Actually, yeah you CAN write near-future SF

According to Charlie Stross:

We are living in interesting times; in fact, they’re so interesting that it is not currently possible to write near-future SF.

He has a few points about the hazards of planning a near-future SF novel in a plausible fashion, the most important IMHO being the long lead time between writing and publication where the time between conception of an idea and printed novel is going to be two to three years at a minimum, and more like four to five years on average. Generally, he’s right that what seems plausible when you begin writing may not seem so when the book’s published. . . but I don’t see how the situation nowadays is any different today than it has been since the genre began.

Take about any ten-year time frame in the past century, and you’re going to see some radical changes that any SF writer is going to miss:

  • 1928: We need to foresee an economic collapse, a Midwestern dust bowl, the rise of fascism in Europe.
  • 1938: We need to see not only the worst war in history, but the ascendancy of American military power and the complete collapse of the European colonial empires.
  • 1948: We need to foresee the rise of television and mass media, the remaking of Germany and Japan into American allies, the exodus to the suburbs, and the way the automobile remakes the entire landscape.
  • 1958: We need to see an unpopular war, (a novel concept) assassination as a political tool in the US, a space program that’s completely government run, free love and the civil rights movement.

The fact is, there is a long and venerable history of SF getting the future wrong (after all, the SF that was the closest to getting the idea of cell phones was Star Trek), and setting things only a decade ahead just means that the versimilitude has a shorter shelf life, and the sequel’s going to probably be an alternate history.

One Reply to “Actually, yeah you CAN write near-future SF”

  1. Oh yeah. I always love to hear how SF authors are futurists. I usually keep my giggling to myself these days.

    That said I also nominate Dick Tracy’s wrist-watch communicator as a preview of cell phone tech. And just where the heck is my personal jet pack anyway?

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