William Gibson The future of science fiction? We’re living in it. Those “Future History” charts in the back of every Robert A. Heinlein paperback, when I was about 14, had the early 21st century tagged as the “Crazy Years”. He had an American theocratic dictatorship happening about then. I hope we miss that one. Otherwise, I’m assuming these are those years. The thing called science fiction that we do with literature will always be with us. The genre we’ve called science fiction since about 1927, maybe not so much. That’s something to do with the nature of genres, though, and nothing to do with the nature of science fiction. The single most useful thing I’ve learned from science fiction is that every present moment, always, is someone else’s past and someone else’s future. I got that as a child in the 1950s, reading science fiction written in the 1940s; reading it before I actually knew much of anything about the history of the 1940s or, really, about history at all. I literally had to infer the fact of the second world war, reverse-engineering my first personal iteration of 20th-century history out of 1940s science fiction. I grew up in a monoculture – one I found highly problematic – and science fiction afforded me a degree of lifesaving cultural perspective I’d never have had otherwise. I hope it’s still doing that, for people who need it that way, but these days lots of other things are doing that as well. A few years out from discovering Heinlein’s Future History chart, I adopted, as a complete no-brainer, J. G. Ballard’s dictum that “Earth is the alien planet”, that the future is pretty much now. Outer space (as far as science fiction went) became metaphorical. Became inner space.
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To read the full version of this article visit www.newscientist.com/article/dn14757 William Gibson’s latest book, Spook Country, came out in paperback in June
Ursula K. Le Guin It’s daunting to try and talk about “the future of” any kind of fiction, even the future of books themselves, when publishing is in such a tumult of technological change. Will print-on-demand save the book? Will we all soon be reading novels on our cellphones like the Japanese? R U redE AT4 INDIA’S prose to devolve largest into burns interactive centre in Victoria Hospital, Bangalore, ten texting? Or is the letter dead? Nobody knows. But I’d guess that some interesting science fiction will turn up in such forms as the graphic novel and the animated film. “Live” sci-fi films with expensive effects got stuck in the dumbo blockbuster mode, but graphics and animation are as supple and free – almost – as writers’ and readers’ imaginations, and we’ve barely begun to see the intelligence and beauty those forms can embody. Science fiction that pretended to show us the future couldn’t keep up with the present. It failed to foresee the electronic revolution, for example. Now that science and technology move ever faster, much science fiction is really fantasy in a space suit: wishful thinking about galactic empires and cybersex – often a bit reactionary. Things are livelier over on the social and political side, where human nature, which doesn’t revise itself every few years, can be relied on to provide good solid novel stuff. Writers like Geoff Ryman and China Miéville are showing the way, or Michael Chabon, who foregoes the future to give us a marvellous alternate present in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. The distinction between science fiction and realism was never as clear as the genre snobs wanted it to be. I rejoice to think that both terms are already largely historical; they are moulds from which literature is breaking free, as it always does, to find new forms.
Ursula K. Le Guin’s most famous work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness, was much loved by voters in our sci-fi poll
15 November 2008 | NewScientist | 47