Sunday, December 9, 2012

Science Fiction + Predictions: Estranged Bedfellows?

Jules Verne
Jules Verne
There is an ongoing debate about whether Science fiction as a genre is all about predictions or if it mainly revolves around speculations on the advancement of technology. The concurrent trend in the genre seems to connect closely, the advancement of technology and making didactic points about society through science-oriented stories.

The argument of whether to tell a story grounded solely in the explorations of science or to present an intriguing tale hauling a didactic purpose in its tow, continues to haunt and taunt science fiction nerds.

At some point, all parties concerned must come to terms with the fact that the genre because it is fiction and because it is such a daring adventure, lends its power of speculation to writers to muse over serious scientific speculations that may otherwise sound extravagantly humorous to the logical mind.

H.G. Wells

Writers like H.G. Wells used science fiction as an instrument of social criticism. These didactic elements can also be observed in Stephen King's approach to the genre. In scifi books like The Stand, Under the Dome (about which he wrote because he was bothered about how sometimes, the sublimely wrong people can be in power when you really need the right people), and Firestarter, King addresses social issues as well as moral issues. All the books listed above contain some sort of prophecy (or prediction, if you like the word better) but much of those relate to morality rather than technological exploits. Yet, there are instances of scientific speculations and there must be, you see or it could not be labeled science fiction.

Science fiction writer, Jules Verne who is called "the world's first full time science fiction writer" because of the level of commercial success his works achieved, "mixed daring romantic adventure with technology that was either up to the minute or logically extrapolated into the future (Wikipedia)-which, in everyday language means he made predictions about the future of technology.

While some writers like H.G. Wells and Stephen King usually gloss over the scientific process
Arthur C. Clarke
 in their tales so they can get on with the message of their stories, (King, for one, does not go to great lengths to explain how the scientific process in his stories are achieved. He focuses his energy on what those elements are meant for and the overall effect it has on the fate of the people in the story.) these writers still deliver exciting fiction of what-might-be if men do not curb their enthusiasm in a named field but from a science-driven perspective.

In his book, Profiles of the Future published in 1962, Arthur C. Clarke who in 1945, predicted the use of satellites for TV and radio communication describes two articles which feed "negative statements about scientific possibilities." 

The Failure of Nerve:
According to Clarke, this is the more common of the two and "occurs when even given all the relevant facts the would-be prophet (this could mean a scientist or science fiction writer) cannot see that they point to an inescapable conclusion... They could not believe the truth even when it had been spelled out before their eyes.

The Failure of Imagination:
It arises when all the available facts are appreciated and marshaled correctly-but when the really vital facts are still undiscovered and the possibility of their existence is not admitted. That can be summed up as "trying to define the limits within which scientific knowledge must lie."

I do not know about you but these examples seem to point to the fact that you can't take predictions out of science fiction and said predictions must be made in the light of advancing the development of the humankind-morally, technologically and in any other positive way. What is really needed is an open and unprejudiced mind.

As Clarke said,

"Even things that are undoubtedly impossible with existing or foreseeable techniques may prove to be easy as a result of new scientific breakthroughs."

This is what the genre drives for when it makes predictions-the essence of science fiction . This is the sum total of science-oriented stories.

But should there be a limit to scientific speculations?

If half of the things Michael Crichton talks about in his novels (Jurassic Park and The Lost World, for example) came to pass would mankind be the better or the worse for it? These are the questions science fiction writers presume to answer when they cook up a story. This is the basis of their predictions. To show man his good side and what explorations into weird technological experiments might mean for the survival of mankind.

Every scifi plot is aimed at telling a good and exciting story; creating characters people can associate with; inventing realistic technology (although, in light of what Clarke has deduced, this one is really dicey); and make didactic points. The bottom line is that it must leave behind for us a message through a science-themed story as well as deliver on the goodies good fiction is known for.

Permit me to end all this rambling with a quote from Arthur C. Clarke's Profiles of the Future:

"The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible."

Let these words be your guide every time you read or write a science fiction story.

Keep your pen bleeding!


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  1. The definition of Science fiction that I've always kept in mind while writing the many short stories and the one novel I've written is that it is "a fictional tale based solidly in the realm of science fact or theory." So, a story can be classified sci-fi mainly by its setting. This gives the writer a huge arena to turn his imagination loose, while making research in the sciences a magnificent giant who one can never get past the foyer of its universal library. Its wonderful.

    1. Thanks, Ric.
      Science fiction is indeed a very broad and complex genre. But the fun thing about it is the daring nature of the craft.

      Thank you so much for your comment.


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