There is an air of expectation hanging over science fiction. It’s a kind of watchful waiting. Everyone is looking round, searching, and they don’t know what for. They want something different from the dystopias, space operas, zombies, steampunk, cyberpunk, action thrillers that mix and match well described themes. The pressure of this waiting has been building up since at least 2011, and I suspect several years before that. People are getting restless, edgy and impatient. The waiting is becoming intolerable.
Will 2013 bring the fulfilment we are waiting for? Will it bring the breakthrough novel as Neuromancer did for 1984? Will the new year bring exciting science fiction that Isaac Asimov’s Nightfall did in 1952? Will it bring the surge of ideas that H G Wells produced in the 1890s?
Making predictions is dangerous, not because of being found to be right or wrong, but because predictions blinker our sight of what can be and constrain the paths we follow. Believing in certain predictions makes life easier, more certain and more comfortable. That’s where a lot of us want to be. If you want to be there, read no further.
Some predictions are easy to make because they are nothing more than extension of current trends or an obvious consequence of where we are. For example, I’m more than happy to predict that England will not have a hosepipe ban this summer after all the horrendous rainfall we’ve had these past eight months. Others are harder, involving consideration of numerous factors the impact and interactions of which are easy to misjudge. But I’m still going to have a reasoned go…
We’ve seen the literary world use science fiction. Now the science fiction writers have started using literary techniques (e.g. Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312). But as I noted elsewhere on this blog, in general, literary techniques can only be applied to ideas that have been generally accepted by the science fiction readership. It doesn’t mean to say it’s impossible that a science fiction novel can be both literary and have significant new ideas, just highly improbable. Using both challenges makes the reader work at the text. There are some who would enjoy such a challenge but they are few and far between. So here’s my first prediction for 2013:
(1) We will see more literary styled science fiction works in 2013
Does this imply that science fiction is running out of ideas? To answer this question we would have to understand where ideas come from, or to be more exact, under what circumstances they can be found.
It continues to be generally accepted that they occur on the spur of the moment, at a time of their choosing. They cannot be forced or marshalled. It’s like dealing with a herd of elephants all running in different directions.
Well, that’s not strictly true. They can be developed using frameworks of thought processes, but such frameworks are in their infancy. I’m always wary of using frameworks, because like predictions, they constrain. Worse, they constrain not only the results we can reach, but also the way we think. Having said that, they are better than having a dearth of ideas. So here’s my second prediction for 2013:
(2) More thought will be given to idea generation frameworks in 2013
But all processes take their time. However I did say these frameworks are in their infancy. I think they are now reaching that part of what is known as the S-curve when the useful results will accelerate. That means we will start to see the results soon. So my third prediction is:
(3) More idea generated science fiction will be seen in short stories towards the end of 2013
Given a choice between idea-generated and literary works, the publishers have in this recession tended towards literary because it involves selling what has been sold before, only in a new style, thereby reducing their risk. However, I have detected signs that even the big publishers have realised there is a restlessness in the science fiction readership, who are looking for something new. It’s going to be a case of publish something really fresh or whither. So my final prediction is:
(4) Publishers will search for and start accepting science fiction novels with new ideas in 2013
And before anyone says otherwise… yes there are such novels that have been and continue to be written. In fact, crazy as this may sound I realised that one of my early draft short stories had an idea that makes a heck of a difference to the way we may view space colonisation in the future. That idea was a mere by-product of the world I was trying to build, not the main raison d’etre. If I can do this kind of thing, so can others.
So all in all, whilst 2013 will be an interesting year as the struggle between literary and ideas science fiction ramps up, it is very unlikely to produce that breakthrough novel or story.
I wish you all a Happy and Prosperous New Year!