O.K., so I’ve been a little too quiet, but I’ve been editing (though at times it felt like a complete re-write – yuck!) There’s only one very tiny snag with editing… another part of my brain decides it time to think deep (unfathomably deep) thoughts about science fiction. So I’ll deal with the backlog of subjects post by post…
And first up is idea generation mechanisms. You may remember I gave a presentation to the Academy of Management over a year ago and the paper was well received. I’ve not got round to publishing it and you would think I had something ready-made to do the rounds. Well yes, I have, but… I’ve moved on in my thoughts.
It’s now getting to the stage where it could turn into a booklet, rather than just being a mere paper! And who would want read such an obscure subject for that length of time?
The so what comes when such thoughts are applied to the science fiction genre. It’s made me realise I’ve been nibbling away from different directions towards a fundamental issue.
Whoa! Did I just say ‘fundamental’?
Yep, I did.
So much so that it’s given me a totally different view of history! It’s made me realise that a lot of the history that we read about is very conservative outlook. And whilst science has been applied in many small ways to enlighten us about the facts, it has in reality only ‘nibbled away’ at bits and pieces. Nothing wrong with this in principle. It’s called making progress. But the mislead is that we think we know more than we actually do.
For instance, why did the Roman Empire fall? It had within its grasp the ability to make engineering progress that would have kept it going for centuries, yet never made use of it. I’m reminded of an old tale that I was once told.
Spartacus, he of the slave uprising fame, was supposed to have been executed by crucification when the rebellion was suppressed. But his owner continued to win battles after the said execution, even though said owner was known to be not very good at warfighting. There was also a further snippet that he kept a slave who gave him advice, until yes the said slave was executed. Nobody knew the slave’s name or what he looked like. But after the real execution the owner lost battles. It’s like progress was being suppressed at the hands of the conservatives.
But progress can only continue if it goes at a certain pace. Too slow and nothing really happens. Too fast and we get into a frenzy of ‘not coping’ and dump it, like the Luddites tried to do. In between is the ‘Goldilocks’ zone of erratic progress. [Progress has to be erratic for various reasons - this is another essay's worth in its own right.]
So what progress has science fiction made in the last ten years or so?
On the space building and exploration front, we had Larry Niven’s Ringworld and Integral Trees in the 1980s (or there abouts). Since then, there’s been Alastair Reynolds’ light huggers with their hefty ice shields, Ben Bova’s diamond space clippers and um… err… precisely. Science fiction progress has been too slow with respect to space travel. Why do I say this? Well, I’m no expert in space travel, but I do know the basics. Bottom line is that I have a story subbed at the moment with a new space travel mechanism – well at least totally new to me – and given how I developed the science for it, it probably really is new. [And yes I wish the editor concerned would get a move on to make a decision on it... but then when it comes to certain things I can't help but be impatient.]
Now if this was the only idea I had about space travel I could call it a fluke. But no, I had a what I consider a lesser idea. Yes, I wrote the story and it did the rounds. And yes, it (up to now) got the thumbs down. Where I did get comments back, the reader had completely missed the innovation of the space travel and concentrated on other aspects of the story. Clearly there (up to now) hasn’t been an appetite for innovation in the space travel side of science fiction.
Progress is likewise slow or non-existant in other subject areas of science fiction.
Which kind of reminds me about the demise of the Roman Empire.
Only there is a significant but… I can’t see the science fiction readership settling for the near status quo for much longer, do you?