cash flow) positive until those three goals could be achieved.

    • It’s been so long I forget which author wrote it, nor the precise phrasing: When the time comes to make first contact with aliens intelligence it ought be done by SF fans because we’ve already gamed it out.

  10. “These people belong to the future of the past. The future that belongs to them (eh) is the future imagined circa 1930s. A future of central control and exact distribution of limited resources.”

    1984 is obviously outdated. That doesn’t make it the past though.

    I have somewhat of problem with dates in science fiction, because when the date of something important happens in the recent past, and yet it hasn’t happened yet, it can throw you out of the story. I’m still waiting for the Posleen invasion, it is several years late, already. 🙂

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Harry Harrison’s “Make Room Make Room” ended on Dec 31st, 1999 at around 11:59 pm.

      It didn’t happen that way. 👿 👿 👿 👿

      • Heh. Agree, I think that is a very good reason to avoid giving dates in a story. Leave the timing ambiguous, especially when it’s something that involves large changes nobody in the world could miss.

        But when it’s something that happens with the knowledge of only a few people even very exact dates don’t of course matter. Or when you put the dates far enough in the future that the story probably won’t be read by anybody then (let’s say something like a hundred years… or at least if it is still around it will, most likely, be read only by people who like historical works of the genre and so don’t have any problems with retrofutures). 🙂

        • Of course if you are being read 100 years in the future, that is a pretty good indication that your works have stood the test of time and you can tell those who complain about the dates in your books to sod off. And if I’m around a hundred years from now to hear people complaining about my books being dated, well I’m probably going to be so happy with being around that I’m not going to care about their complaining. 🙂

        • Also there’s the problem of money in future set stories. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJR1H5tf5wE.

          • Oh yes. I think that might have something to do with the real reason for the way they went with Star Trek, no money around at all and you don’t have to wonder what something might cost and in what. 😛

    • Patrick Chester

      1984 is obviously outdated. That doesn’t make it the past though.

      For some, it seems to be an instruction manual. :-/

  11. I got it! “The White Cliffs of Denver” is about forbidden love in the Cretaceous. Sort of “If you were a Suaropod” meets ‘”The Winds of War”.
    *scampers off really fast to go read the rest of the post*

    • I thought it was Cheers fanfic about a postal worker and his clone, who moved to Colorado and used their White Privilege to downbeat others with false trivia.

    • The Western Interior Seaway?

      • Yes. Why the Texas Panhandle has “gyppy” (salty) water with lots-n-lots of fluoride in it. And no dinosaur bones, alas. There’s way too much Tertiary to get through before you find out that it was mud-flats and salt pans down to the Carboniferous (more or less).

  12. The concept of the article was this: with our communications technology and gene splicing and other goodies, we’re living in a science fiction world. There is no point to science fiction anymore, except to “critique the world.”

    The first one is pretty true; the conclusion that follows…. whuh?

    It’s not like “science fiction” is a hard line where Thou Shalt Not Cross or something, it’s a sub-genera.

    If the scifi is accurate in which way tech will go, it becomes a sort of accidental tech thriller; if it isn’t, it’s an AU scifi. *shrug*

    • Ever read any of the original Tom Swift books?

      Here are the first (per Wiki) half dozen:
      Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle; or, Fun and Adventure on the Road, 1910
      Tom Swift and His Motor Boat; or, The Rivals of Lake Carlopa, 1910
      Tom Swift and His Airship; or, The Stirring Cruise of the Red Cloud, 1910
      Tom Swift and His Submarine Boat; or, Under the Ocean for Sunken Treasure, 1910
      Tom Swift and His Electric Runabout; or, The Speediest Car on the Road, 1910
      Tom Swift and His Wireless Message; or, The Castaways of Earthquake Island, 1911
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Tom_Swift_books

      We were living in that SF world by 1930!

    • For a long time, “Science Fiction” was whatever didn’t fit in any category of “legitimate fiction.”

      It’s easy to forget nowadays, with multiple TV series and major movies, that SF was definitely the “red-headed stepchild” of fiction.

      When I was in school, no teacher would accept a book report on a science fiction novel, because they weren’t “real books.”

