What Science Fiction Leaves out of the Future, #2

Mar 6, 04:49 by Bluejack
Comment Below!
Mar 6, 17:49 by Mike Silverman
I think Alastair Reynolds and others in the "post-human" genre have done a decent job at overcoming this limitation and really imagining a future where humanity is pretty damn different then today, both in attitudes and the physical sense.

Theres a lot of similar writers who have explored this area, you just have to look!
Mar 6, 19:49 by Josh English
I think the problem is simple: most people aren't futurists by nature. Science Fiction fans and writers are, almost by definition futurists, but the people who inhabit our novels aren't, because we try to put real people out there for other real people to meet.

One of the ways we create real people is science fiction is to give them interests the readers/viewers will understand. Hence Star Trek TNG shows the crew playing classical music, performing Shakespearean plays, pretending to be hardboiled detectives, or Robin Hood.

Even here, extrapolating the in-between future is minimal in the fiction I've seen. There's enough work in building the world 500 years out from today, but then to build a world 300 years out so the 500 years out folk have something to remember, isn't going to make the audience familiar with the culture the characters know.
Mar 8, 15:14 by Nader Elhefnawy
While I think most of what has been said here is valid, it's also worth noting that in ST:TNG (and its successors) the characters did deal with the future, in many cases coping with time travelers who came from there--and had different capabilities and concerns. In Babylon 5, we also saw the episode "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars," which showed us how the events of the show have ripple effects out over the next million years.

In any case, it's worth noting that we have often thought of the future as a destination, a place; once there, then what? It should be remembered that we often see history (the inspiration for much of what we imagine about the future) that way. Anyone recall the overblown "end of history" discussion from two decades ago? We may deride the argument, but the truth is that people pretty much accept Fukuyama's claims about our social model as the final one (at least in the U.S.).

More broadly, however, a particular line of development (of a particular narrative, or a larger process than that) often has a built-in wall at the end, at which point something else will have to be the driver of change (which is where many of these stories come to their conclusion; not least because, I suspect, many writers find it easier to start something else from scratch at that point). Right now a lot of us are looking at the talk of the Singularity, wondering how we're going to get past that particular wall.
Mar 9, 16:14 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
Dan Simmons also tackles this issue in Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion; specifically, the tension between the past (the Hegemony and baseline humanity) and the future (the Ousters). Simmons Ousters, being humans adapted for radical environments are as alien as you can get without being a different species and are pretty much perceived as such by the Hegemony (who despite their advanced technology are no different than us). Simmons also carries his story into the future with the sequels Endymion and Rise of Endymion where he contemplates the consequences of the crises of the first two books.

I think Nader's last comment is right, though. There are only so many sequels any one author can right (Piers Anthony excepted and Robert Jordan excepted). At some point, one must ask if there is any compelling reason (other than huge royalties) to continue a story beyond its logical or artistic conclusion.
Mar 18, 21:30 by Paul Schilling
I think the Borg are an interesting example of an alien species that was too alien for the writers to keep working with. The Borg were too strange, and writers fell back to stories about the Borg regaining individuality (becoming like us). Star Trek's rehashing of old themes again and again is why I'm no longer a fan; just a casual watcher.
Mar 19, 15:48 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
I am with you on that Paul. The Borg were one of the most innovative and interesting villains in S/F until the writers wussified them. Although I think that there is some good in examining the effects of isolation on an individual (or group of individuals) from their hive society, those stories were handled poorly.
May 10, 19:12 by Stephen Clark
An interesting exception would be John C.Wright's Golden Transcendence threesome: after imagining an immensely distant almost utopia and revealing its flaws, he imagines several answers to 'And then?' that all take the story further into imaginable futures.

And there also seems no necessary end, nor any sign of her running short of ideas, to several of C.J.Cherry's sequences: either the Alliance-Union universe, the Nanowars, or Foreigner.
May 11, 15:27 by Bluejack
Endless anthologies and time scale in future fiction are two different things. Both are essentially artistic questions, however.

To the first question, there are two different applications. One: an author does not want to end the story. Fantasy authors tend toward this paradigm: a giant story with fractal subplots is an unruly beast. Bringing it to completion is hard. Extending it with additional characters, twists, and villains is both fun and profitable.

Two: an author wants to tell many stories in the same world he or she has invested enormous creative energy in imagining. We see this in future fiction, and I think it's no surprise that these stories sometimes span larger amounts of time--the author is already working in a future history, so the large tapestry of human events is probably hanging on their study wall.

But with regard to positing a future that itself has a future, and also a past, that is a different artistic question. What is the story the author wants to tell. Authors leave all sorts of things out of their stories. Economics, plumbing, daily gossip. If the story needs a future, then it will have one; if it needs a past, it will have one; if it needs economics... well... some authors will go beyond a casual hand-wave, but not many.

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