Is it time for a rethink in Science Fiction?

Serendipity

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Below is a copy of a post I put on my blog, which may be of some interest to people here....

The pandemic has thrown the world into confusion and chaos. Sadly there have been too many deaths and people who have ended up being permanently damaged by this horrible disease. The devastation has extended to all parts of our society, and that includes science fiction.

Like the rest of the publishing industry, science fiction has struggled. Big publishers have reduced their publishing list during the pandemic, small publishers have ended up with book stocks they cannot move on because conventions have gone virtual, a few have gone out of business and those with print of demand capability have complained they are not selling their books through the likes of Amazon. It is not helped that this is also election year in the USA when traditionally book sales go down in numbers. There is a hiatus in film production with live actors and of course unless people can work from home, there has been limited access to production facilities for animated films.

It will take quite a few months to see the full impact of all this. One thing we do know is that in the publishing industry as a whole, an unprecedented 600 books will be published on 3rd September – a combination of delayed publishing and hoping to catch the Christmas market. On the minus side a lot of people have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, which means people will not have as much to spend. So it is a greater number of books chasing a smaller pot of people’s spare cash for entertainment.

Yes, you could counter-argue that reading books is a safe pandemic activity and therefore more likely to be taken up. But people have missed socialising, as the boom in the next best thing, zooming over the internet has shown. And it is socialising that will take priority over home entertainment for people in general.

One side effect of the pandemic is to make people aware of how science can and does advise society, and more importantly that going against of science can cost people dearly. The focus at the moment is quite reasonably on surviving and beating Covid-19. It’s the nearest crocodile snapping at everyone’s feet. But the point is well-made. You ignore science at your peril.

Of course science fiction will supply a tranche of new stories based on the pandemic. This is what writers are experiencing at the moment and they have to write from experience too a greater or lesser extent. I view that more as a way of recording the impact of the pandemic through story. And we need to record this pandemic because this is the first time such a devastating virus will be fought not just with the traditional quarantining, but also in due course and soon as safely possible with a vaccine.

Science fiction stories based on the pandemic will also provide a wish list of what we wanted to see during the pandemic, like for example the vaccine being developed far more quickly. This will help develop a roadmap for the research scientists for tomorrow and many decades to come.

What of other not so pressing global problems?

Another close snapping crocodile is climate change due to pollution. Yes, work is being done to reduce the projected pollution of so many substances, including carbon dioxide, methane, plastics… this list can go on for quite a bit.

We have seen quite a few stories about the impact of climate change, written as warnings for our future society. Yes they have had an impact, but not nearly enough for solving the overall problem. All that has been done is delay the inevitable.

Part of the issue that we do not fully understand all the interactions and impacts of climate change. Research is ongoing, and every so often there is a significant new piece of research that alters our perception what is actually going on, and therefore we must act in a slightly different way. (Slightly here refers to method rather than quantity of action.)

What is needed is solutions. Science fiction writers can suggest some of those, based on the science and understanding of what is going on in climate change. The point here is that a science fiction writer has to understand the subject they are writing about before they can make viable suggestions.

This is true of any subject. If you look at the very successful science fiction writers of today, you’ll find a lot have studied the subjects they write about before they even put fingertip to keyboard. Alastair Reynolds with his degrees and work in astrophysics, Adrian Tchaikovsky with his understanding of insects to name but two.

A science fiction writer also needs to keep up with the latest thinking in their subject area. They need to read about the advances to build on what they already know. Also science fiction writers need a basic understanding of the effects of the development of other sciences. They need to read the science news columns about what things can do in the near future. Where to find these columns?

Yes they are few and far between, but they are there where you know to find them. Only issue is that their coverage of the science subjects is rather hit and miss. They go for the spectacular ideas that catch the imagination, not the little detail that makes all the difference downstream.

What is really needed is a go-to place for such reports. This was the original idea behind the New Scientist magazine. But commercial pressures have slimmed it down in terms of content over the years. It has more the feel of specialist magazine commercially than the general magazine it wants to be to the public, certainly judging by the price.

A true hybrid between science reporting and science fiction stories does not really exist. Yes there are science commentary columns in some science fiction magazines or a thread for science topics tucked away on some science fiction websites. But a balanced offering? Not really.

Maybe now is the time to produce such a hybrid science and science fiction magazine or website, particularly as the value of science has recently been shown to have an impact on society.
 

Brian G Turner

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writer has to understand the subject they are writing about before they can make viable suggestions.
This is one reason why chrons - since the very beginning - had sections for history and science news. Not so much because I expect writers to use these to come up with solutions for modern problems, as much as because I always hoped some of the articles posted there would help inspire writers in the community.

Another issue, though, is that writers are limited by their inspiration. I'd love to write a science fiction novel about planetary exploration in the solar system, but I don't have inspiration for a story to go with it. Instead, I'm working on a non-fiction book to cover the subject. I suspect any notion of trying to solve world problems through science would also veer toward non-fiction rather than fiction writing, too.
 

Moonbat

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We live in a time of anti-science and we've all supposedly had enough of experts. We have (in the UK) a government that says it is following the science for its Covid rulings but I don't think we are doing particularly well in the grande scheme of things, is this a problem with the scientific advice, the scientists, the government or just the population?

I used to regularly read New Scientist and use it for inspiration (when I had time, back in the BC (before Children)). I have since joked with my neuro-scientist cousin that NS is very speculative. There would be an experiment that showed that three monkeys working together were able to use brain power to control a robotic arm in 3 dimensions (each monkey controlling one axis) and the article would talk as if we had to watch out for monkey's working in our factories or human cloud computing in the queue at Tesco. The article headings are bit click bait like, but I don't have the time to read it as much as I used to.
 

tinkerdan

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I've never seen Science Fiction or even other fiction as trying to solve our problems.
It's more of a matter of putting the focus upon those problems and often upon potential problems that might come up...If things keep going the way they are. In fact some of the best usually showcases how attempts at solving one problem creates several worse problems.
Where is this coming from.?

Has Covid changed things? Sure.
How long will it affect things? Hard to say just yet.
Covid hasn't really stopped the world.
It would be nice if it did then we wouldn't have the
Out of control wild fires.
Super highway of out of control hurricanes washing the gulf coast away.

All I'm doing right now is jigsaw puzzles and reading.

I've spent more on books at Amazon now than at any other time.

I am guilty of stemming the tide of books; because I haven't done much writing while I've had the chance.
That has nothing to do with Covid; though if I need another lame excuse I could use that: I suppose.

Real science is our best bet--although it is troubling that we have this global warming thing while man made and naturally ignited fires are sending horrible fog of smoke across the entire US--that can only be making things worse. Maybe it's nature's way of telling science that some of this might be out of their hands just now. In fact, the triple threat of hurricanes, wildfire, and rampant out of control virus are things that are challenging science's ability to steer our future.

That's enough; I need to bury my head in a science fiction book.
 

J Riff

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Fiction should be easy when writin about the 'virus' there's every story already out there.
 
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