Science Fiction Gives Us the Tools to Live in the Future, and We’re Not Using Them

The Bouletcorp: Exobiology my love

The Bouletcorp: “Exobiology my love”

I feel like this a lot about science fiction. Like we’re living in the future, today, right here, but we’ve installed screens in our spaceships on which to watch the futures of the past on rerun. I like the reruns sometimes, don’t get me wrong, and rewatching them sometimes shows me that they are more incisive about the present than my memory of them would have it, but they’re still not the view out the window.

Here’s Charlie Stross lamenting that the present has stolen his plot again, as though as soon as it became reality, it was no longer interesting or valuable to write about.

I know that speculative fiction is definitionally premised on speculation, the counterfactual. I feel like that’s not the only thing it does, though — it also gives us tools to help us understand and cope with change in the world, the change we’re experiencing right now, and we’re not using them, and I don’t know why. Maybe we’re too overwhelmed by it already.

I really liked William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, and the rest of that trilogy, for how it used — I’m going to call it a science fictional worldview, although I can’t write down a good definition of what that means — to explore the very recent past, and to help to set it in some kind of perspective.

A science fictional worldview is, it’s — materialistic, in the philosophical sense of that term; rational; it enjoys and approves of technology but understands and acknowledges technology’s limitations even when it asks if they’re necessary; and it just as much understands and identifies with humanity even when it asks if humanity could be otherwise. Maybe there are other things that I’m missing.

I feel like this, the complete package, is missing from our discussion of the present right now, and it’s a lack I feel keenly. Obviously it’s something I try to do in my own writing, but… I can’t do it alone, you know? I’m not even sure if the gap is really there or if I’m just imagining it, half of the time.