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Why Science Fiction Sucks

I have written previously about why I like science fiction.  Now let me tell you why it sucks.  And how that relates to our current political situation.

I’ve always been a fan of science fiction.  I enjoy thinking about speculative technology, and like nothing more than learning about a new and heretofore unknown physical principle that makes interesting, unexpected things possible.  And science fiction certainly delivers on that!  So that’s something I’ve always really liked about sci-fi.

But I’ve been reading a book called “Adventures in Time and Space”.  It’s an anthology of different sci-fi stories from the early forties.  And while they’re pretty good stories, they’re really dated.  Some of that’s to be expected out of science fiction, but I to me, the fact that it’s dated belies a very significant flaw with sci-fi.

It projects linearly.

What I mean is this:  nearly every sci-fi is based upon a linear projection of technology, with few changes to the underlying culture.  The stories from “Adventures in Time and Space” are set in the near or far future, but in many cases, they use early 40s idioms.  “Star Trek” is set in the future, but it uses 60s sensibilities.  “Star Trek, The Next Generation” is particularly lazy when it comes to this – the Bynars are supposed to be a race with very sophisticated computers, but their password is an 8 bit binary code that it took them way, way too long to find?  They took late 80s technology and extrapolated forward.  In some ways, we’ve already come pretty close to surpassing their imagination, and it’s only been around 30 years.

This is a problem, and it’s a difficult one.  It’s a difficult problem because in order for a sci-fi book to be successful, it needs to have that cultural referent.  If it’s too foreign, people won’t read it.  But it’s the foreignness that makes the story realistic.  You can’t just extrapolate from modern technology – it’ll be dated in 20 years.  You have to come up with something entirely plausible, but different.  “Eon” by Greg Bear kind of does this, and that’s the reason it’s one of my favorite books.  Greg Bear has a talent for not extrapolating linearly, and he’s one of the few authors who can.

This is why most sci-fi sucks.

And this is how it relates to our current political situation.

Politicians also extrapolate linearly.  And it’s stupid.

Let’s say you have a hundred different sliders, and all of them are interrelated in unpredictable ways.  You move one up, another five go down.  Balancing them is difficult, and any policy decision you make will have unintended consequences.

Politicians are either not smart enough to notice, or are intentionally ignorant to, the fact that there are those unintended consequences.  They expect to move a slider and have good things come out, but what really happens is five other sliders move, and they don’t know which ones.  And it’s always a surprise to them.  So they fall into the same trap that sci-fi writers do – their policies become quickly dated because they discover that things didn’t turn out how they expected.

This seems to be the case with almost every Democrat, and quite a few others too.

The difference between a true visionary and a lazy person is linear extrapolation.  Because linear extrapolation almost always leads to short term success but not withstanding the test of even a little bit of time.

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