Friday, June 22, 2012

Seeing Into The Future

by Scott Rhoades

Do you ever watch old sci-fi movies that are set in the distant future, only what was the distant future when the movie was made has already come and gone? It's fun to look at those and see what those visionaries of the past got right and wrong.

For example, one thing you see all the time is that our present world was expected to rely heavily on computers. They get that right. Only, the computers are usually huge banks of blinking lights and gauges. You seldom see predictions of how small computers would become.

I recently read Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. In addition to bigger things that he got largely right, like thought being replaced by entertainment, it was amazing to read about TV screens that took up entire walls, "seashells" in the ear that provided portable entertainment and news (reminding me of today's ear buds), and other items that still seemed impossibly futuristic when I first read it as a teenager (not to mention 1951, when it was written). He also missed some things, like mentioning somebody going down to the store on the corner to make a phone call, which rarely happens now.

So, if you're writing about the future, how do you deal with technological advances? How do you forecast what the world will be like, and what kinds of devices people will use? Some current trends aren't too hard to predict, like personal portable electronics becoming all-pervasive or video games becoming more realistic. But what about things that seem impossible? Especially if you're not the type who keeps up on experimental science.

Part of it is imagination and guesswork, of course. There's really no way to predict earth-shattering changes that will come up by surprise. But if you write speculative fiction, articles like one I read a while back at are a gold mine. You can look at the predicted technologies, then think about them and imagine how they will affect the world, and what kinds of other things will come about because of these predicted technologies. You can also project societal changes that will result due to the tech changes.

For example, I've seen things where something Internet-like was predicted. Look at The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, with its portable encyclopedia of everything. However, I can't think of anything I've seen or read that reflects the way the Internet has changed the way we think and how we live our lives. The Internet has impacted everything from entertainment to religion to the way we think about our world and our place in it.

The last thing you want to do as a speculative writer is what so many B-movies of the fifties did: Imagine a future world exactly like the present world, where people dress like they do today and have the same gender and racial roles and attitudes (for example), only with space ships and massive blinking computers and radiation mutants.

If you hope to be read in the future, your story world must speak to those future readers and not feel ridiculously dated.

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