If you’re a sci-fi fan, it’s not to note the advance of our present calendar past the years in which some of our greatest sci-fi classics are set—and the inevitable comparisons between reality and our past predictions of future present.
Many consider the 1960s to be the golden age of literary sci-fi, and the 1980s a golden age of filmed sci-fi. That may be right; I couldn’t say. But one thing is clear from a glance across the genre: it is damn difficult to predict when the future will arrive.
The film Blade Runner, my top of the top, is set in far-off 2019. The internet has had great fun this year celebrating the birth of each replicant from the film; each is only three years old during the story (the end of their lifespan).
The novel on which it is based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was published in 1968 and set in 1992. I presume that Deckard’s skinny tie came from 1982.
1984 was set in 1984.
The brilliant William Gibson published Neuromancer in 1984 and coined the term cyberspace. As prescient as any sci-fi writer, Gibson pictured us using headsets and brain links to travel into the internet (this may still happen). But he has talked about failing to envision that we would, as an intermediate step, bring the internet with us wherever we go. Phones, tablets, the P-word…
As a testament to Gibson’s original vision, we may soon start going into the internet. VR advances are steering novels like Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash back onto a collision course with reality.
Of all the future tech that sci-fi has predicted but reality has failed to deliver, flying cars are top of the list. Hover/flying tech is omnipresent in sci-fi, even now, but still seems far off in the real world. As compensation, we are about to get autonomous cars. Sadly, the uncanny valley robot drivers of Total Recall will not drive them.
Not all sci-fi authors overestimate the pace of change. Frank Herbert set his Dune universe in the year 10,191. Now THAT is wiggle room.
To reel in my own fictional prognostications, I often consider how little has changed in the last 100 years. A few truisms applicable to both times:
Donuts are popular.
People drive combustion-engine cars.
Toilets don’t talk or sing (unless you live in Japan).
Kittens are super cute.
People live in houses made of wood and brick.
We read mostly paper books.
Did I mention donuts? I love them.
There is a sense now that the pace of change is accelerating. A combination of advances in genomics, biotech, and computing threaten (promise?) radical disruptions that weren’t possible fifty or even twenty years ago. This very idea provides half the material for this blog.
But again, I can’t be sure. The future is hard.
A hundred years from now, we could become untethered consciousnesses floating in the ether.
Or we could eat donuts.
In writing sci-fi, accurate predictions of the future might be the least important element. Writing a good story is paramount. Give readers a great character. Make them care.
A dated fictional future isn’t any less fun to experience, as long as the story is timeless.
Do you have any favorites from classic sci-fi (or semi-classic) that don’t hold up against the reality of 2016? Something that still moves you even though the laser guns feel dated? Let me know!
*Augmented Pris image by the appropriately named MisanthropicBastard. Great work!