15 June 2009

According to Ben Bova, reading more Science Fiction could have saved a lot of grief over the years. To wit:

If our political leaders had been reading science fiction, we might have been spared the Cold War, the energy crises, the failures of public education and many of the other problems that now seem intractable because we were not prepared to deal with them when they arose.

We could be living in a world that is powered by solar and nuclear energy, drawing our raw materials from the moon and asteroids, moving much of our industrial base into orbit and allowing our home world to become a clean, green residential area.

Yes, and get me those flying cars while you are at it. He's on to something here, of course, but I think that he doesn't quite extend the article to the conclusion that I take from it all: no one reading SF is a symptom, not a cause.

The real problem is a lack of imagination, a lack of insight on the part of humanity and the United States in particular, or perhaps more an overabundance of the here-and-now. The worst insult that can be thrown at a visionary--or best, depending on one's view--is to call them 'impractical.' Impracticality is certainly something to look out for, but these generalized tossers of insults, the majority of Americans, I think, do not mean 'impractical over the long term.' No, they mean 'impractical NOW.' This attitude, coming from people who use computers and drive cars with GPS units in them and watch HD television, is silly and pointless, as virtually nothing that they use was very practical in the past, sometimes in the very near past, even. What is useful now is not necessarily worth beans in the future, and vice-versa.

With this holding us back, we are limited to the (comparatively) slow, steady pace of normal technological progress, a recombinatory process which extends from the present to the near future. Science fiction bypasses all of this, ignoring the slow process to look to at an end product of sorts. Sure, everything past the nearest future is often wildly impractical from a modern perspective, but, first of all, where's the fun in that, and why not try to take the path and see what else comes along? The end product is, after all, NOT an end product, but instead a transitory stage, an accumulation of other pathways that are all independently variable.

[...] The writer is free to extrapolate from the known and project into the future, of course. The writer is free to invent anything he or she wants to — as long as nobody can prove that it’s wrong.

Thus science-fiction stories can deal with flights to the stars, or human immortality, a world government, settlements on other worlds. All of these things are possibilities of the future.

Science Fiction is not an instruction manual; it's only a guidebook. Impractical, even--but knowing what might be at the end should excite anyone, and if it doesn't, well, then SF writers just need to write a little better.


Adam Wykes said...

Absolutely agree, save for one thing: scientific progress is not even close to a steady, linear progression. I would have you read anything recent by Ray Kurzweil to prove my point, but instead I'll shove you in the direction of his TED talk.

Kurzweil on TED

Geoffrey Wykes said...

Progress LOOKS linear, but that's only because of the advantage of rearward sight. I'm not sure of the actual mathematical pattern, but it's probably best characterized as stoachastical (?).

Adam Wykes said...

Dammit man, read the link!

Kurzweil on TED

Adam Wykes said...

I mean dammit man, WATCH the link. lol.