This continues on from my first post about the Gollancz Festival 2017.
The second panel was called: The Future’s so Bright I Gotta Wear Shades, New Advances in Science (Fiction). The panel was moderated by Richard Edwards (SFX Magazine), and featured: Gavin G Smith, Al Robertson, Tricia Sullivan, Christopher Priest and Justina Robson. A quirky panel title, and with Gavin Smith in particular in the line-up I was hoping for lots of discussion about near future ideas, #CyberpunkNeverDied; I still owe Gavin a blog about my thoughts on this, too much to write 😉
The panel discussed the issue of science in Sci Fi and how to handle it, whether an author needs scientific understanding, plus the issue of prediction. After a slightly slow start the panel developed in to a good back and forth addressing the difficultly of writing about science. After all nothing dates like science. This is an area I have plenty of experience in from my days at KJC Games, when I helped run the long running space opera: Beyond the Stellar Empire (now called Phoenix). Before I started working there I was told to read up a lot more about science and in particular geology, since as a games master I would be interacting with players who were professional scientists, to players who were light Sci Fi readers at best. Once writing game events I had to be careful about how much science was written into the blurbs for a player’s turn. Basically keeping the science out as much as possible and focusing on descriptions. To remember when writing fiction it is not a science paper.
I forgot who said these following comments: “Science fiction is not science it’s a way of running experiments about the world. It’s a form of scientific method.” “Sci Fi is exploratory in nature.” Gavin highlighted that trying to predict the future is a waste of time. Tricia added a lovely summary: the future is not really the future, it’s a possibility space. This is evidenced by so many Sci Fi books, and the panel briefly discussed the old Tomorrow’s World TV show and its appalling prediction record.
Al Robertson added a wonderfully simplistic thing to think about: “There are two things we’re certain of, we’re all going to die, and we’re all going to be in the future.” Christopher highlighted that the real changes in technology are impossible to predict. Tricia brought up the great example about how society has dramatically changed in regards to women and the pill.
I don’t recall the scientists I first heard mention that overall Sci Fi has been terrible at predicting social changes, but Sci Fi has helped inspire so much. The panel continued discussing the issues of writing about the day-to-day realities of technology. Justina added that society could get worse in the future, even though we should be getting better. There was discussion of the current political hot topics, and then The Handmaid’s Tale was brought up. Al said that Sci Fi is not supposed to be a user’s guide, but a warning! Gavin brought a helpful consideration, what the people of Rome must have thought when Caligula took over.
The conversation took a turn when the importance of optimism was brought up. The hypothesis that the rise of GrimDark is likely partly to do with how comfortable many of us have things these days. Al brought up we need Arbour Park, which got my brain racing, and maybe optimism is the new technology we need now.
Christopher linked the abstract conversation of optimism and predicting things to the reality of day-to-day life with this comment: “The emotional spirit about writing about the future is trying to figure out the world our children will one day run.” Maybe having children, literally creating our own replacements, is a form of hope.
After some conversation about optimistic Sci Fi, and of course reference to the Culture series, Gavin asked: “Who wants to read positive upbeat optimistic scifi? Show of hands.” Just about every hand went up. There was a brief chat about how utopian fiction isn’t commercial, highlighting that the Culture series was about the Culture’s dealing with other societies, not about the Culture itself.
Personally, whilst I agree that writing Utopian literature is not easy, I think part of the problem when discussing utopia is how people summarise the concept and keep implying that conflicts won’t occur within a utopia. What do we each mean by utopia? Is it achievable in a group or only individualistic? I think our species inclination to talk about things in simple and absolutist terms is a key part of the problem when trying to understand the concept of utopia. The idea that a large number of people could all share perfect harmony of opinions is not realistic, even identical twins are not actually identical, but I don’t think that negates the idea of group utopia. Fascinating thought experiments about peaks and valleys of happiness leave a lot of room for conflict. Instead of waffling, I clearly should write a utopian story, whilst making sure that is both good and commercially viable – okay, I’ll add that tiny endeavour to my TODO list. The BBC made a series about Utopian ideas called Utopia: In Search of the Dream. I quite enjoyed the series, and I’d recommend checking it out.
There was some fun banter at the end about the radical impacts that teleportation would likely have on society, in particular the housing market. I’m not a fan of teleportation as a concept, too much data to reassemble, but I do love the idea of portals, of using a Correspondence point like in Mage: The Ascension. I could make a prediction, but this panel did highlight not to waste time on such things.
Overall this panel was very interesting, lots of little thought nuggets were mined, plus some rich topic veins revealed. In retrospect having the authors come out all wearing shades would have added an extra level of style, but I am always happy when substance is prioritized.
I made some big progress in my NaNoWriMo writing the last few days, although sadly still a low word count compared to what I would like. The Gingerbread deadline for the 4th December is looming ever closer!
Next time I’ll summarise the panel: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
I wish I’d thought about blogging this event previously, and maybe I’d have taken better pictures 😉