      • Had *ONE* teacher attempt that… and I accidentally got my mom (a Tolkien fan) and the longest serving other teacher at the school (who knew me from reading all of his Hardy Boys books), to change his mind. 😀

  13. Every so often I wander over to iO9, and each time the lack of imagination in general amazes me. I guess sci-fi (not icky stuff like movies and space opera and stuff) is lit fic with stars and robots, serving the same purpose as postmodern lit fic, with all the problems of post modern lit fic (small market, limited acceptable range of characters and plots). The critics have limited their world so much its sad, really. There’s no wonder in their worlds.

    OTOH, I’ve got a protagonist who uses a time machine as a way to be a sort of intragalactic Fed-Ex, so perhaps I shouldn’t talk too much. 😉

    • No, no. Rada is much more reliable and much less irritating than Fed Ex.

    • For anyone 30 years old, +/- 5 years or so, the world has always been pretty much the same. Since the late 1990s there really hasn’t been anything new.

      My Dad grew up in the Depression, in a house with waxed paper for windows and an outhouse. No electricity or running water. *His* life was lived in fast forward. My life… not so much. For young adults… the biggest technology leap they noticed was when they went from dialup to broadband.

      • cheap tablets, smartphones, affordable broadband and wireless internet..

        • Memory — thumb drives, SD cards, Streaming video. Amazon just had it Twentieth birthday two years ago. MP3 players. The iPhone isn’t even ten years old. Google is not yet twenty.

          Iraq was a country, Russia wasn’t. The GOP was a political party, the Democrats weren’t Socialist. NY City was profoundly dangerous, then it wasn’t, now it is again.

          • I remember paying something like $800 for an 1 gig hard drive. It was a great price at the time (wow, under $100 per 100mb!) but took a 5 1/4 platter Quantum Bigfoot. Now, 8 gig thumb drives are impulse items in the checkout line for $10

            • I remember paying $400 for 16 mb of RAM and thinking i was getting a good deal.

              Linda Lee was killed over 16 mb of stolen RAM. (mind you, William Gibson did and does have a very poor knowledge of computers, judging from his description of a render farm in Pattern Recognition)

            • My mom splurged on a digital camera– the cheapest she could get. Eventually she trusted me to get an upgraded memory card for it… I believe it was a quarter of a gig? I got an AWESOME deal, it was less than $50.

              I just put a 64 gig thumbnail drive in the kids’ tablet, which was only 3.5 stars because at $20 it was considered “overpriced.”

        • That’s just more of the same, not anything new.

          • I’ll just have to continue to disagree on that notion.

            • I would disagree, too. Most of the development of the past 20-30 years has been invisible to the consumer, except in the form of increased speeds, storage capacities, and decreased weight. Actual progress, however, has been going at a significant rate.

              Your father, TRX, grew up in a time when visible things were going down in price, whereas there aren’t really that many new things that people would find as significant, because they’re less visible.

              But consider that basically any smartphone today has vastly more computing power and more storage than a Cray XM-P supercomputer from the 1980s.

              • Your smartphone is more than likely more powerful than the entire network of computers used to do the VFX for Babylon 5.

                • That might be going a little far, but I’ll grant I don’t know how powerful the latest ones are. I was going for even the earliest ones.

                  • Most of seasons 1-2 of Babylon 5 were produced on ‘040 Amiga 2000s. Usually with 32 mb RAM. There were only about 60 of them.

                    • Oh, I forgot about that. I was thinking of the piles of Silicon Graphix workstations that used to be used for the bigger CGI work. I had completely forgotten that there wasn’t much CGI in B5, at least originally.

                    • every ship shot was cgi…

                      (Severed Dreams, considered the benchmark for B5 battle scenes, was one of the first couple episodes done wit Pentium PCs with a whole 64 MB of RAM.)

      • Too much government regulation killing off innovation. The internet took off because government couldn’t keep up. You must move faster than politicians!

      • Definitely not plus 5, there; that would be a bit older than I am, and I can remember the huge change of internet, computers at home, etc; my husband’s dad got into computers early enough that he was a first wave internet gamer.

