Tag Archives: Cascio

Foresight consultancy; worldbuilding redux

Remember me linking to Jamais Cascio’s post about worldbuilding a little while ago, where he said that what he does (foresight consultancy, or what used to be referred to as ‘futurism’) is a remarkably similar skill to science fiction writing in some respects?

Well, here’s Jamais on the Worldchanging blog, pitching four brief potential future scenarios set three decades from now, showing the potential results of different reactions to the climate change issue. I’ll quote one as an example:

02037: I stumbled across a memory archive from twenty years ago, before the emergence of the Chorus, and was shocked to see the Earth as it was. Oceans near death, climate system lurching towards collapse, overall energy flux just horribly out-of-balance. I can’t believe the Earth actually survived that. I had assumed that the Chorus was responsible for repairing the planet, but no — We told me that, even by 02017, the Earth’s human populace was making the kind of substantive changes to how it lived necessary to avoid real disaster, and that 02017 was actually one of the first years of improvement! What the Chorus made possible was the planetary repair, although We says that this project still has many years left, in part because We had to fix some of We’s own mistakes from the first few repair attempts. The Chorus actually seemed embarrassed when We told me that!

OK, so it doesn’t have the snap and crackle of the prose of a practiced novelist, but that’s a slice of science fiction right there. I know for a fact that Karl Schroeder does this sort of work for a living, too; maybe foresight consultancy will be an industry where sf writers can use their skills to earn a good living in times to come?

Go and read the whole post, by the way. The scenarios are hauntingly familiar to any sf reader, and there’s some serious food for thought there.

The sin of worldbuilding – a refutation

The M. John Harrison worldbuilding post has bit the mainstream internet over the last few days (us sf obsessives are so far ahead, it’s just sick) – amazing what a Warren Ellis link can do for a post.

But here’s a polite refutation from futurist / foresight consultant Jamias Cascio, who points out that his line of “non-narrative fiction” is exactly what Harrison is complaining about.

Now, that’s an apples and oranges comparison, and I’m not trying to claim otherwise. But what interests me is that in the last part of his post, Cascio nails the exact point that it seemed to me that Harrison was trying to make, and that so many people misunderstood:

“The art of Worldbuilding comes from knowing what to omit, from knowing what needs to be surveyed and what can be tacked up as a Potemkin Future. It becomes an intensely detailed game, figuring out what the readers want to know, covering what they need to know, teasing them with the implications of a fuller vision, and creating an effective illusion of paradigmatic completeness.

Harrison has it wrong: it’s not the biggest library ever built, it’s a painting of a library that seems to go on and on, with some prop books on a table in the foreground. Make sure those prop books are interesting enough, and the reader will never try to explore the rest of the library.”

When I read Harrison’s post, I thought that was exactly what he was trying to say, and that he was rejecting the overintricate unnecessary filigree that some writers produce. Then again, I’m quite possibly superimposing my own perceptions on both posts, so maybe I’m wrong on both counts.

One thing that I’m pretty certain of, however, is that this debate will run for some time to come. Another is that Jamais Cascio is well worth reading for anyone who likes science fiction literature. He’s coming at the same point from a different angle – great food for thought, and frequently sobering.

Conscious Machines interview

Talking about conscious machines often provokes visions of dark-future scenarios akin to those in the Terminator movies, where humanity is beseiged by robots which were, in a fit of typical human hubris, created in man’s own image. There are researchers trying to build conscious machines today, but their aims and ideas are as far from these science fiction movie nightmares as one could imagine – much more mundane, but at the same time quietly astonishing in their own right. Continue reading Conscious Machines interview