Science and Inquiry discussion

Issues in Science > Smithsonian: How SF Authors shape your future

Comments Showing 1-10 of 10 (10 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Kenny (new)

Kenny Chaffin (kennychaffin) The input to the scientific method is always a guess, a speculation, a fantasy, many of those begin in the same way as SF.

Interesting short piece in Smithsonian by Eileen Gunn:

"How America’s Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future
The literary genre isn’t meant to predict the future, but implausible ideas that fire inventors’ imaginations often, amazingly, come true

By Eileen Gunn

Stories set in the future are often judged, as time passes, on whether they come true or not. “Where are our flying cars?” became a plaintive cry of disappointment as the millennium arrived, reflecting the prevailing mood that science and technology had failed to live up to the most fanciful promises of early 20th-century science fiction.

But the task of science fiction is not to predict the future. Rather, it contemplates possible futures. Writers may find the future appealing precisely because it can’t be known, a black box where “anything at all can be said to happen without fear of contradiction from a native,” says the renowned novelist and poet Ursula K. Le Guin. “The future is a safe, sterile laboratory for trying out ideas in,” she tells Smithsonian, “a means of thinking about reality, a method.”


Rest here:

message 2: by Laura (new)

Laura Mitchell (laurarm) | 32 comments Thank you for posting this, Kenny. I am a long-time science fiction fan. I don't understand how any scientist can dismiss ideas as "impossible." The truth is that we don't really know enough to know what it is that we don't know!

message 3: by Kenny (new)

Kenny Chaffin (kennychaffin) You're welcome Laura. I too have a love of both science and sf!

message 4: by David (new)

David Rubenstein | 900 comments Mod
I think quite a few of the people here, who read science books, are also interested in science fiction. I am one of them.

message 5: by Al (new)

Al Sci-Fi has always been a huge influence on me, from Jules Verne to Star Trek.

message 6: by Katy (new)

Katy (kathy_h) | 173 comments Great article! And yes, another Science Fiction fan here.

message 7: by Angus (new)

Angus Mcfarlane | 71 comments Interesting article - thanks. I think the 'near future' scifi demonstrates the challenge between fiction and physics - plausibility is more challenging than the 'magic' possible in the far future. The social commentary of scifi is a far more important component of the genre than is generally given credit.

message 8: by Laura (new)

Laura Mitchell (laurarm) | 32 comments Angus wrote: "Interesting article - thanks. I think the 'near future' scifi demonstrates the challenge between fiction and physics - plausibility is more challenging than the 'magic' possible in the far future. ..."

I agree completely. Good science fiction causes us to look at the social implications of technology, good and/or bad.

message 9: by Angus (new)

Angus Mcfarlane | 71 comments More than this Laura, I think it opens a window on the human condition or offers a social critique that is difficult to convey through other means. In the most recent read I can refer to, Kim Stanley Robinson, "2312", conveys in part some of the environmental challenges and associated political issues in a way that cuts through the fog we encounter when dealing with the day to day news about this. I suspect revolution is more palatable as metaphor than plain prose. Copernicus also comes to mind.

message 10: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 656 comments Great article! I happened to read it in the magazine & made my wife read it, too. We're both SF readers & grew up reading Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, & the other greats. I was surprised that it didn't mention some of their contributions to science. Perhaps the best known is Clarke's idea of geosynchronous satellites.

Larry Niven provided some chilling examples of science & society meeting in his "Known Space" series. I remember a short story where medical science has advanced to the point that anyone can donate body parts to anyone else & medicine is socialized, but there is no cloning. This leads to draconian laws. The story is about a guy waiting to be put to death for his crimes. He will pay society back by having his body donated to help alleviate the incredible shortfall of parts needed. At the end, we find out his heinous crime is a third speeding ticket. Niven further explored this idea in other stories & even a novel where an entire planet's government was affected by this technology until cloning specific parts was possible.

Another idea that Niven came up with were wire-heads. People get a wire implanted into the pleasure center of their brain & stimulate it with a simple box. It started out as a therapy, I believe. Then it hit the black market & became a huge problem as people are found dead in their apartments after they hacked the timer on the box & died in bliss from dehydration.

Delany is right, SF can help us look at & deal with some of the culture shock we're going through. We need it. I'm still chilled every time I skim through the beginning of Future Shock. Published in 1970, Toffler points out in a very understandable way just how fast our society has changed to that point. When I think how much it has changed since then, I'm amazed that we're not crazier than we are.

back to top

unread topics | mark unread

Books mentioned in this topic

Future Shock (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Larry Niven (other topics)