An outsider’s view: is science fiction obsolete?

Well, I said I wanted outsider views of the genre, and by pure serendipity my Technorati tag feeds supplied one this evening. Read this if you write, edit, market or review science fiction novels and stories, because this is how someone who isn’t tuned into the community sees the scene:

“Another area where the bulk of science fiction seems to be significantly off (but not nearly as obvious as networking and computing) is the development of new space and capitalization. Probably partially because of the failure of NASA to do anything significant in space after Apollo, most of the spacy science fiction is left assuming that most of space development and travel is governmental, when things are looking today like private companies and good old entrepreneurship will be what leads the way. Similarly, too much science fiction fails to see the connections between capitalism and democracy and has governments that are either highly anarchical or huge, bureaucratic, and socialist.

All of this is a considerable shame, because science fiction has been used since Jules Verne as a way to discuss the moral quandaries and implications of up and coming technology and the social institutions surrounding us. While science fiction is rarely spot on with it’s predictions, having virtually all of society take a left turn from the predictions science fiction made opens up a deluge of questions that haven’t even been considered, and makes the ones that have seem silly.”

I know, and I expect that most of you know, that there’s plenty of science fiction (some better, some worse, granted) that addresses the issues mentioned there. Why hasn’t this dude found it? How can we make sure people like him do find it?

5 thoughts on “An outsider’s view: is science fiction obsolete?”

  1. I like science fiction and read a lot of it, but you’re right, I may not be as tuned in as many. Let me rephrase the dilemma I see. When I browse the local Barnes and Noble for sci fi books, it seems like all the stories I see take place in non-democratic societies that are either anarchies or huge Orwellian socialist machines — no matter how benevolent. The computers are generally machines that are ignorant of one another, or else, if the characters say the machines are networked, the networking is about as primitive as you see in the early 80s.

    Cyberpunk oftentimes at least has semi-realistic networking, but is nearly always set in some weird anarchic society.

    Rainbows End is one of the few novels I’ve read that seems to take place in the future we’re headed towards, as opposed to the future as it was envisioned 20 years ago, before the internet. Michael Flynn’s Firestar series (which I’m planning on reading soon) might also have at least decently democratic and capitalistic societies to seem realistic, although I’ll be pleasantly surprised if the society is computerized.

    If I’m completely unaware of an entire genre in Sci-fi, I would love to read books people recommend that have the features I find missing. Please recommend them to me in my original post.

  2. The cyberpunk novels I’ve read, such as those by William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, are set in societies where capitalism and free enterprise rule. The governments seem non-existent – is non-existence the same as anarchic? But, the stories are told from the societies’ underbelly. Life might be different for the middle and upper classes.

    Elizabeth Moon has a series of books set on a private space yacht. The main character had trained in some sort of space army, but whether that was government run a la Star Trek’s Star Fleet, or not I’m not sure.

  3. Taoist, try Charlie Stross. Accelerando or Glasshouse would be a good place to start. I don’t think you’ll like his idea of government, but he certainly doesn’t do 80’s computers. 😉

  4. Lyle, I just checked out Charlie Stross. I do like Accelerando, it incorporates the networking sort of ideas I usually find lacking, and the government and social situations are reasonable guesses that aren’t just anarchies or despotisms.

    The funny thing, however, is that Charlie Stross’ latest book, “Toast”, opens with an intro that discusses my very point: most science fiction is obsolete, and society is changing so quickly that the life span of science fiction is getting incredibly short– Hence the name of his book.

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