Tag Archives: progress

The future is already here – what is science fiction doing about it?

As a number of you have probably already noticed, sf author and critic Gwyneth Jones has an excellent article in the Guardian discussing how reality has caught up with science fiction:

“It was called “cyberpunk” […] The manifesto went like this: in the forseeable future there will be no aliens, and no trips to distant planets. Digital technology, however, will get better and better at an incredible rate, throwing up fantastic new gadgets that will not remain in the hands of the wealthy. They will immediately be adopted by “the street”. Every punk will have a supercomputer in his pocket (and this was before desktop PCs, mind you, when video-camera, Wi-Fi internet access phones weren’t even a twinkle in a Finnish eye). And everything else in the world will get much, much, worse.

Much of the science-fiction establishment hated the cyberpunks. Science fiction was supposed to be about progress, and how advances in technology will inevitably create a better world. But they were right, and the truth they told is highly relevant to this new century of sci-fi come true.”

Although clearly written for a lay audience, the points Jones makes are important ones for fans and writers of science fiction, because they highlight what is sometimes described as the genre’s existential crisis – in other words, how does one write insightfully about the future when the future is already here – albeit, as Bill Gibson said, not evenly distributed as of yet?

It’s a singularity of sorts – not like Vinge’s version (at least not entirely), but in the sense that there’s a very near point in time beyond which it is increasingly hard to speculate with any sense of plausibility.

Which is why, I would contend, that the stronger (and arguably more literary) works of science fiction are exactly those which look closer to home in a temporal sense. It’s increasingly hard to write old-fashioned space-opera without it coming across as hokey and dated, not to mention wilfully ignorant of technology, science, economics and politics – at least to an audience that demands more than pure escapism, which I’ll freely admit is not the whole audience by a long shot.

The stuff that is really staying true to the extrapolative agenda, the speculative roots of the genre that grew from the compost of the early pulp material, is the stuff that looks at the issues which we’re already facing – cloning, nanotech, life enhancement and extention, exponentially-increasing power and ubiquity of computing, climate change, resource shortages, socio-economic changes and crises – and looks at them as more than backdrops and props for tales of derring-do and dastardly deeds, treating them instead as characters, forces and players in their own right.

It’s also the only stuff that has a hope of keeping an audience among a cynical younger generation that, when given the chance and not patronised to, are more than smart enough to pick holes in the top layer of any story. They get plenty of practice from watching TV and browsing the web every day, after all.

Fictional fumblings

For those who were wondering, I am still working on this month’s story, despite the fact that I’ll need to invent a time machine to fit in all the other stuff I need to do before the end of the month besides finishing it.

This tale got seriously derailed over the weekend, when I realised one of the central ideas wasn’t going to work. However, a solution presented itself at work today and I’ve managed to hack about what I had done already and add some more to it. I’m now fairly confident I can get a working story completed with the framework I’ve got, but it’s definitely not going to be pretty. Still, first drafts and all that, ‘finish what you start’ and so on. There’s a line from where I am now to the ending I had in mind, which is a good thing. Walking that line with words over the next eight days is going to be a challenge, though!

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
2,103 / 7,500
(28.0%)

Oh, and in reply to Sterling’s comment on the last progress report – I have no idea what I’ll do with it once it’s done. It’d be nice to think I’ll be confident enough in it to try sending it out for publication, but I think it’ll want a fair bit of polish before I’m willing to consider that. Maybe I’ll try one of those online story workshops to get some critique – if anyone reading can recommend one, I’d be very grateful.

In the meantime, all focus is on getting the bugger finished to deadline. That is my spur here – I’ve never missed a deadline for anything I’ve had published, as far as essays and reviews go, and so I’m damned if I’ll ruin my record and let myself break a deadline I’ve set for myself … [clenches fist determinedly]

Fresh fictional efforts

So, I’m trying my hand at stories again. My goal for the year is to finish one regular short story per month – ‘regular’ being defined by the SFWA’s definition of a short coming in at 7500 words or less. About a year or so ago, when I first started poking around with actually writing stories (as opposed to just thinking about writing them), I used to think writers set their daily goals very low.

“A thousand words a day? No problems,” I thought. “Hell, I can write a thousand words in an hour, and I can’t even touch-type!”

A little experimentation soon brought home the need for such realistic figures – that thousand words a day doesn’t count the ones you type and then discard as being unutterable tripe. And I’m pretty positive an experienced writer trashes a far smaller percentage of their work than I am doing at the moment …

Still, I’m soldiering on, despite the derailment of the computer failures, and I reckon I can get this current project done by the end of the month. Whether it’ll be worth the memory it’s saved in is another question. But ‘finish what you start’ is a bit of advice I’ve heard countless times, so I’ll try to hold off beating myself up over the quality until I have the quantity sorted. Two decent evenings of work puts me here:

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
1,001 / 7,500
(13.3%)

Wish me luck. I need all the help I can get!

Oh, blogging will probably be sparse to non-existent tomorrow, as I’m off to a gig with some friends tonight and may get home quite late. Take care …

Nothing new under the sun?

This is the first (and, I expect, the last) time I open up with a Biblical quote, but it’s one that I feel has a certain relevance to both science fiction and the world we live in:

[Ecclesiastes 1:9] What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Continue reading Nothing new under the sun?

Looking beyond the gadgets

If you read this site regularly, you’ll know that I do tend to be a bit wide-eyed and ZOMG!!! about new technologies and gadgets. I also describe myself as a futurist, which is a word with a highly contentious set of meanings, but can be broadly described as a person who tries to peer ahead into the coming years to see not only where we are heading as a species, but hopefully what obstacles (or power-ups) lie around the next corner, too. Continue reading Looking beyond the gadgets