Progressive science fiction are stories where the science is used to make the lives of humans better. This could be saving humans from disasters like
- climate change
- asteroid impact
- viral diseases
- worldwide volcanic eruptions leading to a dust cloud covering the Earth (check out what happened in c. 536AD)
- running out of resources like soil (with its ability to help produce the proteins we all need) and fresh water, which in turn causes war that could destroy the habitable conditions on this planet
Or it could be making our lives more interesting
- exploring and inhabiting new places e.g. Mars, Callisto
- achieving new capabilities e.g. new insights into the universe
- making our lives more beautiful (this was a bit of a theme with Iain M Banks)
Up to now the human race has evolved for survival purposes. The dominant survivors passed on their genes to the next generation through natural selection. So unless there were local geographical factors in play (e.g. those who stayed generation after generation near the equator have a less stockier bone structure than those who live nearer the poles due the slight variation in the gravity experienced), we all tended towards the survival perfection template.
For the first time in our history, we can choose how we develop. We could for instance develop so that we need less vitamin D and tolerate the cold better, which would allow us to inhabit distant asteroids or moons in the Solar System. Or we could concentrate on becoming better athletes, which would make the Olympics even more exciting. Or we could increase our intelligence to have greater understanding and appreciation of the world around us. The list could go on. But it would be useful to have a comprehensive list of such opportunities. This would give science fiction writers a chance to choose from themes to write about, rather than to have to search for them.
Whichever way we look at this list, science will have a role to play, whether it’s the physics that helps to get where we want or the biological consequences of what we do.
In the lists above there is one thing, that is difficult to define – beauty. The closest I’ve come to it, is that it comprises some form of balanced harmonious tension. Yes, I know it’s an oxymoron, but I’ve no better way of describing it.
Which is perhaps why there is all this excitement currently doing the rounds of Horsetail Fall waterfall in Yosemite National Park. In mid to late February (and depending on other factors like the amount of recent rainfall), the setting sun illuminates the waterfall to give it an orangery fire-like glow. It’s a kind of balance between apparent heat of fire and cold of winter, and the dryness of the apparent fire and wetness of the water. The picture below says it much better than I can describe it.
In a sense this reminds me of a scene I wrote into my Uranus-Universe novel – the beauty of a natural phenomenon allowing people to have a kind of rapture (again I’m having difficulty describing this with the right words). It led in a kind of inevitable way to the type of society that built up in that area. Which in turn made for a cracking science fiction story.
Unfortunately, this kind of subject is extremely rare in science fiction… certainly, if you can find such a place or phenomenon, then you can find an interesting progressive science fiction story to write.