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Has Sci-Fi Run Out of Steam? 479

Posted by Soulskill
from the what-about-steampunk dept.
Barence writes "Science fiction has long inspired real-world technology, but are the authors of sci-fi stories finally running out of steam? PC Pro has traced the history of sci-fi's influence on real-world technology, from Jules Verne to Snow Crash, but suggests that writers have run out of ideas when it comes to inspiring tomorrow's products. 'Since Snow Crash, no novel has had quite the same impact on the computing world, and you might argue that sci-fi and hi-tech are drifting further apart,' PC Pro claims. Author Charles Stross tells the magazine that he began writing a sci-fi novel in 2005 and 'made some predictions, thinking that in ten years they'd either be laughable or they'd have come true. The weird bit? Most of them came true already, by 2009.'"
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Has Sci-Fi Run Out of Steam?

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  • by Culture20 (968837) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:23PM (#30186250)
    Time to look to bulk fantasy for invention inspiration. Indistinguishable from magic and all that rot.
    • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:48PM (#30186498) Journal

      Like the TV show Heroes? It's fun to watch but certainly not realistic. For example: How can Sylar pick-up a person and throw him against a wall? Newton's Law dictates that Sylar should be pushed backward with an equal force (recoil). Also where is the energy coming from? Sylar must eat 50,000 calories a day* to maintain that level of "toss people against walls" energy output.

      I'd rather stick with SCIENCE fiction, with emphasis on the science and making it not violate known universal laws/theories.

      *
      * Trivia: Homo neanderthalis ate 10,000 calories a day to maintain his huge bulky body. Then Homo sapiens arrived and effectively starved neanderthal man out of food. That's how you control Sylar. Deprive him of food, and he'll not have enough energy to do his tricks.

      • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:02PM (#30186676)

        Personally, I like SciFi that gives me a good reason for what's happening, with reasons that can be understood. That we will come up with an alloy that is more durable than anything we can produce today is likely. It is also quite imaginable that we will some day be able to tap into new power sources, like cold fusion or, given enough time, pure matter-energy transformation. We might discover the antagonist to gravity and create antigravity. We will be able to colonize other planets (though I would much prefer an explanation other than "because it's there", human tends to be lazy).

        But I do want more than a bit of technobabble. That's why I prefer Bab5 to Star Trek. In the latter, there's nothing an inverted polarized tachyon beam, beamed through subspace into a cobalt-balonium matrix cannot accomplish. I can come up with my own deus ex machinas, thank you.

        • I agree, I think there's been a backlash against technobabble which is steering scifi away from Star Trek tech-porn towards a more BSG style focused more on people than cool gadgets. I certainly enjoy Star Trek, but they've saturated the gee-whiz-look-at-this-cool-gadget market, and people are ready for something new. Now that we've been exploring space for a few decades, and everyone has cool gadgets, they want more depth in the stories. It's not so much that scifi is running out of steam, it's just evo
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by PeterBrett (780946)

            I agree, I think there's been a backlash against technobabble which is steering scifi away from Star Trek tech-porn towards a more BSG style focused more on people than cool gadgets. I certainly enjoy Star Trek, but they've saturated the gee-whiz-look-at-this-cool-gadget market, and people are ready for something new. Now that we've been exploring space for a few decades, and everyone has cool gadgets, they want more depth in the stories. It's not so much that scifi is running out of steam, it's just evolving as all genres do.

            No, it just means that people are starting to realise that scy fy is not science fiction. Science fiction has always been about the people. Read some great science fiction novels: Frank Herbert's "Dune", Greg Bear's "Eon", Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game", Asimov's "The End of Eternity", Poul Anderson's "Tau Zero". In none of these novels are the protagonists problems solved by a technological deus ex machina; in all of them, the technology and speculative scien

        • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:43PM (#30187036) Homepage Journal

          Not to open another "sci-fi" vs. science fiction debate, but the place that sci-fi (in the sense of science fiction) has always drawn its inspiration is from, well, science. When Asimov wrote Nightfall, he speculated about what would happen on a planet, inhabited by a society not too different from our own, that was surrounded by stars such that the entire planet was constantly illuminated. What would happen, then, if it were later discovered that every 2000 years or so, one of those suns were visible eclipsed? The society had never experienced dark. His inspiration was drawn from not just the physical sciences, but also the social sciences.

          When he wrote I, Robot, he hypothesized about a computer brain that operated on positrons, which were recently discovered then.

          So look for the sci-fi breakthroughs to occur where the scientific breakthroughs are occurring.

        • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:46PM (#30187060) Journal

          . I can come up with my own deus ex machinas, thank you.

          The correct plural form of deus ex machina is deii ex machina, not deus ex machinas. OMG, they dont seem to teach anything in Latin classes these days. Now etgay utoy foay ymay awnlay.

          • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @04:43PM (#30187584)

            I'm monotheistic but believe in multiple machines, you insensitive clod!

