Science fiction is potentially facing a big problem. Much of sci-fi is predicated on exploring the possibilities of science and technology…but technology has recently been giving us diminishing emotional returns.
For example, when most people think of the airport, they think of long lines, the annoyance of the TSA, the possibility that a passenger will be sick, and other inconveniences. The fact that they would have had to risk life and limb to transverse the same distance not that long ago never inters their mind.
Or the internet. Is it a vehicle for right-wing hate speech? Is it building a mob mentality in our politics? Is porn a health crisis (yes, it is)? Would we be better without social media in our lives? These are the questions people ask. The fact that science can produce faster now that people all over the globe can communicate with each other sometimes falls by the wayside. Sometimes we forget how lucky we are that we can share photos with loved ones several states away.
The first smart phone was a breakthrough. This years model…is just another in a long line of upgrades. Sadly, the wonder is dropping off.
For all technology gives us, we are incredibly ungrateful. This doesn’t mean technology doesn’t have its problems. What it does mean known is that the visions of new technology that sci-fi offers are going to be perceived in a very different light than they were several years ago.
It’s also worth noting that certain technological limits are being run into. No one expects hoverboards soon. And space travel of the sort imagined by Star Trek or other sci-fi entries might be fundamentally impossible.
So what is a sci-fi writer to do? One path is the route of dystopia, taking all the problems we see tech creating and inventing a nightmare. A perfectly legitimate path, and, as I have discussed earlier, the willingness of sci-fi to imagine dark realities is one if its strengths.
That being said with the possible exception of horror, no genre should plan on being all dark all the time. Stories should warn us…but they should also elevate us.
What sci-fi may need is a brand of science fiction more close to home (no teleportation or warp speed) that imagines how human beings might be able to make our now commonplace tech meaningful again.
Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed. -G. K Chesterton (kinda)
What applies to Fairy Tales can apply to sci-fi if we try. And as our home planet starts warming up, we need to double down and fight for a better world. The world has lots of problems, and tech is involved in a lot of them. But that is why overindulging in pessimistic stories is a luxury we cannot afford.
Potential Writing Prompts:
- What does a society that has solved global warming look like? Who loves it? Who challenges the new world order?
- A scientific finding is unpopular, but the fate of a world (Earth or otherwise) depends on people accepting it. How does your character bring people to the truth?
- What does social media look like 200 years from now? How do people keep it from being a vehicle for hate?
For all the problems our current world may have…its amazing what we have accomplished. Sometimes we just need to pause and remember that. If we do, we can build a better world.
I write Sci-Fi at MartianMuckraker.com