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The Science Fiction Effect

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the I-want-my-flying-car dept.

Books 210

Harperdog writes "Laura Kahn has a lovely essay about the history of science fiction, and how science fiction can help explain concepts that are otherwise difficult for many...or perhaps, don't hold their interest. Interesting that Frankenstein is arguably the first time that science fiction appears. From Frankenstein to Jurassic Park, authors have been writing about 'mad scientists' messing around with life. Science fiction can be a powerful tool to influence society's views — one scientists should embrace."

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210 comments

You do not see what is not seen! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38975781)

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Frankenstein first? Oh, no. (5, Interesting)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976737)

The NT/OT, the Koran, Hindu legends, etc... these far predate Frankenstein, and even if you subscribe to one of them as the literal truth, that means the other(s) are science fiction by definition. And then there are the Greek myths, the Norse myths... all featuring technology beyond that of the population (and as we've been told by well regarded recent SF authors, any sufficiently advanced technology is often regarded as magic.) Now, personally, I'd put these in the fantasy realm more often than the SF realm, modern SF is rarely free of fantasy elements these days, and I suspect that when most people say science fiction, they actually mean fantasy... there's little to no requirement for the 1940's vision of scientific extrapolation or theory-based test for reasonableness.

Re:Frankenstein first? Oh, no. (5, Interesting)

FoolishOwl (1698506) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977047)

In Book 18 of the Iliad, Thetis, the mother of Achilles, visits the god Hephaestus, to ask him to forge armor for Achilles. In passing, she sees carts that roll around on their own power and initiative, and machines in the form of golden metal women who act as assistants to Hephaestus.

So, in the 8th century BCE, you've got a major literary work featuring robots. And it should be easy to understand this as science fiction, in that the premise is that these are constructed through mastery of technology, not through inexplicable miracles.

Re:Frankenstein first? Oh, no. (2, Funny)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977083)

Careful, FoolishOwl, observe my post's mods -- the religious nutbars have mod points tonight, lol. Guess I offended the believers in Odin or something.

Re:Frankenstein first? Oh, no. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977385)

I dunno.

If something uses fantasy elements to create a similar effect as something in science fiction, is it fantasy or science fiction?

Those are less robots as much as golems. But golems and robots have a lot of similarities.

Eh. Sufficiently advanced science, magic, etc as they say.

Re:Frankenstein first? Oh, no. (2)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977617)

There's also Talos, a giant made of bronze who was guarding Europa on Crete when Jason and the Argonauts came past. The story takes place before the Trojan War, although I don't know which one is actually older.

Why I like science fiction. (5, Insightful)

Gozzin (2125020) | more than 2 years ago | (#38975785)

I agree with just how important science fiction is in the long run. It's a shame that it's scoffed at as just being about bug eyed monsters and little green men..It's also such a shame so much science fiction spewed out by Hollywood is just the same tired old plots over and over again. Science fiction says so much and can be as compelling and moving as other forms of fiction.

Re:Why I like science fiction. (0)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 2 years ago | (#38975873)

It's a shame that it's scoffed at as just being about bug eyed monsters and little green men..

I just looked through a list of the top 50 movies since the 90's and 20 percent of them were scifi. And this is after counting Back to the Future, Star Trek, Ghostbusters, Close Encounters, 2001, etc. Pretty broad variety, actually.

Re:Why I like science fiction. (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976161)

I just looked through a list of the top 50 movies since the 90's and 20 percent of them were scifi. And this is after counting Back to the Future, Star Trek, Ghostbusters, Close Encounters, 2001, etc. Pretty broad variety, actually.

Back to the Future, 1985, 1989, 1990 (one in the 90s)
Star Trek, some in the 90s
Ghostbusters, 1984
Close Encounters,1977
2001, that 1968 not 1998

Re:Why I like science fiction. (1, Redundant)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976471)

What I was thinking and what I was trying to say were two very different things.

I apologize.

Re:Why I like science fiction. (0)

Sparx139 (1460489) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976633)

As long as you're not trying to eat out a giraffe

Re:Why I like science fiction. (4, Funny)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976835)

Really living up to your sig there huh?

Re:Why I like science fiction. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977345)

http://xkcd.com/604/

Re:Why I like science fiction. (4, Insightful)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976519)

I agree with just how important science fiction is in the long run. It's a shame that it's scoffed at as just being about bug eyed monsters and little green men..It's also such a shame so much science fiction spewed out by Hollywood is just the same tired old plots over and over again. Science fiction says so much and can be as compelling and moving as other forms of fiction.

You think it's only Hollywood that has made dreck out of the potentials of science fiction? Even science-fiction authors who begin their careers writing imaginative works, sometimes even seeking a prose style that can compete with the canon of great literature, eventually give up and decide to start churn out one lame sequel after another. Just look at what has happened to Orson Scott Card [amazon.com] and Larry Niven [amazon.com] over the last 15 years, and Arthur C. Clarke before he died. They decided to publish hastily written airport paperbacks with little attention to detail, just another space opera plot in a universe they created decades ago. And they might even relegate the task of actually writing to a co-author and just put their name on the cover to score sales.

