Has SF lost its grip on the future? Is so-called mainstream fiction making better use of SF’s tropes? Should SF be exclusively concerned with ‘reality’ and ‘realistic’ extrapolations - things that are possible from our point of view here in the last quarter of the first decade of the twenty-first century? As far as I’m concerned, maybe, no, and definitely not. I’m not against near-future ‘realistic’ SF (hell, I’ve written plenty), or the idea of Mundane SF per se, and I’m looking forward to the Mundane SF edition of Interzone guest-edited by Geoff Ryman. But I do have severe doubts about its claim that it is The Only Way Forward, and all other forms of SF are irrelevant, foolish or even dangerous.
Here are a few principles that have informed the construction of The Quiet War and Outer Dark:
1) SF’s principal strength is not realism; it’s one part internal consistency, two parts imagination, and three parts self-belief.
2) SF isn’t only about known knowns and known unknowns; it’s also about unknown knowns. Given that two hundred years ago most people in Europe were peasants relying on human and animal muscle power to get their work done, why do many SF writers insist that in two hundred years technology will not be radically different from present technology? Let’s face it, who in the SF field fifty years ago saw cell phones coming? Or the PC and the Internet?
3) The future will almost certainly not be dominated by the USA and freemarket capitalism.
4) Self-interest is a poor driver in any society, yet it’s the only motivating force for characters in too many recent SF novels
5) It’s possible to imagine SF heroes other than freebooting entrepreneurs. I mean, the dot.com boom is so over.
6) It’s possible to imagine a society where science is the dominant driving force of the economy and science and the arts are the main occupations of the population.
7) What will really happen if our children are smarter and kinder than us?
8) True AI is less likely than a manned landing on Mars.
9) Most moons in the Solar System are made of water-ice; with a little power, you have all the water and oxygen you need.
10) We know a lot more about closed-system ecosystems than we did in the 1970s, when O’Neill colonies were first proposed. And we have better vision of the architecture and material science of the future, too
11) Colonisation of space will not be driven by self-interest or the profit-motive.
12) History teaches us that history doesn’t teach us anything. Laboured comparisons between the present and past events are pointless. The future will have its own agenda.