          • by damburger (981828) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @06:00PM (#30188308)
            "Romanes eunt domus"? "People called Romanes they go the house"?
          • by Petrushka (815171) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @07:49PM (#30189218)

            The correct plural form of deus ex machina is deii ex machina, not deus ex machinas. OMG, they dont seem to teach anything in Latin classes these days.

            They sure don't! The only Latin plurals that have -ii are the ones where there's already an -i- in the word, like radius => radii.

            Deus, as it happens, is one of the very very few irregular nouns in Latin, and the plural [tufts.edu] can be either di or, less often, dei.

            In answer to the sibling AC who asked if di ex machina wouldn't imply a whole bunch of gods hanging from a single crane: the answer is no. In Latin that kind of construction is distributive, i.e. the usual implication is that there's one machina for every deus.

        • by agrif (960591) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @06:09PM (#30188392) Homepage

          This is the exact reason I love Alastair Reynolds books. He's said before that if he thinks that something is not possible according to science as we know it today, he won't write it in to the books unless it is absolutely necessary.

          In his major trilogy, he only does this twice: inertia suppression machinery and hypometric weapons, both of which were needed to progress the story at an interesting pace. Additionaly, he made it clear that what these devices were doing to space was abhorrently wrong: hypometric weapons gave everyone that looked at them the willies, and inertia suppressors could edit a man out of history entirely, not only killing him but removing any proof he ever existed at all. Both of these were stolen from cultures after many millions of years of space flight. Even his impossibilities begin to seem reasonable.

          Also, I put forth Reynolds as the example of Sci-Fi that continues to amaze. His characters are well built, and his plot is beautiful and approachable, even as it accelerates into deep time. It certainly helps that this man clearly knows some physics, and knows what needs to be said to make technologies seem plausible. I mean, when someone detects a spacecraft based on it's specific flavor of neutrino emissions, that's a credit to the author. Even more so when the antagonists begin to use that specific signature to hunt people down one whole book later.

        • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Saturday November 21, 2009 @06:21PM (#30188492) Homepage Journal

          I like SciFi that gives me a good reason for what's happening

          Yes. Internal consistency is everything.

          Take a book like Neal Stephenson's Anathem. A completely made up world and premise, yet it's own logic is so consistent that it's easy to accept it as a world that could exist. The way he takes Platonic ideals and turns them into a real possibility is amazing. It wasn't an easy or fast-moving read, but it's one of the most satisfying books I read this summer. And certainly the book I was most likely to read from aloud to my wife, who's a mathematician. If you've read the book, you'll understand why.

          During a summer when the news media was filled with screaming people for whom avoiding education is a badge of honor, it was a refreshing reminder that sometimes, the bravest thing you can do is search for the truth even when it does not correspond with what you've been told. And that nothing is so dangerous as willful ignorance..

      • by WCguru42 (1268530)

        My misgivings about Heroes aside (come on, either going in the past affects the future or it doesn't, you can't have it both ways), the last episode with Peter becoming exhausted from healing people feeds into your idea of energy consumed. As far as everything else, the show has thrown out physics from the very beginning, but if it's ruining your enjoyment of the show just assume that Sylar has the ability to make that recoil energy occur in the deep far off regions of space on tiny dust particles.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dwye (1127395)

        > Like the TV show Heroes? It's fun to watch

        Are you watching the same series that I stopped watching after season 2?

        > but certainly not realistic.

        As opposed to transporters or tractor beams? Anyway, anything that depends on mutant powers doing more than letting someone metabolize something new (like cellulose) or synthesize something (like vitamin C), I would call that Fantasy, not SF (unless a heck of a lot of explanation goes along with it, as in Niven's The Magic Goes Away series).

      • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:42PM (#30187028) Journal
        I agree with you. Most of what passes for science fiction is essentially "space fantasy". It is all the same old story but the props are different. Take a medieval knights and dragons story and replace Excalibur with light sabre, horses with space ships, strange countries with strange planets and you get what passes for Sci-Fi. Real science fiction where the props are much less important, (and the story teller goes out of his way to make them more prosaic and commonplace) but the theme, the storyline etc is science based is very difficult to find. The likes of Asimov and Clarke do not find big audiences. Even Chrichton had some decent half science stories. It is George Lucas and his clones with stunted imagination rule the roost in the SciFi genre.
      • by somersault (912633) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @04:43PM (#30187590) Homepage Journal

        How can Sylar pick-up a person and throw him against a wall? Newton's Law dictates that Sylar should be pushed backward with an equal force (recoil)

        I take it you've never been bowling, for fear of being hurled back out through the front doors when you throw the ball down the alley?

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      I don't think that Science Fiction has run out of steam completely, but some authors aren't hanging the carrot far enough ahead of the mule so to say, which means that what they "predict" may already have happened.

