Readercon and facing the future–not

At the “So, What’s New?” panel at Readercon, Warren Lapine launched a salvo that current science fiction is doing a remarkably poor job of dealing with the future. As Paolo Balcigalupi said, SF set in the future needs to at least tip its hat to global warming. There’s story after story after story in global warming, from rising waters to shifting biozones, that SF is ignoring. In this and other panels I attended, when the subject is brought up, the only books dealing with global warming that anyone can think of are the three by Kim Stanley Robinson: Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, and Sixty Days and Counting.  Why is that?

M.M. Buckner suggested maybe it’s too awful to face.  Balcigalupi suggested, maybe it’s too big an object, or  maybe people fear looking like a preacher or idiot. Many, both in the panel and the audience, opined that post apocalyptic dystopias have been done to death. So have space opera and military SF, but I don’t see any shortage there. Helen Collins mentioned other topics that could be addressed more, such as the relationship between the body and the mind, and animals as the Other looking back at us.  Jean-Luis Trudel pointed out that we have better  maps for Mars and the Moon than the surface of the Earth under the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.

In short, this was one of those panels that wrestled with the topic without coming to a conclusion. But at least they wrestled with the topic. Considering that Balcigalupi is one of the very few (or is he the only one?) that is currently wrestling with the near future in his stories, it’s not surprising that he had the most to say about it.

It bothers me that SF seems to have  turned away from the near future to preoccupation with the Singularity and life in simulation. Is it because so many SF predictions were wrong? No jet packs, no moon colony, no automated highways. Never mind the glaring failure to predict the impact of computers. And some futures you want to be wrong about.  One could argue the books like On The Beach and Stand On Zanzibar pushed us a few feet back from various brinks of annihilation. The equivalent now seems to be the real world, which is writing a Scary Warning Novel faster than we can keep up.

In other words, we’re already living in the future, so we don’t need to imagine it. So write about it!

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9 responses to “Readercon and facing the future–not

  1. It’s also interesting that Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘Mars’ books also have global warming as a background plot. I haven’t read the ‘climate’ trilogy, but one or two of them are waiting on my shelf. I know other authors write with this theme in mind, but none others leap to mind. Come to think of it…don’t KSR’s ‘California’ books also work with the idea? Geez, he’s doing an awful lot of heavy-lifting here.

    Two comments from my personal writing and / or thinking on this post. I often (nearly always) am aware of climate change in my earth-based scribblings (…did you ever notice that The City is built in the Rockies? No coincidence, although it wasn’t the primary reason I placed it there.) And I also find the singularity to be a total dead-end when it comes to interesting fiction. It boils down to “how can you write about the human condition when the beings who throw themselves into the singularity will cease to be human?” The singularity really doesn’t interest me much, except as a really ugly geek fantasy, worthy of derision. With it would come the complete destruction of individuality. Oh, yay! Let’s all rush into it!

    Which reminds me, I have a draft I wrote earlier this year around here somewhere, on exactly that topic. I should fish it out and make it presentable for our next workshop.

  2. Your City is in the Rockies? I always pictured it on some far-flung planet in the galactic empire.

    As for KSR, I’m beginning to think he’s scaring people off. Who else has written about terraforming Mars?

  3. Heinlein leaps to mind, but I know you’re talking about recent works. And you might be right – no one else has done it. I don’t personally see it as a matter of ‘scaring off.’ If anything, KSR’s Mars books are a stiff read…lots of technical density per unit volume (although also a hell of a lot of character, too). There would seem to be a lot of room for fun fiction left.

    Yet on the other hand, with his realism he may have accomplished for Mars something a lot like what Brin did for advanced intergalactic culture with the Uplift books.

    Brin basically wrote a galactic culture that, given the starting points of multiple species uplifted by ancient progenitors, and with near-instant transit technology, and a competitive structure for evolutionary advancement, could not have been written any other way. I read those books and thought, ‘well, we’re done. This is how it has to logically play out, so no one else needs to bother writing this stuff anymore. I’ll throw out most of what I’m writing now.’ KSR, at least for a generation, may have done it to Mars. Check back in 20 years to see how badly he screwed up…

    You thought the City was off in space somewhere? Maybe I succeeded too well in giving it the sense of detachment from our current time and place that I wanted. It’s clear in some of the other side stories (most in partly written pieces), because of the external references and a little bit of stuff about travel controls, that we’re talking about a future Earth. But I know you haven’t seen any of that material.

  4. More interesting to me than assuming we don’t do anything much to prevent Global Warming and imagining how we deal with the consequences would be to make some educated guesses about what people and governments will do against Global Warming and imagine what life would be like living under those policies and restrictions.

  5. Or combine that, and all the policies and restrictions do no more good that King Knute commanding the sea to turn back.

  6. My novel is about how an alien oxygen-breathing culture terraformed and maintained a cold, anaerobic planet. I wanted to show how difficult it will be to keep up a livable environment on another planet should we destroy the Earth and how it will be worth the effort to save our world. Historically, people have ignored the winds of war hoping it would never happen, so they can’t begin to deal with the end of humanity through climate change. I’m hoping that the small efforts toward recycling and using nature friendly products is going to reap bigger rewards than we imagine. But then I’m an optimist.

  7. My, how the past is truly a foreign land. Even the recent past, prior to November 17, 2009, when FOIA2009.zip hit the ‘Net and the word “Climategate” came into common usage despite the grunting efforts of the MSM to ignore the story to death.

    Since then, we’ve seen Algore fleeing cameras and microphones in hotel back alleys, strenuous whitewashing jobs perpetrated by the University of Pennsylvania, the IPCC, and the University of East Anglia, the complete collapse of “carbon trading,” and the present gaudy enraged public opposition to the Australian government’s proposed “carbon pollution” taxes and regulation.

    Not to mention the observation that global temperatures have trended flat or actually declining since 1998 (Trenberth’s “travesty” in the Climategate C.R.U. e-mails) despite accelerating increases in atmospheric anthropogenic carbon dioxide (aCO2).

    Those of us who are “hard” speculative fiction fans have been calling this preposterous bogosity just precisely what it is ever since the academically credentialed charlatans began making noise about man-made global climate change back in the late ’70s.

    I suppose that the people writing and posting here a couple of years ago can be excused their scientific illiteracy, and the fact that they got conned so thoroughly by Algore et alia.

    But isn’t it nice that on the Internet, nothing ever goes away?