Science fiction today, science tomorrow and I’m not even through the first chapter.

One of the problems that comes with writing science fiction is that science is moving so quickly. Come up with an idea you think is ahead of the curve and maybe a month or so later you are likely to hear about developments in or relating to that idea. By the time you get your novel out, the technology you thought was so cool and sleek is old news. Every sector of technology is shooting ahead at blinding speed. So what can science fiction writers do to stay ahead or is there any point?

Part of the problem relates back to the issue of creativity. How can one be creative when everything has been done? Synthesis proved to be the answer as far. One can combine parts of existing things to make something new. But does the same apply for coming up with a convincing sci-fi world? Let’s look at the world of computers and cybernetics. Human augmentation, making us faster, stronger, and smarter, depends on robotics, bio-electrics, and neuroscience. All these things have gotten to the point where there are now working prototypes of a system that augments human strength by reading the user’s nerve impulses and telling the exoskeleton to move in the way the person wants. The idea of preserving memories in an external device is also coming closer as neuroscientists learn about how the brain stores memory and the way the brain communicates with itself.  So, these once fictional devices that that would make a human being more human than human are now in the process of being realized as science plunges forward. Even with combining different existing things together, can we ever get ahead of this tidal wave of science? Well, yes and no. Yes, we can stay ahead by imagining what the world would look like with new or developing technologies in full swing. What would happen if every surface could be used as a touch screen? What if we all had augmentation? Part of what sci-fie does is look at not only the technology but our interaction with it as it influences the way society functions. While technology may surpass us, even while we’re in the writing process, there is still the opportunity to examine what would happen once the technology is released into he world. There’s a second option available as well that fairly insures that the science remains fiction and tantalizing for a long time to come.

Stories set in the far future, with technologies that we could only dream about, may not come to be for years. The best part is that one could simply take technologies that exist now and ramp them up the the nth degree. In this way, one maintains the fictional element for much longer though, in this day and age, even that is no guarantee that you might read an article about one of your ideas that will make it seem like you simply copied the idea. The point is that the stories that survive are those that are timeless and having dated technology can either be seen as a benefit, like in Neuromancer which we now look at as a major contribution to our idea of the net, or it can make it seem quaint. A far future story allows one to create a world of technology that will remain elusive for much longer. The final part of the puzzle is how you use it.

The technology being developed can be used in many ways and have many implications. Part of what will keep your story fresh for a long time is the way it addresses social and human issues. People want characters, people they can identify with or at least admire. People are also interested in their social environment and how they relate to it. While society is always changing, always picking up new traits and developing new cultural practices, we can look at cultures around the world and learn how they developed and borrow from them. In the end, characters have to interact with the society in which they live which leads to things we can all identify with or understand. Some characters may want to destroy society. Maybe another wants to fit in. Maybe another is looking to defend society. There are a myriad ways we interact with the social world that, no matter when a book is read, we can understand. These human elements in the end may make the story stick around in people’s minds. Of course, that shouldn’t prevent you from trying to create a world that people will dream about or tremble over for years to come.

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4 Comments on “Science fiction today, science tomorrow and I’m not even through the first chapter.”

  1. Kate Says:

    I think your bit about characters and things that engage people can apply to just about any type of fictional writing. Thanks for the reminder of what makes a lasting book!

    • You’re exactly right about this applying to all genres. That’s why we still love Shakespeare, Aeschylus, and other great writers. They knew how to reach us at a profoundly human level which is why I ended up stressing this as a way of keeping sci-fi works relevant and not just worrying about how good or cool the tech was. Both play an important role for this genre but who will care if the work doesn’t strike at something human? Thanks for responding and I’m happy you liked the post.

  2. kenwalt50 Says:

    The basics about fiction: plot, characterization, audience, and even imagination, etc. are true about all fiction (and most drama). The amazing part about sci fi, that is good sci fi, a single element–science, which doesn’t exist in non-sci fi, or minimally so, becomes central to everything else. Plot involves science, as well as everything else plot must do. Characters react to science, as well as everything else characters must react to. Science is always central, but never the center. That is, the fictive element must satisfy the needs of all fiction–the plot and characters must be believable and engaging, and also must have a close relationship to the smaller genre. The fault I find in forgetable sci fi is that the writer centered on the science first. The writing becomes pish-posh because the foundation is missing.

    By the way, thanks for your comments. I’ve just started looking at your site. I don’t have a lot of time for this kind of browsing.

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