      If you go back to the grand old writers like Asimov, Heinlein and Dickson you will find that they play less on the science than on the social effects on the science as well as they are pushing ideas rather than technology. Sure they use technology to pave the way for a story, so in that way they a

      • by jmccay (70985)
        Sci-Fi ran out of steam when the writers started putting more emphasis on sex and bottom of the barrel characters that represent the worst of society.
  • Childhood's End (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Da_Reapa (1683318) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:24PM (#30186262)
    Our time line seems similar to that of Arthur C. Clarke's "Childhood's End"
    • Too depressing.

      I'd like to think we're going to become corpsickles, and become cured at sometime in the future, then zip around the galactic core, and come back to find machines that can make you young again. Thank you, Larry Niven.

      Or perhaps we'll enforce Azimov's laws of robotics, finally. Already we have Spacers-- they live in gated communities and must have anxiety disorder.

      Or maybe we'll have lots of nudity and sex and strange teleknesis like Heinlein suggested.

      My point is that it takes imaginative wri

  • by vvaduva (859950) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:28PM (#30186296)

    I see sci-moving into non-technical direction, with stuff like Max Barry's work (which came to my mind right away) where contemporary social issues that still have some sort of sci-fi aspect to them are being brought into our hands thanks to both the Internet and paperback books.

    Ultimately the truth is that today's world is not the world where Snow Crash was created, so the expectations are after all quite different, are they not?

    • Personally, I think the focus of SciFi is shifting. Away from technology, towards social problems. Usually reflecting social problems we have, or we might have with certain technology. I don't think that's a bad shift, after all, technology never purely existed for its own sake. Any major invention, any leap in technology, had a tremendous impact on society and social structures. Exploring those can be a lot more interesting than stories that focus on technology. Mostly because it's boring, technology will

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by the_womble (580291)

        Only some SF has ever been about technology. A lot of the brilliant writers have always had a focus on social issue: Ursula Le Guin, for example. The same is true for most non SF writers who write some SF (Kingsley Amis, Dorris Lessing, CS Lewis - although the latter two are only just SF, and in Lewis case in only one book) or who write a lot of both (Iain Banks).

        The point of SF has never been primarily prediction. Its a vehicle a lot of writers have used to say whatever they want.

  • Cliche'd to death (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eudial (590661) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:29PM (#30186306)

    The problem is the sci-fi cliches. At some point, there was enough sci-fi for certain elements to become staple.

    At that point, writing new sci-fi was a matter of rearranging these cliches into something that appeared to be novel. Unfortunately, you can only do this for so long, before the cliches become exhausted.

    • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:51PM (#30186542) Journal

      You just described the Syfy Channel. +1 insightful.

      I remember when watching Star Trek or Buck Rogers meant exploring new ideas, new cultures, or new technologies. Not anymore. Now modern scifi is mostly about creating a Futuristic Action flick.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Eudial (590661)

        The most laughable example of conceptual plagiarism is the space-ships Stargate SG-1. Almost every single technology on those ships has an equivalent in Star Trek TNG.

        Though, the real problem is bigger than the clicheification. New science fiction needs new basic science. In the first half of the 20th century, we had a ton of new scientific advances just becoming available in computing, electronics, etc. The latter half of the century was spent mostly refining and implementing theories and techniques that a

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:30PM (#30186310)

    They mentioned Vernor Vinge, but only referenced his earlier work. One of his later stories, Rainbow's End, predicts a ubiquitous Augmented Reality, which we're only starting to see gimmick implementations of now.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ost99 (101831)

      So true.

      Most of the tech in the story has the feeling of something just beyond the horizon, something that could come true soon. And still, the effects on society is enormous. It's a bit frightening, for the first time I felt it was possible that I might end up feeling left behind and belonging to the technologically impaired.

  • by Fanglord (447376) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:30PM (#30186316)

    To use the Neal Stephenson example, what about "The Diamond Age"? It predicts a very different world in the future, based on the widespread adoption of nanotech. I think it's one of those situations where we can't see the forest for the trees...yet.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gmuslera (3436)
      Living in a country where all school children have an XO, all having access to wikipedia, i'd say that root of that history is already made real, or at least, close enough.
    • by samkass (174571) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:02PM (#30186664) Homepage Journal

      Indeed, nanotech often plays prominently in modern sci-fi. Everything from self-assembling structures to epidemiology. In addition, there are many themes that investigate the nature of consciousness and sentience and how that relates to artificial structures (ie. downloading oneself into an artificial construct) and how one might use it to avoid death. In addition, there are various explorations of the intersection of quantum and relativistic phenomenon both on the small scale (Egan et al) and on the large scale (black holes and interstellar travel). Even near-future novels such as Firestar haven't come true yet, since space exploration slowed so dramatically in the last 20 years.

