Saturday, March 17, 2018

What Can Writers Do When Science Fact Catches Up With Science Fiction?

A bust of the robot, Maria, from the film "Metropolis".
The robot, Maria, from the 1927 silent film "Metropolis".

I apologise for missing a month’s worth of posts. Some unexpected events occurred within the last several weeks. One of these was a cold that put me out for a week. All of this put a hiatus on my writing projects and even on my creative energy. With the exception of journal writing and typing up some manuscripts, I wasn’t writing a lot and just didn’t feel up to it. In fact, there were a couple points where I thought, what use is it? But writing, especially science fiction and horror, is basically an inborn inclination for me and so sooner or later it sparks up again.

One of the other things, however, that has made me question my writing is the outdating of science fiction. I’m not just talking about the outdatedness of sci fi from 30 to 70 years ago; I’m not simply talking about stories from the 1930s through ‘50s of tin can robots or rockets traveling to nearby planets. I’m talking about science fiction that has been written less than 20 years ago and is already, seemingly at least, outdated. 

The outdating of sci fi is happening with cyberpunk that became popular in the ‘90s through early 2001s. Even though cyberpunk started with mostly William Gibson’s stories in the ‘80s which was more than 20 years ago, much of the sci fi literature would be directly influenced by his work for the next couple decades. In less than two weeks (March 29th), a cyberpunk movie about virtual reality (VR) will be releasing in theatres, Ready Player One, based on Earnest Cline’s ‘80s novel of the same name, at the same time VR continues to go mainstream! So what was unimaginable in our reality several years ago no longer is. As a relatively new cliché goes, the future is now, and, as I interpret it, the “future” is no longer that—the future. Interestingly, even dystopian science fiction has become outdated. We’re already in a Big Brother world at a level of technology that goes beyond Orwell’s 1984, even though it’s not absolutely fascist quite yet (God, forbid it ever be!).

Science fiction and science fact are running neck and neck in the race for science itself. Lately, writers have been struggling with this. They’re asking each other how they can continue writing in the genre when science fiction is becoming reality especially when it comes to dystopian society. I mean, the rise of the internet and the smart device has threatened us with the disappearance of privacy and the twisting of perceived reality. Photoshop is allowing for this twisting of facts and the creation of “evidence” to support fake news. Our nation’s president is denying scientific facts! These are elements of a dystopian society. The future is no longer the future, it’s the present.

So what do we do to continue creating sci fi in a world that’s more than ever rapidly advancing in science and technology? We keep writing stories. That’s what several speculative fiction authors at a writers conference sea cruise earlier in the year basically conveyed, according to an article at entitled “’The World’s On Fire’ . . .”  Although the author’s article doesn’t quite specify what “on fire is”, overall she talks about how she and other sci fi authors deal with staying creative and continuing to write in a world that has already gone dystopic. One good thing about arriving at dystopia, is, as an author that the article refers to says, it forces optimism in science fiction writing. Optimism is something we can definitely use in today’s screwed up world.

Also, when you think about it, we’ll never really run out of ideas for stories. The universe is much more infinite than a lot of people think and there will always be new scientific phenomena to discover and new speculations of our universe and ever advancing technology. There’s always room for advancement, and advancement in science and technology is often speculated before it occurs. Even when it does occur, it takes a while before the world sees its impact on society and that gives us plenty to speculate on. For example, about a week ago I was watching an episode of the Netflix anthology series, Black Mirror. It was about an online service that reconstructs dead people’s personas to make it seem like they’re communicating with their survived loved ones over the internet. The service does this by assembling online conversations of the deceased person from when they were living. With people now able to have conversations with AI online (as rusty and limited as the AI’s responses may be), we are really not that far from that sort of thing. It can probably already be done even if it hasn’t been yet. 

Still, what was so speculative about that episode wasn’t so much the technology itself as people’s reactions to the technology. So even if the technology or science has been discovered, the question still waits to be answered, that question being, how will society react to the science or technology once it is put to use and goes mainstream? Therefore part of the science fiction is not just the physical scientific or technological aspect but also the social scientific one.

As long as there’s creativity and science, there will always be science fiction. In order to continue making stories in the genre, we authors must continue to write and read as well. We must read not just other speculative fiction authors’ work but information about the latest scientific advances in the world. We can always take the advancement one step further, if not in actuality then at least in words. In fact, as writers, our job is words and not so much the things they represent, isn’t it?

Until next time. . .

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