        Both of us have had the ‘What did we DO on a computer all day, when we didn’t have the internet?’ thing.

        Cellphones being everywhere, too– my dad’s bag-phone went from being a mildly crazy investment to being too old for their cell system.

        Might have to take it down another 5, to deal with 9/11. That was a pretty big change.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      It is Gawker. Being disappointed because of that is like being disappointed to find that a joint National Enquirer-Daily Sun journal of thermodynamics modeling is innumerate rubbish.

  14. The fact that we’re living in a science fiction world only makes all non-navel gazing fiction science fiction, not the other way around. I had to convince my wife to list her novel as science fiction on Amazon. Just because the main character is a Physicist who invents time travel and lives in a world she is convinced she mistakenly made the way it is, that doesn’t make it science fiction, does it? Well yes, my dear mystery loving wife, it sort of does.

  15. The sort of science fiction this type seems to prefer consists of bleak dystopias no one sane would want to live in, Their zeal for critiquing society suggests that they don’t much like the present, either. (What would be the basis for their critique? How many societies have they lived in? Even vicariously?) And I doubt they would want to live in the past.

    • Reality Observer

      Virtually none of them have ever truly ventured beyond the gates of the University, or the homes of other members of their society.

      Rousseau would have had a very different view of the “noble savage” if he had actually lived with, say, the Yanamamo of the Amazon.

    • I blame it all on Mad Max II: The Road Warrior…

      It takes work to extrapolate and populate a society. But you can unreel as much generic post-apocalyptic as you need, run some characters around, season with angst, and voila!

      It’s so easy it’s a trope of its own.

  16. “The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.” 1842 Patent Office Commissioner, Henry Ellsworth
    “In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.” 1902 Patent Office Commissioner, Charles Duell.
    Duell is the man erroneously named as the patent office employee who was said to retire because everything possible had already been invented. That was actually a play on what Ellsworth said.

  17. The White Cliffs of Denver, a torrid lust filled tale of the lives of privileged white Mormons in their elegant high rise condos.
    Polygamy, incest, misogeny, racism. crony capitalism at its worst.
    I may need to write this. The movie rights alone would leave me in great shape.

  18. Taking what we already have and NOT using it to go further is not merely short-sighted and cowardly, it is in the most profound sense immoral.

    And don’t short-change the challenges of technical writing, Sarah. Some verbs are more easy than others.

  19. Were i to still participate in io9, my response to that statement would be “cool, then i don’t need to be here any longer…”

  20. There is no point to science fiction anymore, except to ‘critique the world.’

    I’ve been around long enough to notice that there never was any point to science fiction (which has largely been the whole point of science fiction) and that the last people whose “critique of the world” I would want to read are the sorts of people who insist science fiction has to have a fricking point.

  21. Periodically someone calls for closing the patent office because everything has been invented. A familiar gag consists of quoting one of these calls and giving a dated attribution to it.

    There have been calls to end physics research because there’s no physics left to discover beyond filling out the corners of the subatomic bestiary.

    I think “that’s enough, we’re done now, we can stop” is a personality type. Maybe if you have that personality, you can’t see any value in speculative, imaginative, or explorative genres beyond placing a fantastic fascade on critical essays or moral instruction.

    It would be convenient if genre fiction written for that audience was clearly labeled. Then everyone could make informed purchase decisions.

    • I think these people are discomfited by uncertainty. The illusion of stasis makes them feel satisfied. So they choose to believe that the world as they know it won’t change anymore.

      • Anonymous Coward

        I think it is not so much “satisfied” but “in control”.
        Uncertainty = lack of knowledge = fallible = not in control of outcomes = might need to listen to/respect input from others.
        One sees this lack of humility in how the Left approaches everything from AGW to race to sex. It is also why they so quickly turn on each other when even the slightest deviation from Dogma is expressed.

      • If you think the Torlings are angry at the Puppies, it’s nothing like what academia and established physics visited upon Heisenberg and the other pioneers of quantum physics

    • I think we’ve done quite enough social engineering, we can stop.

