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!