We might as well deal with the fact now that every blog post I will be writing within the next however many months it will take something from the writing I do on the side for the final stages of the novel. Everyone good? Great. Let’s talk about science fiction becoming outdated.
Science fiction has always been near and dear to my heart, but when you’re dealing with something long-running like Star Trek, still on the air after 50 years, or are reading an older book like 2001: A Space Odyssey, you are immediately presented with two immediately outdated concepts: a Eugenics War by 1996 and an interstellar humanity with an existing cold war by 2001. What’s the science fiction in that you might ask? If it’s not in the future, then what’s the point, it immediately breaks the immersion. Why would we watch something, read something, that has already gone past the expiration date?
Well, the answer is quite simple: science fiction, more than any other form of popular literature, is such a great view into the minds and the culture of the time of its writing or airing. Star Trek’s future, even though we have gone past the point of divergence in the timeline, provides a great look into the future of the 1960s, 2001: A Space Odyssey just as much for that matter. We can learn many things from that, like how people thought the cold war would just be an eternal struggle unless we threw nukes at each other to end it, or how we there would need to be a final fight between the old world order before a new one could emerge, represented in Star Trek by WWIII and the arrival of the Vulcans. Hell, it has happened in real life: electro cars still haven’t become big yet and Walt Disney’s model city of the future (page image) is now a theme park.
But that is all fine and good as a fan of science fiction, I realized, but as a writer, as someone who is trying to create his own universe of relatively near future fiction, with a point of divergence close to the 2070s, I will, hopefully, confront the point of when everything I predict will either be false or created much earlier within my own lifetime. Now, that is really just my huge ego thinking I will actually be read and, for that matter, remembered that long, but let’s just do so as a thought exercise. Should I include references to a hyperloop? Levels of computing power? When artificial intelligence will arrive? Universal basic income by 2030? I could include all of these references, make predictions, or I could play it safe and be vague.
Being vague is not a way to write fiction unless you are specifically going for a certain vibe. When creating a fictional world, which science fiction inevitably is, be bold in your predictions. Go all out. If you worry about the people who might read it decades down the road and snark about Captain Picard not having an iPhone for away missions, then you are doing the audience of your day, the only ones that matter, a disservice. You need to create a world which your audience of the day can understand, has points of references to. It needs to be rooted in the world of today, because good science fiction, fiction in general, is always written for the moment. It is a snapshot of a moment in history, of our hopes and dreams. You can become a Utopian of course, dreaming of a future world, and that is appealing to, it’s a nice thought exercise, but just like with fantasy you need to realize that like almost no fantasy writer is J.R.R. Tolkien, barely any science fiction writer is Arthur C. Clarke and rarely a social critic of the day is Charles Dickens.
You are not the next great mind that will envision the future. At best we can all hope for to become a gifted conman like Gene Roddenberry and pretend we are in retrospect. This is, however, immensely freeing in the creative process. I can finally bring myself to throw in jokes and jabs at the present or near future, of the Vatican being auctioned off in a couple of decades, or Bavaria being exiled to Mars. A lot of this, I have to admit, was always my own fault, my ego doubting my ability to just be myself. But hey, that’s what learning is for.