Science Fiction is Everywhere
A Guest Blog by Author John Taloni
As a long-time fan of Science Fiction, it’s been interesting to see the genre grow and grow, to the point where it is now just about everywhere.
In the days before Star Wars came out (yes, and dinosaurs still roamed the Earth) only a few people could make a living writing science fiction. SF fans routinely referred to the “Big Three” of Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein, or included the more Fantasy oriented Bradbury in a “Big Four.” Their works included technology as a major component of the story. Asimov postulated intelligent robots following three laws. Clarke was famous for the monoliths of “2001.” Heinlein developed an entire “future history” that included warnings of the dangers of nuclear meltdowns. Bradbury’s famous “Martian Chronicles” considered the effect of a new environment on the human race.
There were science fiction conventions, but they were small things. Regional conventions were lucky to have a few thousand attendees, and it took the annual Worldcon to break ten thousand. “2001” was the only movie to take science fiction seriously.
And then Star Wars came out, and both popularized Science Fiction and destroyed the old market. Suddenly old series’ got new sequels from the “Big Three,” with outsize payments to match the new attention paid to Science Fiction. SF conventions swelled in size.
But this came at a price. The comfortable science-based stories of the past were superseded by fiction of a less rigorous bent. Was Star Wars actually science fiction, or a fairy tale with robotic elves? Whereas “2001” postulated a realistic voyage to Jupiter (Saturn in the book) Star Wars just waved its hands at the issue and said “we’ll jump through hyperspace.” Ships moved through no propellant other than a bright light at the back.
And in the post-Star Wars world, science fiction exploded. The market grew by leaps and bounds. And along the way, fantastic inventions became possible, then easy. Anyone who dreamed of having a Star Trek Communicator could have one by the 1990s in the form of a flip phone. We outgrew that faster than we could think and are now carrying around portable tablets with far more computing power than was used in the Apollo missions. We approach the truly fantastic: The Japanese now have an implantable cell phone. Niven and Pournelle postulated a machine-style of telepathy with people swapping messages by computer in the book “Oath of Fealty.” With that implant and Google Glass people can swap messages in real time.
Arthur Clarke once quipped “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” How would a person living in the 1950s perceive today’s communications technology? Likely as magical.
We are not quite yet at the stage where Kirk can give a series of orders to a computer and wait for an analysis, but we are getting close. Search engines put an entire world’s worth of information at our fingertips. Crowdsourcing provides information better than old authorities could do, and Wikipedia’s accuracy is as good as the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Science Fiction has grown so much that many people now refer to SF as “Speculative Fiction.” It is as good a moniker as any. There are fantastic elements in almost any genre of writing. Romance books now include Paranormal Romance. Urban Fantasy has become its own genre. The Big Bang Theory eats up the TV ratings. Summer blockbusters include several science fiction movies every year. Along the way, people have become accustomed to considering the fantastic as not implausible, but simply something we haven’t gotten around to doing just yet.
Conventions have grown accordingly. San Diego Comic Con has long outgrown comics and is now dedicated to the entire speculative fiction genre. It gets over 100,000 attendees a year. Other conventions routinely break the 10,000 attendee mark. Consumer products abound. Doctor Who gets released on film for one day and makes $10 million in box office.
And yet, a small voice in me says, “What about the hard science fiction stories of the past? What about the realistic trips to the Moon, to Mars; Niven’s Ramships that scoop ambient hydrogen for fuel, or Heinlein’s generation ships that would take a hundred years to get to their destination?” Well, a look at the marketplace shows that they’re still there. Alistair Reynolds does books about traveling from star to star at sublight speeds and does a pretty good job on the physics involved. Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a trilogy on settling Mars and making it habitable for humanity, and each step used existing technology or stuff we could make with just a little innovation. The hard science fiction market is still there, but the speculative part has grown and grown.
Technology itself has increased the market for SF. Online magazines proliferate where before only a handful of print magazines could exist. E-books allow authors to reach niche audiences, and without the need to print and distribute physical books, those authors can make a living with a higher cut of the buyer’s dollar. Some have given up publishing houses altogether.
As a society, we have learned to consider the fantastic as possible. With unbound imaginations, we are remaking the world. It began with a small number of authors saying “what if.” Now fiction feeds technology and technology suggests fiction in an endless circle. The future is boundless. We need only imagine it.
John Taloni is the author of two books that merge realistic science fiction with the fantasy element of intelligent cats. The first, Crisis on Stardust Station, tells the story of the cats coming to the aid of the stranded humans following a solar flare. Along the way they must rebuild Earth’s solar power satellite network, or face abandonment by a ruined Earth. The second, Shadow on the Moon, tells of a far greater danger waiting on the Moon. Earth’s sun will go supernova if they fail – but there are shadowy allies awaiting them as well.
Crisis on Stardust Station:
John Taloni can be found at: