Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Punctuated disequilibrium

As another starving writer reminds me, Verne had easy. To paraphrase Gibson, technology has its finger permanently set on the fast-forward button, like some mad social scientist's experiment. This gives a contemporary SF writer 3 choices:

A) Write near-future SF. This will become almost instantly obsolete. But you'll have a 5-15 year window in which to posit a trendy, extrapolation based on some hot new thing -- before your story becomes dated and ridiculous.
B) Write far-future SF. Flipping A.C. Clarke's well-worn penny: "Any sufficiently advanced technogy is indistinguishable from magic." Corollary: SF based on sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from fantasy. I.e.: It's not Harry Potter's wand, it's, uh, nanotechnology.
C) Write SF set in the not-too-distant-future and posit some reason that technogy has been held back. So, Battlestar Galactica is a bucket of bolts because the Cylons can infect advanced AI systems. Futurama's 30th century is more like the 22nd century because earth has been blown back to the dark ages a few times. Or, in Serenity and Firefly, the Blue Sun Corporation destroyed the earth's ecosystem to jump-start a space colonization program and keep humanity at a level they could control. Hypothetically.

Another friend -- yet another SF writer with a ridiculously high IQ -- thinks the future is unimaginable. Perhaps unimaginably unimaginable. As may be. I still think it's worth the effort to keep up with M.I.T. Technology Review. My SF is bullshit, I know. But I want it to be high-quality bullshit.

Oh, yeah. It occurs to me there's a 4th choice.

D) Write SF set in the present. Gibson is doing just that, actually. Pattern Recognition happens now. He figures we're living in a cyberpunk future. The future's caught up. Worry about character and story.

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