Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A New Golden Age of Science Fiction is Approaching

We live in a wonderful age. Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke would have given anything to experience the brave new world just coming into focus. Robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, genetics, and more --- yes, it’s all coming true, the wonders science fiction writers have imagined for all these many decades.

It’s great to be alive and writing science fiction. We have unprecedented opportunities to expand our intellect, our imagination and our writing skill, but it requires hard work. There is so much science to learn and so much technology to study, much more so than our idols had to absorb three or four decades earlier. Quite a challenge, quite an opportunity.

Today’s science fiction writer must gain a broad understanding of the areas of science bordering his stories, and a deeper knowledge in fields critical to his work. For example, I try to keep up to date on what’s developing in genetics and artificial intelligence, two fields featured in my novels.

A modern science fiction writer must focus on the timeframe and world (the setting) of her stories. Paradoxically, stories set in the near future generally require more research than those set centuries in the future. Why? A story set twenty years from now must be based upon – or at least not violate --- science as we understand it today. Even though life may be incredibly different, it can’t verge into unrealistic concepts (for the near future) such as teleportation, spaceships ferrying passengers to distant planets, and the like. The science fiction writer must understand generally accepted scientific forecasts for twenty years from now and maintain her story elements within that domain. Otherwise, she leaves science fiction and edges into pseudo-science fiction (generally termed crap), possibly even fantasy.

Science fiction writers also have a greater opportunity to exercise their talents than traditional mainstream writers, who are mired in the present. Worse yet, they seem to take pride in an ignorance of science. This limits story plots and character development to the same old same old. Mainstream writers call it realism; I call it repetition.

Don’t feed me the same old plots over and over again. Look to science, look to technology to provide new angles, new thoughts.

The next couple of decades should become a golden age of science fiction. Science is accelerating into an uncertain future. For example, in genetics and genetic engineering, just think of the possibilities we have to delve into our innermost characteristics. Think of the moral, legal, societal and technical ramifications if science can seize control of the development of human beings. New plots, new characterizations, new settings are possible. All the mainstream story lines are available, multiplied by a multitude of scientific possibilities.

However, the strength of science fiction is also its weakness. Yes, there are many opportunities to be new and different, but these opportunities come with a price: the very newness of these situations make them difficult to write effectively. Where we may be familiar with a mainstream storyline, we have little familiar ground to stand upon for science fiction. Each author is on his own, taking what he can from conventional storytelling, but relying upon his judgment in the new areas. The results might be compelling, but they may also be simple-minded.

We are on our own. I like the opportunity, and I’ll let the readers judge the results.

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