      • Stop and then back up a bit, please? I’d like to get back to equality of opportunity, rather than the equality of outcome TPTB seem to be trying to force on us.

        _Then_ we could stop.

        Otherwise, just keep going and maybe it’ll cycle back. It can’t possibly get worse, right? *whimper*

      • Nah, you know that would just get subverted to mean “anything they want is Just The Way It Is, anything you’re doing is Social Engineering.”

        Even things like paying attention to if house regulations force out families with kids.

    • We could call it Terminus fiction, after the US Representative (1830s) who wanted ” a statue of the Roman god Terminus” erected at the edge of the Front Range with a sign on it saying “here and no farther.”

      • Umm… Which direction did he want the statue facing?

        • 😛 East. To stop Americans from spreading because no one needed that much continent. Apparently he was serious, but a touch misguided.

          • Too bad it wasn’t built. I bet it would be a popular landmark. The irony of making a tourist stop there would be irresistable.

          • Or it was a way of encouraging westward migration. After all, most Americans would respond to such a statue with a hearty “try and make me, tin man.”

  22. Allegedly, in 1899, U.S. Commissioner of Patents Charles H. Duell declared that everything that could be invented had been invented. These people sound like that.

  23. These people belong to the future of the past. The future that belongs to them (eh) is the future imagined circa 1930s. A future of central control and exact distribution of limited resources.


    I have seen their future … it involves a boot and a human face, some assembly required.

  24. (These people probably eagerly believe signs that say “Free beer tomorrow.”)


    But tomorrow never comes.

  25. The concept of the article was this: with our communications technology and gene splicing and other goodies, we’re living in a science fiction world. There is no point to science fiction anymore, except to “critique the world.”

    This is the literary equivalent of the argument that we can’t go to the moon until we fix the earth.

    These people lack imagination. They prove it by the implication that because science has advanced this far there is no use to speculating how it might proceed or what the effects of it will be. Stuff and nonsense.

  26. I am reminded of part of the introduction to X Minus One: From the far horizons of the unknown come transcribed tales of new dimensions in time and space. These are stories of the future; adventures in which you’ll live in a million could-be years on a thousand may-be worlds.

    A lot of “What might happen if…?” Is it predictive? Every great once in a while something gets close – and it can be neat to see some items and ponder how they might be made to actually happen. But over and done? Ha! That ain’t the I hear-d it. Here’s how it really is: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

  27. Perhaps, as Socialism is apparently taking over the planet like kudzu, they want us to write critiques of Socialism?

    That certainly offers numerous story possibilities. All it requires is a few good men.

    • In the USA the store shelves are devastated and near empty just before, during, and immediately after disasters. Even in the current distorted version of capitalism, without at least a looming possibility of disaster, the shelves are rather well-stocked. By comparison… well, it’s obvious socialism is a continuous state of disaster. Right, Venezuela?

      • Free-range Oyster

        I just saw that they’re running into shortages of beer. Beer! I mean, we’ve been making the stuff for millenia.

        • That’s pretty normal, actually. When I was up in Washington a couple of decades ago, someone told me about the Mt. St. Helens eruption. There was so much ash in the sky in that city that the freight shipments from outside stopped. And the first two things to disappear off of the store shelves were beer and potato chips.

        • It’s worse than that — according to what I’ve read, they can no longer afford to buy the paper and ink to print money.

          • It’s actually worse than you think: Venezuela never printed their own money. Instead, they hired it done in Europe, and now they can’t pay the printers, so the 747 freighters of cash aren’t coming, any more.

            Venezuela is a cautionary tale. I fully expect them to get absorbed by Colombia, before this is all over. Or, maybe Suriname…

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              Maybe Brunei or Seychelles would like an overseas colony.

            • A lot of countries have their money printed elsewhere. Some because their economic infrastructure is so rickety they can’t reliably produce paper, ink, electricity, and skilled labor to print their own money, others because they don’t trust their own Treasury not to run the presses over the weekends to make “official counterfeits” to line their bank accounts.

