Progressive Science Fiction – Part 3

In part 2 discussed the first of the first of the four points below about how the cutting edge science fiction was becoming less available in the shops due to:

  • innovative technology needs more knowledge and understanding than in the past, because we are dealing with a bigger body knowledge, and therefore needs in general more or better explanation of how it affects us humans
  • the more politically correct society limits the subjects we can write about when it comes to political and social science fiction themes
  • ‘new’ places requires more understanding and aligning with sciences to be plausible that requires a lot of work on the part of the writer, which in turn can severely detract from a writer’s income
  • publishers not wanting to publish or push the really innovative science fiction because they want to invest in ‘safe bets’, like something similar to what sold well before

Notwithstanding the debate I’m having amongst with my friends who are really into true non-dystopian science fiction (i.e. with no fantasy elements) about inspiration and innovation (or rather the lack of it at the moment), I’m moving onto the influence of politically correctness.

With the onset of global communications and jet-set travel, we have become aware of the traditions and beliefs of many cultures. We have also become aware of what can offend them. As, with the help of globalised e-books, our stories can reach obscure corners of the world (yes, my blog has been read by people in places like Mongolia), we authors try to avoid giving offence to anyone. After all we want to get our books out there, sold and read.

But for some of us, it means deliberately avoiding subjects that we have something to contribute to. But have you ever thought why it’s taboo there, perhaps the surrounding countries and nowhere else?

We all live in different landscapes, ranging from desert, through jungles, mediterranean climates, northern farmland, tundra and onto the ice-sheets and glaciers; from beside the sea, along rivers, into the rolling hills and then mountains. We had to adapt our way of living to these climatic conditions. It means warm clothes for the ice-scapes, being frugal for those areas lacking in abundance (e.g. lack of water in the desert) and our bodies adapting to breathe at higher altitudes (e.g. as the Tibetans do). It’s a no-choicer.

Naturally, some things become taboo, and anathema to those people. They feel instinctively it’s wrong. They react without thinking. And it’s that reaction that our stories, if we were to publish them, would come up against.

The problem is further compounded by zealots. Ones who go overboard in trying to impose their beliefs on the rest of society. What works for one place does not work for another. They will find themselves instinctively rejected.

Furthermore, if people emigrate from one culture to another, they will over time adapt more to their adopted home. Take a look at Britain – despite the Roman, Viking, Anglo-Saxon and Norman invasions, we still adapted to the our climate and how to farm the land, build from local materials and so on….

But it all boils down to us authors limiting what we can write about, or at least the way we can write about some things, even if we want to add healthily to the debate and wider human knowledge.

This in turn cuts of areas of social exploration that would be inspirational.

In some ways science fiction has more freedom than other genres. By setting our stories out of time zone and building a world to suit (e.g. H G Wells’ The Time Machine) we can highlight things that cannot be done in say contemporary fiction. And if we really want to put something risky out there, we can put it into an invented alien culture. Even so, the risk is that it does put people off.

Still, globalisation means we are becoming more and more constrained in what we can offer our readership. We’re losing territory that we would have previously had the freedom to write about.

What to do about it, other than invent aliens as I mentioned earlier? Go into the fantasy realms? I know of at least one author that has done exactly that.

Well…. there might be another way… the singularity – when we can load our minds into computers – is edging towards us (see note below) – if we load human minds, why not animal minds or constructed minds? It would certainly let us see things from another perspective.

Now which taboos would I be breaking if I wrote about any of these ideas….

In the meantime I have added some main authors to my science fiction history diagram below. It needs further development, but I’m getting there…


Note: There have been quite a few predictions that the singularity will happen soon. My caution is that they’ve recently realised that our brains also rely on quantum mechanical processes as well as the electro-chemical neurological processes. So I think the singularity will happen further in the future than is widely speculated. In the meantime, people will try and that means we will end up with part-ghost minds in the machines.





2 thoughts on “Progressive Science Fiction – Part 3

  1. # There have been quite a few predictions that the singularity will
    # happen soon.

    I must say I’m a bit of a singularity skeptic. After all, the singularity has already happened multiple times. Fire was a singularity, the invention of writing was one too, the enlightenment was a big singularity. These were all times when society changed dramatically, with consequences that very few people could see. Yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. If you told our far ancestors all the things we now have today, they would assume we lived in an overabundant world where war, famine, crime, etc, were all things of the past. But we don’t.

    I’m also wary of the idea of ‘uploading minds’. How do you sample a mind in order to have the data to upload? The only way I can think of to do something like this would be to instantly sample the states of every neuron in a human brain, and then reproduce that “in silico”. Just doing the sampling alone would be a big ask.

    # My caution is that they’ve recently realised that our brains also
    # rely on quantum mechanical processes as well as the electro-
    # chemical neurological processes.

    Here I swing the other way. I’m a skeptic about the things that people claim the (AI/mind uploading) singularity will deliver, but on the other hand I’m not convinced that ‘quantum effects’ are important to this issue. I don’t see any reason why we can’t make ‘thinking machines’ without needing quantum effects. We don’t know yet how important quantum effects are in the brain, and whether they are vital, or just one way of doing something that could be replaced with some other method. I think it’s obvious that neurotransmitters, in the sense of chemicals in the bloodstream, could be replaced by some other signaling system. In this regard thought doesn’t *require* a chemical basis. Equally I question that, just because we see quantum events in the brain, thought *requries* quantum events. We don’t know that.

    # So I think the singularity will happen further in the future than
    #is widely speculated.

    In this I agree with you, but we know so little about how consciousness works that thinking machines could pop out of the woodwork tomorrow, or it may be impossible. Perhaps the next singularity will be biological, not information-technological. Either way, I very much doubt any singularity will deliver the ‘post scarcity’ utopia that has become the rapture of science-fiction.

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