      In short, if you're not seeing any new future tech in SF, you're not reading the same stuff I am.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Mashiki (184564)

      Stephenson doesn't really write contemporary sci-fi, he writes much closer based on current events with trend-setting events. I'm still working my way through the Cryptonomicon and am enjoying it quite a bit. The biggest issue with most sci-fi these days is that the majority of authors aren't trying for new ideas, what ifs, maybes, or what could happen. It's been done by their predecessors of the genre so they're building off of it. There's a pile of room in innovation, no one is sure what direction to

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Of course, with nanotechnology the trees will be tiny, tiny trees. So we will be more likely to see the forest than the trees.
  • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:32PM (#30186332)

    Yeah, that's why everybody's switching to steampunk. Plenty of steam.

  • by Marble68 (746305) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:32PM (#30186336) Homepage

    I think not.

    IMHO, what was once considered SciFi (Tech related) has moved more mainstream and become, in some cases, traditional fiction.

    As well, I believe that SciFi authors continue to present not only technically challenging new idea, but moral questions around the use of technology. An era of tech enlightenment forthcoming?

    Lastly, I'd offer up that fewer SciFi authors are being published because SciFi is being muddled with Fantasy. I don't know why they're doing it, perhaps that hard SciFi traditionally had a predominately male readership; while fantasy has broader appeal?

    I believe we see less innovative SciFi books not because they're not being written, but because they're not being published.

    There's less competition in the book world, or at least it seems that way from where I sit. Amazon, B&N, Walmart... I sometimes find hard SciFi at my local supermarket.

    When Snow Crash was published, it was a different market.

    • >>>what was once considered SciFi (Tech related) has moved more mainstream and become, in some cases, traditional fiction.

      Ahhh... like the CBS network:

      - CSI
      - NCIS
      - CIA

    • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:12PM (#30186758)

      Lastly, I'd offer up that fewer SciFi authors are being published because SciFi is being muddled with Fantasy. I don't know why they're doing it, perhaps that hard SciFi traditionally had a predominately male readership; while fantasy has broader appeal?

      I read somewhere, many years ago, that sci-fi is popular in good times, when people in general are looking forward to the future, and fantasy is popular in bad times when people are afraid of the future.

      Considering that "fearing the future" has become the norm for most of even the "enlightened" societies, I'd expect that sci-fi would be sinking into obsurity for at least the next generation.

      • by michael_cain (66650) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @04:41PM (#30187558) Journal

        I read somewhere, many years ago, that sci-fi is popular in good times, when people in general are looking forward to the future, and fantasy is popular in bad times when people are afraid of the future.

        Indeed. For many people, the worst parts of previous generations' speculative fiction appears to be coming true.

        • The giant corporations are winning. Ask people if they think it more likely that genetic research will result in exciting new medical treatments or be used by enormous health insurance companies to deny coverage.
        • The Luddites are winning. Polls show that almost as many Americans believe in creationism as evolution. I find it disturbing that "If This Goes On--" could be Heinlein's most accurate social forecast.
        • The problems keep turning out to be harder than most people thought. LEO is still a bloody expensive place to get to. Commercial nuclear fusion is always 30 years away. We'll probably never get flying cars.
        • The general attitude towards engineering seems to have changed. We went from the neutron as a theoretical particle to 100 commercial reactors in 50 years; but nuclear waste is regarded is a problem that engineers won't solve even if given hundreds of years.
        • The Club of Rome's forecasts are turning out to be depressingly accurate. Many economists now believe that the Baby Boomers' kids will be the first generation in the US with a lower standard of living than their parents.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by arotenbe (1203922)

          The giant corporations are winning. Ask people if they think it more likely that genetic research will result in exciting new medical treatments or be used by enormous health insurance companies to deny coverage.

          What people think is not the same as reality. In the U.S. at least, using genetic information to deny insurance coverage is illegal [wikipedia.org]. Of course, people will believe what they want to believe, which just emphasizes the GP's point. I'm sure plenty of my beliefs are wrong, too.

        • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @07:19PM (#30189026) Journal

          One point at a time:

                  * The giant corporations are winning. (Agreed but they still can't kill us, or jail us, like government can.)
                  * The Luddites are winning. (Disagree - today's college-aged persons are more tech-saavy than ever.)
                  * The problems keep turning out to be harder than most people thought. (yep)
                  * nuclear waste (We have a solution. It's the same one Asimov proposed 60 years ago. Bury it deep underground.)
                  * Many economists now believe that the Baby Boomers' kids will be the first generation in the US with a lower standard of living than their parents.

          Only because of economic stupidity, not tech limitations. We're going to have ~$200,000/home national debt by 2016, and that's just simple stupidity. The Romans did the same thing, spent themselves into bankruptcy, about 1600 years ago. Human beings haven't changed in that respect.

