Saturday, March 31, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Frog Jones on The Death (And Re-Birth) of Science Fiction

To continue the discussion about the future of science fiction as a genre, I'm delighted to have Frog Jones, a fresh new voice, join us.

Stephan's Quintet, Hubble Space Telescope
Genres don't die. They just cycle back around. There were a couple of big surges for science fiction, and now we're in a lull, but sooner or later someone will write a great science fiction book, or make a great science fiction movie, and the fickle beast that is pop culture will swing its gaping maw back to the science fiction trough.

If you think about it, science fiction has part of the popular imagination ever since the Greeks told stories about strapping wings to your arms and flying around. True, Icarus is more of a cautionary tale of hubris, but from the perspective of a Greek we're still talking about the dangers of a potential technology, which is a common science fictional theme.

Science fiction is based on an imagining of future technology. The problem with such an imagination process is the degree of future you need to pull off. In 2012, the rate at which human knowledge increases is far faster than it was in the times of either Verne or even Asimov.

Nowadays, low-orbit space travel is routine, but no more impressive than flying an airplane in 1920. Not exactly the stuff of science fiction.

Faster than light speed? Possible.

Of course, if FTL is possible, then time travel?

Extraterrestrial life? Possible.

Those little pads on Star Trek that contain any book you'd ever want to read?

My point is, most of the normal science fiction tropes have begun to lose their "fiction." 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea just wouldn't feel like real science fiction if it had been written today. They're in a submarine. There's a giant squid. Big deal.

This, by the way, has happened before. That's why we see surges and lulls in science fiction; an incredible author with an amazing vision will come along and figure out what the world will look like in a hundred years, and then write about it. A swarm of copycats will follow.

The trick to renewing science fiction is to imagine beyond the current borders of science, then write about what life's gonna be like for the people who live then. That's getting harder and harder to do, because the borders of actual science are growing at such an incredible rate. That difficulty is compounded by the fact that this generation has seen a massive growth in technology, and it actually hasn't impacted the day-to-day life of a person noticeably. Sure, some things are easier, but the vast majority of the population still wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, watches some television, and goes to bed. That tends to lead to disillusionment that technology can bring about a paradigm shift.

I have faith that this visionary exists, and eventually we'll see a book that is just a much a revelation now as the Foundation trilogy was for its release. Once that book breaks, a hundred copycats will follow, and science fiction will be back.

Right up until the scientists catch it up again. Thus will the cycle continue.

Frog Jones writes collaboratively with his wife, Esther. You can follow their blog here.

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