In “The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World,” Thomas Disch calls this relay between fiction and reality “Creative visualization.” Businesses have started to co-opt it. The designers of the iPhone and the Kindle cite works of science fiction as inspiration. As the author Brian Merchant put it on Medium recently, these companies “Do what science fiction has always done – build rich speculative worlds, describe that world’s bounty and perils, and, finally, envision how that future might fall to pieces.” This is “Speculative” fiction in the financial sense, too, a new way to gamble on futures. I write science fiction set in the near future, so I’m constantly testing my own powers of prophecy. What if you don’t just predict a bad idea but inspire it? Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, widely considered the first science fiction novel, tried to forestall this: “Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge.” But while science fiction aims to warn, humans are teenagers at heart: We love doing what we’re told not to. The writer Harry Turtledove tweeted a link to that article with an exclamatory comment: “Science fiction does not predict the future. Not. Not! [expletive] NOT! It uses the imagined future to comment on the real present.” Margaret Atwood often claims something similar, echoing Gibson’s protestations. Despite manifest evidence of her acute forecasts – the rise of the Christian right, in vitro meat, sexbots modeled on real people, apocalyptic climate change, live aquatic jewelry – she says: “I’m not a prophet. Honest, I’m not a prophet. If I were a prophet I would have cleaned up on the stock market years ago. They’re saying things about ‘Oryx and Crake’ and ‘MaddAddam’ are all coming true. But that’s based on things people were already working on when I was writing the books. It’s just that I was looking for those things and other people weren’t.” Maybe science fiction’s future is actually just a lens on the present.
Read the full article at The New York Times