  • by symes (835608)
    It is a bit disingenuous to say SciFi has run out of steam because it isn't predicting what will happen in ten years time. And thankfully there's plenty of great SciFi that, I am pleased to say, has not predicted what will happen in ten years time. Admittedly, the genre could use a bit of a refresh but I'm sure even Shakespeare had his more reflective periods.
    • Re:Unfair (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Xiaran (836924) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:18PM (#30186816)
      It's not just disingenuous it's just just plain wrong. SF has never been about predicting the future. SF is an extremely broad genre but if I had to put it into a sound bite I would say it is about positing a "what if" and writing a story about it(this leave out a bunch of SF subcategories I know)... what if advanced aliens showed up tomorrow. What if we all had computers in our brains. What if we could travel quickly across the galaxy. What if there was an evil dystopic government that monitored our every move. They are all clichés in SF... but the stories written around them are about how human beings react to the changes. SF in a literacy genre that is an obvious reaction to the rapid changes in technology in the last several hundred years. And sometimes there are green slave girls involved.
  • REAL Change (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shadow Wrought (586631) * <shadow...wrought@@@gmail...com> on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:43PM (#30186442) Homepage Journal
    That's because in ten years we will be moving away from technology and into the realm of latent psychic abilities.

    If I'm wrong, no one will remember; but, if I'm right, I'm a frickin' genius!

    For all the technologies that SciFi imagined and helped create, tehre are thousands more that just didn't happen. So of the thousands upon thousands of SciFi stories being written every year, i think you will be able to find some that accurately predicted the rise in tech. They just may not be the mainstream, big name ones. That is perhaps the difference.
  • "the history of sci-fi's influence on real-world technology, from Jules Verne to Snow Crash"

    Sci-Fi influencing real world technology? Do you really think we went to the moon or invented the computer because someone wrote a fictional story about it a hundred years earlier? Not hardly.

    • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:02PM (#30186668) Journal

      Yes. Robert Goddard, the father of rocketry, said he was inspired by Jules Verne and other early scientifiction stories.

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Sometimes a popular sci-fi story makes ground on certain concept to help it being approved by the people that fund projects. Would satellites or so popular if ACClarke didnt wrote about them a lot of years ago? Submarines could had went from small test to the use we are giving them now without Nautilus? What about future space elevators?

      Anyway, a good part of science fiction is more about us than about technology, how we will behave or think in a different environment, or take another point of view to our c
  • 90% of everything is crap. It's easy to look back and see the 10% of sci-fi that inspired real-world technology, it's a lot harder to look at the writing today and see how it is affecting things.

  • Numb3rs, CSIs, all are a lot more of sci-fi than typical TV shows. I noticed Bones, especially, have sci-fi style humor.
    • CSI has a lot of MovieOS flashy gadgets, I give you that (though I'd break the programmer's fingers for wasting so much computing time on eye candy, every time they look up a fingerprint the system first flashes through a thousand wrong ones, why should they get displayed...), but SciFi?

    • by WCguru42 (1268530)

      Don't forget 24 with it's magical triangulation, databases of everybody and all those other useful technological advances (that most of the audience believes are 100% real).

    • Hmmm. Could you beam..... I mean upload your copy of Bones over to me? 'k thanks.

  • they day they dropped MST3K. Bastards...

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:46PM (#30186482) Homepage

    The purpose of SF isn't fortune-telling. As with any commercial, genre fiction, its main purpose is to entertain, and it may also have some secondary purposes like social commentary, examination of philosophical issues, etc.

    The huge change in SF since I first started reading it in the 70's is that these days, movie/TV SF is a gigantic, popular commercial enterprise, utterly dwarfing written SF. Also, a lot of the commercial activity in written SF these days revolves around stuff like Star Trek and Star Wars novels, novels written in the Dune universe, etc.; there didn't used to be such a clear division between highbrow and lowbrow SF. Among teenagers, there is much less of a focus nowadays on non-series written SF. If you look at the young adult section in a book store, you'll see very little real SF; you'll mainly see fantasy. I think part of what's going on is that girls seem to buy a lot more books than boys, and they seem (on the average) more interested in fantasy (e.g., the Twilight books) than in core SF.

    Another change in the last couple of decades is that distribution channels have changed. You don't see SF magazines and paperbacks on wire-rack shelves in the drugstore any more. As in all of publishing, there has been a tendency for books to go out of print more quickly, so that it's even harder than before for novelists to make a living by writing. You'd be surprised how few of the SF authors whose books you see on the shelves at Barnes and Noble pay the rent by writing. The magazines are also much less influential than they used to be.

    • The purpose of SF isn't fortune-telling. As with any commercial, genre fiction, its main purpose is to entertain, and it may also have some secondary purposes like social commentary, examination of philosophical issues, etc.

      Indeed. And SF's 'ability' to predict the future is based on cherry picking from among (tens of? hundreds of?) thousands of 'predictions' to find the ones that came true - while ignoring those that didn't.

    • >>>The purpose of SF isn't fortune-telling.

      Ph.D. Isaac Asimov would disagree with you. He viewed science fiction as a source of ideas that could be developed for the real world.

