The Future of Science Fiction
I'll be on a panel on this subject Nov. 7
My editor, David Hartwell, and Elizabeth Bear and I will be talking about the future of SF at the annual New York Library Association conference, which is being held in Saratoga Springs, NY. This is pretty timely as there's a fair amount of buzz on the subject lately, mostly touched off by Paul Kincaid's review of several Year's Best story collections; I've put in my two cents about that already.
So I've talked about rolling up our sleeves and reinjecting energy into the genre; but what does that look like? Well, for starters, it looks like Hieroglyph, which I'm part of. The Hieroglyph project is looking for new symbols of a viable future. If you imagine all our existing glyphs--the rocket ship, the robot, the flying car--as crusted and plastered over with decades of associations and past interpretations, then it seems really hard to see the excitement that once lay under all that cruft. (The quintessential example for me is Star Trek, where the first series was about the adventure of space exploration, and the subsequent series deteriorated into sentimental tales about managerial team-building in a variety of idealized office buildings called Enterprise, Deep Space Nine etc. Where's the excitement in that?) So what can we create now that has the same mythic dimension to it, the same instantly recognizable impact, as the finned rocket ship, or the metal man? Hieroglyph is about consciously crafting such new mythic symbols.
As an ironic counterpoint to that, one of my long-term projects has been to show how, without invoking any new science or technology, we can still invent entirely new science fictional settings, places so gobsmackingly cool that any number of novels and stories could be set there without exhausting them. (I'm talking of course about Virga, and my forthcoming Lockstep.) The idea here is that we are so far from exhausting the wonder in what we already have that it's hardly even necessary to invoke new tech or science to create fantastical and unheard-of visions. I've proven this with the worlds of Permanence and Sun of Suns; I'm about to do it again with Lockstep. There's nothing wrong with a new hieroglyph, but what we already have is amazing enough, if we get off our fat asses and use our imaginations a bit.
Partly, though, the future of SF has to do with reinventing the future itself. After getting a degree in foresight and practicing futurism for a few years now, I can see how the vision of the future of SF really has diverged from the projections made by professional futurists. Science fiction's future is no longer our future. But it could be.
So this is what we'll be talking about on the 7th in Saratoga Springs. And it's also what I'll be twittering about for the next while--and, most importantly, my next stories and novel are going to explore some new directions. Look to this space, and those. It's coming.