I produced the following graphic in a previous post showing roughly the main interest in science fiction over time…
And I also produced this as a mind-map of what the influences on the science fiction can be…
I would not claim either to be comprehensive, but they certainly do bring out main points. It’s time to start working out the implications of combining these maps, or at least attempt to do so.
On the latter graphic is ‘Explaining Why People Do Things’, which to me aligns with the Classic SF-to-New Wave and New Weird. These also align with the the ensuing popularity in fantasy. Coincidence? Probably not. Fantasy avoids technical explanations of gadgetry in the world building that slows the pace down. But to me it also means that people are looking inward to society, not how society relates to the environment it lives in.
If we look at when innovative technology was very much a focus in the general public, you can see
- Golden Age when significant advances in science were being made available to the general public – think cars, TVs, fridges etc.
- Star Wars dominant or military SF become predominant at the beginning of the end of the Cold War, and indeed some would argue science fiction had a crucial part to play in ending the Cold War
- cyberpunk start at the time the computers and internet started to work their way into households
Exploring places has since the start of the last century been mainly technology driven. After all we need sensors and probes to explore space and improved submersibles to explore the depths of the oceans.
The Sense of Wonder and Inspirational Vision are really art commenting and predicting on where society might go. Socio-economic factors are dealing with issues that society has in order to survive and make life more comfortable. All these can happen at any time. So they appear intermittently in science fiction canon.
We have, relatively speaking, been through a period of comparative stability for about the last twenty-odd years. Yes, there are things like driverless cars and the eradication of malaria on the horizon, but they have the feel of being some way off to Joe Bloggs in the street. Why? Because people are naturally reluctant to take on board change.
But there is a problem with this. Progress is being made in research and development. Some of it, like improving the life of batteries are continuing to enter society. They are however within the framework of what we know and love, only a little better.
But the pace of research has now for some time been accelerating away from what is getting to market. We are seeing things like the Skylon spaceplane, mining space asteroids and nuclear fusion energy. They feel as if they are far off and therefore people are not bothering about them. But they could be here sooner than you think. And more and more stuff is being developed in the labs.
There will come a point when the promise of the benefits of change will far outweigh the reluctance to undergo change. Then, rather than the evolution we are continually experiencing at the moment, there will be a technological revolution. The world in twenty years time will be a very different place from what we are envisioning now.
And what is science fiction doing about this?
At the moment, with probably a few obscure exceptions, nothing.
One of science fiction themes we desperately need now is how to deal with ‘sudden’ technology improvements in our lives, no matter what the form of that change is.