  • by Tangential (266113) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @02:46PM (#30186484) Homepage
    Try reading John Scalzi's "Old Man's War" and ponder his fighting man of the future. Lots of tech futurism in that. If that's not enough, try Ian Douglas's "Inheritance Trilogy" He's got worlds of amazing new technology as well. Lots of nanobots, cloning, quantum power taps, consciousness transfers, etc.. in these books.
  • the most important thing about sci-fi is not the technology itself, but the stories that use sci-fi blended into the background. the mistake of "Glorifying" technology is more often made by hollywood film directors than it is by sci-fi writers.

    so, yes: sci-fi is often predictive of the near future (stephenson, gibson), and comes up with "the goods" but to be honest that's quite a specific genre of sci-fi, leaving out a whole range of books that are absolutely mind-blowing (asimov, reynolds and hamilton to

  • Science is going beyond the ability to imagine. Already we have areas of science so specialized that scientists can not communicate to each other as to the details of their expertise. It becomes difficult for those gifted with writing skills to catch on to the image and potential of these areas and bring them into popular formats such as sci-fi.

  • by Malc (1751)

    It's been going since 1963, and I'm still entertained. You don't have to be a nerd, it's not overly sentimental, and I can enjoy with my gal.

  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wembley fraggle (78346) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:02PM (#30186678) Homepage

    No, it hasn't.

    Science fiction isn't about "telling the future", it's about making commentary about the Human Condition, putting together entertaining yarns, looking at what-if scenarios in society. Do you think PKD really believed any of the futuristic technology he talked about (read Ubik for a nice example) was really possible? Who knows - it's just a necessary condition to set up the scenario in which we can see interesting ideas play ouy.

    Any quick read of the New Masters of SF (china mieville, ian macdonald, iain m banks, ken mcleod, dan simmons) will show you that the genre is alive, kicking, and more literary than ever before.

    • Well, what you mentioned are more of fantasy authors (or, 'new weird'), not really SF there.

      You could, however, mention John Scalzi. True new blood, Old Man's War for example shows it.

  • Yep. All the good ideas are used up. Go home.

    Damn, I wish I could use mod points on TFA instead of just comments.

  • contribute to the decline. SF (often) comes from a techno-utopian world view of unlimited resources and unlimited growth. Present conditions seem to contradict that, and there is a greater awareness of the downside of industrialism. As a consequence, SF of a techno-utopian variety has less credibility.

    And before a bunch of techno-utopians get their knickers in a bunch, I'm pointing out DEGREES of things, not some idiotic blinkered 1/0 true/false Bullcrap. Perceptions, whether true or false, are perception

  • lots of fi, minimal sci, except where necessary.

    Good sci-fi, like all good literature, is about people, not technology.

  • Tell me what, exactly, does Foundation realistically predict? It was a retelling of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire in space with funny maths, glowey nuclear bits and, most importantly, damn good writing.

    It was entertaining without being preachy or predictive. Not all sci-fi need tell us what we should develop. In my opinion, that's what's causing so much of the crap sci-fi bulk shit I see in bookstores now: They focus too much on showing us this "cool idea for a toy" the author had instead of try

    • by sabernet (751826)

      Well, typos notwithstanding...

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      The concept of psycohistory maybe? predicting with large groups of people will probably do? Is more plausible now than when was written? That concept existed before, and in that extent?

      Anyway, replaying history in future terms gives another meaning to the phrase "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
  • Sci-fi was attacked from all sides by mega-movie plexes, formulamatic (committee) design headed by investors, and the cult of Scientology.

    In short, sci-fi is NOT made for geeks anymore.. it's made for mainstream teenagers and stupid parents who couldn't tell you the difference between "fusion" and "fission".
    They're the only ones who don't object to Will Smith being in what should be sci-fi classics, dumbed down to the Super-Size McDonald's drive through crowd.

    Good sci-fi (movies anyway) tapered off in the l

  • by cutecub (136606) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:30PM (#30186926)

    To an author, I think the attraction of Science Fiction is that it allows them to put a veneer of plausibility on settings which would otherwise be too fantastic to be credible. This allows them the freedom to explore ideas or situations which couldn't possibly occur if set in "the real world."

    But the current world has become sufficiently complex and interesting that writers such as William Gibson and Margaret Attwood no longer need to set their stories in some near-future dystopia - our current dystopia is sufficient to tell the stories they want to tell.

    Gibson's last few books have been set in, effectively, the present day. There's no need for him to go to 2030 or beyond to explore the idea of immersive, ubiquitous computing and communication: we all have smart-phones in 2009. Everyone I see on the streets of San Francisco is walking around in a trance, like they're jacked into Cyberspace.

    There's no need for Margaret Attwood to set The Handmaiden's Tail in 2195, there's plenty of opportunity to explore theocracy and coercive reproduction in the crazy, polluted and Balkanized world of the present day.

