Last time I talked about why I write science fiction and I guess, bottom line, it just feels the most natural thing for me to do. However, as soon as you start writing science fiction you face the dilemma of just how do you cope with the science that underpins it. After all, it’s the future, fifty, hundred, even thousands of years ahead and if you look back a thousand, one hundred or even just fifty years (and I can for the last one) people then could never imagine the world we live in now.
OK, fifty years ago, if you really thought about it some of it might have been imagined, and if you took someone from 1966 and put them in the modern world they would probably would recognise most of it and adapt. Mobile phones, travel, communications etc. all not that far removed and even computers. But go back a hundred years?
So projecting forward, given that the changes are happening even faster, who knows. We can probably extrapolate to fifty years, but after that we are really guessing. One of the best illustrations I can give for this is that recently I recently reread Isaac Asimov’s original Foundation and Empire trilogy. I read them first as a teenager and they, at least partially are what got me started with science fiction, after Arthur Clarke’s childhood’s end (mind blowing). If you haven’t read them, do.
The Foundation books were written in the mid to late 1950’s and what strikes you now is that despite all the intergalactic space flight there are no computers. The calculations for interstellar jumps are done largely by hand with charts etc. Yes, there were calculating machines, but they were not what we would call computers. This is simply because when Asimov wrote these stories computers, well they simply didn’t exist so he had no basis on which to imagine them. Just fifteen to twenty years later when he wrote the sequels to those books computers appear in way we would recognise today i.e. the basics were there on which he could make a logical projection.
So, to me the moral of all this is writer beware.
The other point I would make about getting too deep into whatever technology you invent. I don’t think you have to. I can imagine interstellar, faster than light travel, I can give it a name, but trying to have a meaningful stab at the technology behind it? Now there are authors out there who might be able to give it a plausible go, but does it bother me how it works? No. For the story I just need to know it’s possible. Even when it comes to long distance sub light travel it’s not easy.
For instance in Project Noah I do speculate on how billions of micro machines might be used to build a craft that will carry tens of thousands of people to the stars, but I admit that when it comes to powering such a craft I keep it vague in the area of nuclear fusion. I’ve read it’s an option, but would it be practical on the scale I’m suggesting? I don’t know. But then does anyone? It might not be, based on what we know now. But then that’s the beauty of writing science fiction, we don’t have to stick to what know now. Also, I admit that I am equally vague concerning the biggest problem, which if you read anything on the subject, is how do you fuel such a craft for a journey of hundreds of years.
So for those that don’t get science fiction they might cry “that could never work” to which I would shout back “based on what we know now, it might in the future.” I know that’s the great get out clause for science fiction, the excuse for whatever outlandish technology we need to make our stories work. But for me that’s the whole point. As I’ve said before if we dare to dream something then we plant that seed from which future research can grow. It doesn’t have to make sense now. If you took someone from a thousand years ago and plonked them in our world they would assume most of what they saw was supernatural, witchcraft and the like. So in a thousand years from now? Well, at least let us dare to imagine.
As always comments are welcome.