The Future of Science Fiction

I am not one of those people who think of science fiction as belonging to an in-crowd of geeky people, much less someone who wants to gate keep for the field. While I have frequently been annoyed by those in literary fields who refuse to treat SF with respect, my approach has always been to try to encourage such people to read in the genre and discover what it can do.

I do admit to being appalled by the way many of the rich and powerful people in tech seem to have read satirical and even dystopic science fiction and taken it as a manual for the future instead of a warning. And even though I worked at Grok Books (the predecessor to Bookpeople, a large and successful bookstore) in Austin lo these many years ago, I am somewhat mystified by the fact that a section called “Grok” has appeared on Twitter.

I gather that Elon Musk has been reading Heinlein, but I’m not going to click on “Grok” to find out where he’s going with it. I have seen a recent reference to Stranger in a Strange Land as “creepy” and I suspect I would share that feeling if I tried to read it today. (The hippie overtones were more appealing 50 years ago.)

My own preference is for written science fiction (and fantasy, for that matter). There have been some good SF movies and even better television – I got hooked on Doctor Who during the Tom Baker years and am fond of Star Trek – but my love for the genre comes from what really good writers can do with ideas and imagination.

That said, I do recall that when Star Wars first came out, I was thrilled by the way it changed movies. I do wish that shift had ended up being something more than really good special effects. Movies are not living up to their potential.

Stories and novels, on the other hand, often transcend theirs.

I was sent down this train of thought because I learned that during the recent WorldCon held in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China, Chinese companies signed deals worth over 1 billion dollars (8 billion yuan) related to 21 science fiction projects involving films, parks, and immersive experiences and other deals involving melodramas, games, and the metaverse.

The only mention of books I saw in the article describing the deals was this:

“Chinese science fiction is evolving from a solely text-based medium to a diverse range of formats encompassing comics, movies, games, VR, XR, toys, and film merchandise,” said Ji Shaoting, the founder and CEO of the sci-fi cultural company Future Affairs Administration.

Of course, this should be a boon for some Chinese SF writers, because all those projects are going to need writers for the games and movies and so forth, not to mention books and stories to mine for ideas.

But I must say, this is not the science fiction future some of us were looking for.

I should observe at this point that I have always thought one of the real advantages of not having children is that I never had to go to Disneyland. I am not interested in theme parks or immersive experiences.

I don’t want to spend time in “Tomorrowland.”

What I’d really like to see is an effort to bring the very good ideas from the best science fiction (and I bet there is some excellent Chinese SF I haven’t read because it hasn’t been translated into English) into making our lives better here on Earth.

I don’t want to spend my time in fake environments that pretend to be space stations or Mars settlements or whatever other futuristic ideas they can come up with.

I’d love to see a robust space program – not run by tech bros – that is truly about exploration and scientific understanding rather than the space race “beat the Russians” model of my youth. But I have a feeling that fake future-like experiences are more likely to get the big bucks.

Settling on Mars isn’t realistic in the near future, but I won’t be surprised to see low-orbit flights become more of a thing for the wealthy vacationer and perhaps even space station resorts.

I don’t think science fiction is about cool experiences for the very rich and lesser versions of same for the rest of us.

For me, it’s about ideas on how to live, now and in the future. I mean, I’d really like to meet aliens, but maybe we better figure out how to live with other people who are the same species and learn to respect some of the other intelligent species on this planet before we meet anyone from very far away.

I tend to think the Chinese companies are more interested in giving us Tomorrowland. After all, they’re not especially different from the U.S. and European companies doing this sort of thing.

But I hope enough of the money spills over into the pockets of the Chinese SF writers. We can always use more people with ideas and imagination putting out stories that give us something to work with.

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