    I think that Science Fiction writers who rely on the old cliches of Warp-drive and alien worlds simply aren't trying hard enough.

    21st Century Earth IS an alien world... all you have to do is pay attention.

    -Sean

  • First of all, the idea that science-fiction is about predicting advances in technology is retarded.

    Secondly, at this stage in human's technological development, we kind of know what the next step is, and that step is artificial intelligence. And the step after that is unknowable. Vernor Vinge has lots to say about this.

     

  • Why SF is dead. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:38PM (#30187000) Homepage

    The real problem is that most of the big themes in classical SF require vast amounts of energy. And that's not happening. There hasn't been a new source of energy in fifty years, just marginal improvements in the old ones. This matters.

    That's why space travel is a bust. With chemical fuels, it will never be more than an overly expensive, marginal enterprise. The better '50s SF writers all knew this; read Heinlein's "The Man Who Sold the Moon". They just assumed that, somehow, the energy problem would be cracked. Didn't happen. So space travel remains an expensive ego trip for countries and billionaires.

    Industrial civilization is only 200 years old. 1808, the first time someone bought a train ticket on a commercial railroad and went someplace, is a good starting point. Industrial abundance, being able to make more stuff than people could consume, only goes back to WWII.

    During most of the 20th century, "progress" was a big theme. We don't hear that phrase used much any more. The number by which one measures "progress" for the average Joe, "per capita median real income for urban wage earners", peaked in 1973. (Median income, not average income; the average is biased by wealth concentration to rich people.) Back then, a guy without a high school diploma could get a job at GM and make enough to buy a house, two cars, a boat, and an education for his kids. That's over. (You don't see that number mentioned much any more. It was heavily publicized back when the US boasted "the highest standard of living in the world".)

    Now we're starting to run out of energy and raw materials. Nobody serious thinks there's enough left to sustain current output for another century, let alone bring China and India up to US levels of consumption.

    It's hard to write good SF about "the great winding down". It's been done, but it's not read much. The glory days of SF coincide with the period during which "progress" was a win for the little guy.

    That's why SF is dead. The plausible future sucks.

    • Re:Why SF is dead. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by crazyjimmy (927974) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:55PM (#30187146)

      The real problem is that most of the big themes in classical SF require vast amounts of energy. And that's not happening. There hasn't been a new source of energy in fifty years, just marginal improvements in the old ones. This matters.

      That's why space travel is a bust. With chemical fuels, it will never be more than an overly expensive, marginal enterprise. The better '50s SF writers all knew this; read Heinlein's "The Man Who Sold the Moon". They just assumed that, somehow, the energy problem would be cracked. Didn't happen. So space travel remains an expensive ego trip for countries and billionaires.

      Industrial civilization is only 200 years old. 1808, the first time someone bought a train ticket on a commercial railroad and went someplace, is a good starting point. Industrial abundance, being able to make more stuff than people could consume, only goes back to WWII.

      During most of the 20th century, "progress" was a big theme. We don't hear that phrase used much any more. The number by which one measures "progress" for the average Joe, "per capita median real income for urban wage earners", peaked in 1973. (Median income, not average income; the average is biased by wealth concentration to rich people.) Back then, a guy without a high school diploma could get a job at GM and make enough to buy a house, two cars, a boat, and an education for his kids. That's over. (You don't see that number mentioned much any more. It was heavily publicized back when the US boasted "the highest standard of living in the world".)

      Now we're starting to run out of energy and raw materials. Nobody serious thinks there's enough left to sustain current output for another century, let alone bring China and India up to US levels of consumption.

      It's hard to write good SF about "the great winding down". It's been done, but it's not read much. The glory days of SF coincide with the period during which "progress" was a win for the little guy.

      That's why SF is dead. The plausible future sucks.

      I think you're right, in a lot of ways. However, I suspect a chunk of the problem is that the best path to better energy begins with that N word people are so afraid of embracing. Our society has discovered a new form of fire, and it scares us. Until we're willing to actually embrace it (dangers of use and all), we're going to be stuck in our caves.

      --Jimmy

  • We are heading that way and eventually someone will figure out how to control the synthetic parts of us and the human race will become like a hive. Just don't open up that ups_shipping_quote.zip with your ultra fast instant cranial web access.
  • by westlake (615356) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:42PM (#30187030)

    PC Pro has traced the history of sci-fi's influence on real-world technology, from Jules Verne to Snow Crash, but suggests that writers have run out of ideas when it comes to inspiring tomorrow's products

    To Buy n' Large everything was a product.

    But it was the machines who chose to remain - or become - human - and more than passive consumers of tech.

    It's impossible to imagine Eve and Wall-E being content with the illusions of the The Veldt. Ray Bradbury's early and prophetic foreshadowing of the Matrix and Holodeck.
     

