Good to Know: Near-future SF is Dangerous

Near-future science fiction can be dangerous, not that it always — or usually — is. In a recent article, SF writer Charles Stross says, “Over-generalizing wildly, science fiction falls into two categories: scifi with a far future setting, and scifi about the present or the near future. Far future settings are fun to write, and they also insulate you from the slings and arrows of contemporary history in the making. If you’re playing in a Star Trek setting circa 2400, the events of 2016 are as remote as the events of 1916, or even 1816. And by “remote” I don’t mean that the denizens of 2400 might not have heard of Donald Trump; I mean they might not have heard of the United States of America—2400 is as far away from us in time as 1632.”

No one’s going to complain about SF that just entertains. But the most thoughtful near-future SF is unsettling. It generally assumes that some of the worst features of the present are going to carry on into the future in one form or another. Where we prefer to believe that the future is going to be even better than the present, near-future SF says tries to knock off those rose-colored glasses and stomp on them.

But… “Near-future scifi is not a predictive medium: it doesn’t directly reflect reality so much as it presents us with a funhouse mirror view of the world around us. But in a post-truth world, it may be that only by contemplating deliberate un-truths can we retain our sense of what it is plausible to believe in the collage the media surround us with.”

Stross goes on to say that what near-future SF does for us — or to us, is glue “convenient handles — explanations we can grasp — on models of phenomena that mimic the patterns of the real world, and gives us the chance to infer the intentions of the hidden manipulators.

“And that’s why near-future SF remains relevant—and dangerous—in the “post-truth” era.”

A near-future scenario worth considering is an America that has joined current repressive governments in imprisoning writers for what they say, not what they do.


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