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The march of progress

September 26, 2010

When I was 5, the coolest thing ever was my Transformers digital watch, with flip open Autobot symbol.

I remember when my dad bought a television which had remote control. You didn’t need to get up to change channels.

We could only dream of the advances we might see. And although at the age of five I expected flying cars by the 21st Century, the advances we have seen have taken me by surprise.

I can make a phonecall from anywhere. With the same device, I can fix my geographic location, and plan routes. I can point it at the sky and it will identify the stars. It accesses email, Facebook, Twitter the internet with an always on connection, constantly updating. And 25 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined what those things are.

My phone, viewed through the eyes of my younger self, seems like something out of Star Trek. Something that could only exist in fiction.

But it’s real. I’m using it to post this article (thanks to the very cool WordPress app I found).

This is why I don’t write Science Fiction. I lack the technological imagination to come up with a future world beyond what I would see in my own lifetime. I’ve tried before. I’ve created futures that exist centuries from now where computers are less advanced than Windows 7, with cruder touchscreen technology than an iPad. Ion drive was a new propulsion technology for my spacecraft; then I discovered we’ve built deep space probes which have ion drives all ready!

The present, the past, fantasy; these are all “safe”. But SF? I don’t know how SF authors manage to avoid making their stories seem dated.

Perhaps you’ll share some tips?

Sure, we’ve got all these time-saving devices and useful tools. But we still don’t have something that will do my writing for me. Technology sucks…
  1. September 26, 2010 3:57 am

    Well after scratching my head today, wondering what I’d write tomorrow… I have my topic.

    By the time I hit highschool, digital watches had gone from being something only rich adults could afford, to something you could have as a kid (I remember having one with a pink band, which was packaged with a matching pink biro!) We had only just got our first betamax and had watched a taped version of Grease at least 30 times. Half way through high school Compact Disc hit the scene… the first CD I ever heard was the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.

    I don’t write sci-fi for the gadgets or the technology… if anything, they are the things which trip me up, but it doesn’t stop me from writing. Once a story comes to me it must be told… come hell or high water. Not surprisingly my writing isn’t tech-rich and where I have to use tech if I can’t brain storm something, I’ll find one of my tech mates (of even Dave) to see if we can find a way around it, or into it.

    I guess the one tip I have… take something which exists now, take something we know something about and extraopolate it out just a bit. We have basic types of cloning. In my story “The Chameleon” they have DNA theft and the ability to totally rewrite someone’s DNA. It was pushing both the concept of DNA and identity theft. I didn’t go into just ‘how’ they did it… I just let the reader it was possible… and it had happened!

    If we tell a good enough story, our reader shouldn’t be asking, well just how the hell did they do that? They should just be able to believe it happened. Perhaps I’m a light weight when it comes to sci-fi. I don’t really care though. Tech in sci-fi actually takes a backseat to something which is far more important in my sci-fi writing. But more on that tomorrow.

    Many thanks for the inspiration!

  2. September 26, 2010 4:44 am

    I wouldn’t call myself a sci-fi writer though I’m definitely leaning towards spec fic, but like Jodi said if I was to write something that required tech I’d either not really explain it, brainstorm and research or perhaps find a different way of telling the story. I’ve got definite sci-fi elements in my fiction friday for next week and I’m not too intimidated as I am not going to go into lengthy explanations of the science, but allow people to use their imagination instead ;).

  3. adampb permalink
    September 26, 2010 4:59 am

    Sci-fi or spec fic works best when the technology is not an intrusive part of the narrative. We have come to accept that technology will play a significant part of the characters’ interactions and way of life, however, I think we engage more with sci-fi and spec fic when it explores human experiences and contradictions, examining what it means to be human.

  4. September 26, 2010 5:32 am

    I’m having to grapple with this one. I’m thinking of doing science fiction for #NaNoWriMo.

    I think back to what I know works, and what doesn’t. I love 1950’s science-fiction; the ones that were all set in the year 2000 and had us zipping around like Flash Gordon? That it never panned out that way doesn’t impact the story at all. If they story’s good, the apocryphal or anachronistic will disappear. Look even further back – nobody would give Jules Verne a going-over, would they?

    One thing I’ve learnt already though is not to be too specific. Don’t go specifying dates; you don’t want some geek telling you it’s impossible for Mars to be colonized by the date you give, for instance. And don’t draw attention to the everyday – exactly like the things you list that exist today, that you couldn’t even imagine as a kid. Take transport, for instance. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future flying cars are commonplace. (Seems fair enough; that’s been a staple for decades). You could go into detail about how they work; but that wouldn’t be right. If the technology really is commonplace, you shouldn’t give it special attention. In a contemporary tale, you wouldn’t discuss pedals. In the future tale, it’s *just* a car; it doesn’t raise any eyebrows about how amazing it is. Let the reader imagine it.

  5. September 26, 2010 5:37 pm

    When Steven Spielberg was making the movie adaptation of Minority Report, he wanted to have futuristic things that were still realistic (so the cars don’t fly, they operate using magnets, etc.) and he had the conceptualists come up with inventions for the world in which the movie was set. Most of them didn’t get used but of the ones that did, they were based on that “Wouldn’t it be great if someone could invent something to do X?” Because technology moves so much faster now than it did in the 1950s when a lot of classic science fiction was being written, it’s a lot more difficult to think of things that haven’t been invented, or to think of things that have but could be improved, but it’s still good to apply the “What if?” test.

    Alternatively, rewrite existing technology to be powered by steam and switch sci-fi for steampunk!

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