              • Anonymous Coward

                Many countries outsource this work because printing hi-quality (ie: counterfet-resistant) banknotes is a narrow specialty. However it is rather funny that Venezuela has so crippled its economy that it can no longer afford inflation.

  28. Fictional genres evolve and tend to reflect contemporary phenomena. For example, during the 19th century when frontier exploration and migration was occurring, western dramas became a major pulp fiction genre. The maturing of the industrial revolution in the early 20th century spawned technological advances that fostered the birth and expansion of the SF genre. We are now living in an era in which our specie’s fundamental mode of evolution is changing in important ways (e.g. engineered genetics and controlled memetics). What new fictional genre will arise to tap into this new phenomena, or will it simply be an extension of SF?

    As for me, I am old school and like my SF off-planet.

    • Yes, but Westerns weren’t about exploration. They were about individuals or small groups interacting with each other without the iron fist of “civilized society” being the overriding factor in their behavior.

      Westerns were almost as popular in Germany as they were in the USA. Heck, some of the most popular writers in the genre were German or British.

      At the same time period Westerns are set in, the British Empire spanned the world, and *far* more things of interest happened there than in the relatively peaceful American West. Yet there’s no real “Imperial fiction” genre in Britain. They’re more likely to be reading something set in Texas than in the Raj.

      • Eh, I’d argue that there was an Imperial fiction genre, although it got folded into adventure stories or tagged as non-fiction. H. Rider Haggard, Talbot Mundy, Kipling, Richard F. Burton, H. M. Stanley were all read, as were a lot of less famous names. I’d include Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and a few others.

        I freely admit that I have not made a study of that kind of writing, just read it when I could find it, so I could be off target.

  29. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    “These people belong to the future of the past. The future that belongs to them (eh) is the future imagined circa 1930s. A future of central control and exact distribution of limited resources.

    They’re both disappointed they don’t have it — hence the reason that they think SF should “critique” things — and bewildered by the advances that have really happened, hence the almost forlorn lament that “we’re living in a science fiction future already.”
    I think that nothing bother So many people more than the fact that the Malthusian doom future HASN’T happened. I also think that for that very reason they hate technology and creative people who come up with technologies with an unlimited fire and heat.

  30. …“the future of another leg of the pants of time.”

    Have you ever TRIED to put pants on a centipede??!

  31. As long as things like this turn up on the internet …


    Science Fiction will not be pointless.*

    HT: classicfm[DOT]com/composers/gershwin/news/prog-metal-rhapsody-in-blue/

    *Yep – argumentum non sequiterum

  32. Heinlein would say the purpose of science fiction is to tell an entertaining enough story to make Joe/Jane part with some of their beer money. Of course he wasn’t above putting in a message (or 20) in his work, but his main priority was giving the reader his/her money’s worth. He knew if he failed to do that, he’d have to find some other line of work.

  33. You write: ” I hear there is a lot of demand for technical manual writers. It demands no imagination.”
    I have to take exception to this characterization of technical writing. Good technical writing is written from an implicit second-person POV and requires that the writer be able to imagine herself into the shoes of the reader, while also understanding the gadget well enough to communicate what the reader needs to know.

    • LOL. Yes, yes, okay… but what makes you think THEY’d be good technical manual writers?

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        You need to imagine you know nothing about the device, to predict what the user needs to know. At the same time, you need to know enough about the device to provide that information. For extra credit, imagine the user using and misusing the device, predicting the trouble they will get into, so that you can help them get out of it.

    • This bumps into the issue of there being multiple kinds of imagination. For example, I have an excellent visual imagination, for things that can be described in terms of things I have seen previously. I also have a mediocre audio imagination, and I have a very good ability to imagine myself in someone else’s place. However, what is usually known as “creativity” is rare in my head.

      I have little ability to imagine things that are unknown to me. And, while I have had ideas for stories, I have never had the issue that several of the writers here speak of, that of having characters appear in their heads and start talking. This is probably the kind of imagination to which Sarah was referring.

  34. A small comment, that might have already been made because I’m wending my way through the comments still. We have ‘retro’ science fiction. It’s called Steampunk. And I would, personally, argue that its father is Jules Verne. (He seems to be the model for the genre…)