  • Looking at some of the science fiction of the pre-70s, it was full of possibility. Things could shrink and grow, turkeys could be formed in matter dispensers, radiation might give you powers, you could 'reverse your polarity' and become antimatter and, instead of just exploding like we know antimatter would now, we could throw lightning bolts (okay, I'll fess up - I got the Space:1999 Megaset for my birthday).

    Besides all the "expired" science possibilities, there's a real gamble to be made trying to second-

  • Short Answer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chrisG23 (812077) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:50PM (#30187108)
    Yes.

    Sci-Fi lost the last of its steam when it switched from being Science Fiction to being Sci Fi. It's been part of a continuing downward spiral where while there have been more offerings recently, especially in mainstream culture, these offerings are increasingly more and more derivative and uninspired.

    Give me media that is challenging, that is new, that is alien, give me speculative fiction, good writing, things that make me go hmmmmmm. Or get off my fucking lawn and go make your garbage elsewhere.

    *Disclaimer: I know science fiction was never as great as I'd like to think it was. But I've read things and seen movies that really were great for their time, and for ours. This is what should have driven the direction of Science Fiction. Call an action movie in space what it is, an action move in space (or the future, or an alternate reality, or any other tired setting.)
  • by ThousandStars (556222) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @06:04PM (#30188346) Homepage
    I doubt science fiction has "run out of steam," in terms of authors or imagination any more than science or technology has run out of steam due to a lack of imagination. Rather, I wonder if the science fiction publishing business has either run out of steam or become an active roadblock between writers and readers. It seems that most publishers are trying a play-it-safe approach that demands giving out the same thing over and over again.

    This is based partially on what I see in bookstores and partially on my own experience, which I discuss extensively in Science fiction, literature, and the haters [jseliger.com]. It begins:

    Why does so little science fiction rise to the standards of literary fiction?

    This question arose from two overlapping events. The first came from reading Day of the Triffids (link goes to my post); although I don't remember how I came to the book, someone must've recommended it on a blog or newspaper in compelling enough terms for me to buy it. Its weaknesses, as discussed in the post, brought up science fiction and its relation to the larger book world.

    The second event arose from a science fiction novel I wrote called Pearle Transit that I've been submitting to agents. It's based on Conrad's Heart of Darkness--think, on a superficial level, "Heart of Darkness in space." Two replies stand out: one came from an agent who said he found the idea intriguing but that science fiction novels must be at least 100,000 words long and have sequels already started. "Wow," I thought. How many great literary novels have enough narrative force and character drive for sequels? The answer that came immediately to mind was "zero," and after reflection and consultation with friends I still can't find any. Most novels expend all their ideas at once, and to keep going would be like wearing a shirt that fades from too many washes. Even in science fiction, very few if any series maintain their momentum over time; think of how awful the Dune books rapidly became, or Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series. A few novels can make it as multiple-part works, but most of those were conceived of and executed as a single work, like Dan Simmons' Hyperion or Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (more on those later).

    The minimum word count bothers me too. It's not possible for Pearle Transit to be stretched beyond its present size without destroying what makes it coherent and, I hope, good. By its nature it is supposed to be taunt, and much as a 120-pound person cannot be safely made into a 240-pound person, Pearle Transit can't be engorged without making it like the bloated star that sets its opening scene. If the market reality is that such books can't or won't sell, I begin to tie the quality of the science fiction I've read together with the system that produces it.

    If the publishing system itself is broken and nothing yet has grown up to take its place (I have no interest in trolling through thousands of terrible novels uploaded to websites in search of a single potential gem, for those of you Internet utopians out there), maybe the source of the genre's troubles isn't where PC Pro places it.

  • Of course not (Score:3, Insightful)

    by edremy (36408) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @08:13PM (#30189366) Journal
    Good SF has never been exclusively about the technology- it's about people, same as any other story since the dawn of storytelling. (And don't bother commenting about aliens- they're people too.) It's about how people react to that technology, how society deals with the changes and all the rest. SF doesn't need to be thinking up new technologies all the time- pretty much anything imaginable has already been done, usually by multiple authors- the interesting story is "What comes next?"

    Lots of authors have dealt with societies where changing sex is easy, for example, something that we've barely begun to make possible. But does this lead to a truly egalitarian society where men and women stand at exactly the same level, or a strictly segregated one where women stay home with the kids and make dinner? If we develop interstellar travel but the speed of light is still the limit, can you have an actual society where travel time between worlds is measured in centuries? Imagine that robots get to the point where they can fulfill your every need as soon as you ask for it- is there a point in living without struggle?

    This is also why SF tends to age less well than other genres of fiction- once the technology actually shows up, we get to see how people react, and then it's just part of everyday life. To quote my 8-year-old, "Boooring"

  • by bruthasj (175228) <bruthasj@yaho o . c om> on Sunday November 22, 2009 @07:46AM (#30192460) Homepage Journal
    Time to close scifi publishers. All ideas have been exhausted.

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