Making the Future with Science Fiction


The other day, my spouse mentioned the topic of the changes that had come to the world, after being predicted in fiction stories. Mary Shelley imagined modern medical accomplishments including surgical transplants and tissue regeneration. Arthur C. Clarke wrote about space science ideas that have become common today. Jules Verne imagined men landing on the moon. Ursula K Le Guin wrote about planets with no sexes or multiple genders. We have seen changes in how we live, technology available to us, and even what social behaviors we accept as appropriate.

Many of the changes we have lived through in the last century have been written about by fictional writers. Science fiction can incorporate different technologies, social conditions, or thought patterns. We have heard developers of new technologies who have credited their drive to invent to reading science fiction. Martin Cooper, credited with helping to invent the mobile phone credits his interest to Star Treks communicators. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a father of rocketry, admired Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon. Neal Stephenson wrote of computer hacker groups and trojan horses within virtual computer networks.

Science Fiction has perhaps contributed to social changes as well as technological advances. Some of the most intriguing stories about alternate worlds, from a social perspective have come from the pens of women authors. In 1660, Margaret Cavendish wrote The Blazing World, where an empress rules a utopian kingdom. In 1905, Begum Rokeya wrote “Sultana’s Dream,” in a gender-reversed India where it’s men who are kept in purdah. Octavia Butler in Parable of the Talents, wrote of a US Presidential candidate who raised a fear of Muslims, dangers from our border neighbor, and with a campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again.”

Today, some companies acknowledge the possibility that science fiction can help them compete in the fast paced competitive marketplace. Microsoft, Google, and Apple have sponsored lecture series in which science fiction writers give talks to employees. Writers like Cory Doctorow, and my friend Daniel Suarez write about the future, and consult with large companies to comment or advise on the uses of new technology.

From technology to social conditions, science fiction has served over centuries to offer road maps, warnings, and suggestions. I predict current and future authors will continue these tasks. We can walk possible future worlds, on paper, before we walk them with our feet. My series called After the Collapse describes characters living on a future Earth where modern technology has been lost, and new ways of living must be found.

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