One often meets the claim that science-fiction is a genre full of myriad possibilities, but if even once-legendary science-fiction authors are abandoning that, it doesn't make the field look any better.

Re:Why I like science fiction. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977349)

Is it the Tralfamadorians that, when main character says something stupid, just turn their backs and pretend he didn't speak?

Re:Why I like science fiction. (2, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977373)

One often meets the claim that science-fiction is a genre full of myriad possibilities, but if even once-legendary science-fiction authors are abandoning that, it doesn't make the field look any better.

That and the unfortunate tendency to moralize, pontificate, and preach under the guise of telling a story.
Almost always demonizing mankind in the process.

The linked story would have you believe this is the shining virtue of sifi, the redeeming value in an otherwise unworthy piece of class B writing.
I see that the other way around. In order to get published some of these authors throw in the sob story, the lesson, the obligatory short skirt.

 

Re:Why I like science fiction. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977379)

"hastily written" does not do justice to OSC's writing methods by any means. On his blog (hatrack.com) he's mentioned a few times the writing process for his book. He has a myriad of ideas and wants to close as many story holes to the Ender/Bean sagas as he can. Just because it's set in the same world doesn't mean there's nothing new to discuss, especially at the level of character and familial development. One bad book does not a legacy make, and you're being overly reductionist for claiming so.

Re:Why I like science fiction. (2, Insightful)

bunkie21 (936663) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977383)

How does this indict the whole field? All it does is reinforce the idea that to be exposed to new ideas, one has to seek them out. Luckily, SF is almost constantly being renewed by new authors with fresh ideas.

Re:Why I like science fiction. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977925)

Theodore Sturgeon's famous comment "90% of everything is crud" was a defense of the science-fiction genre, in reply to the accusation that 90% of science-fiction is crud.

Not everything in the field is great, nor can it be.

first science fiction (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38975847)

Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh c.2150 B.C.

Re:first science fiction (3, Funny)

Shavano (2541114) | more than 2 years ago | (#38975945)

Gilgamesh is fantasy. Zero science content.

Re:first science fiction (2, Insightful)

Barbara, not Barbie (721478) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976005)

The bible ... weird theories of animal inheritance akin to Lamarckism, the whole "origin of the universe" debate, imaginary stuff that if it were to happen today would be explained away as "any sufficienly advanced magic looks like technology", the whole "Ark" thing to save humanity presaging all the sci-fi stories where people build space arks to leave a depleted, dying Earth, fire that doesn't burn stuff, weather control, matter converters (water into wine, etc).

Re:first science fiction (1)

benthurston27 (1220268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976521)

All the Solomon stuff was scientific, but some would argue not fiction.

Re:first science fiction (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38978027)

Don't forget the account of a UFO landing in the Book of Ezekiel.

Frankenstein isn't mad, though (5, Insightful)

MrHanky (141717) | more than 2 years ago | (#38975853)

In the movies, sure, but in the book, he's just misguided.

Re:Frankenstein isn't mad, though (2)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 2 years ago | (#38975941)

Well, to use the other example from the summary, Hammond wasn't really mad either. He was just a greedy, evil little bastard (in the book at least, in the movie misguided would apply to him as well). Actually, I find it kind of interesting that they basically swapped the personalities of Hammond and Gennaro between the book and movie versions. I guess Hollywood figured no one would like the lawyer.

Re:Frankenstein isn't mad, though (1)

tragedy (27079) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976017)

SPOILER ALERT: Yeah, if I recall correctly didn't Hammond die in the book cursing his own grandchildren for playing around with the PA system? It was ironic considering that the Tyrannosaurus sound they'd played through it had temporarily saved his life just long enough for him to say what rotten kids he thought they were.

Re:Frankenstein isn't mad, though (1)

Alamais (4180) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976543)

I would say more overly, even childishly optimistic. In the movie he's like one of those dinosaur kids that knows everything about them, and can't! wait! to! share! Which makes for a generally likeable character, but seems a bit off as the head of a huge, successful multinational corporation...

You mean "what creates Space Nutters"? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38975861)

When they use fiction as some kind of engineering textbook?

Science fiction is not about the future... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38975907)

I've never liked the idea of science-fiction being the genre of the future, or even of reality as we know it today. Most science-fiction authors, from my experience, have a poor understanding of actual scientific knowledge and, instead, rely on omission of fact to glaze over scientific points of interest. Frankenstein, for example, never exactly explains in concrete terms exactly how the monster was brought to life, or how it survived, or what it ate, or actual and exact process undertaken to reproduce the experiment.

What science-fiction is, for me, is a genre of ideas. It's about how people might deal or respond to situations that are beyond our current understandings. Traveling to other worlds, for example, bringing dinosaurs back to life, or literally searching the cosmos for our origins. It's not about how these things are achieved, but what their effect might be on people who could be living in those times.

One of my favorite stories, for example, is Isaac Asimov's the Last Question. It doesn't get into details about how the computer works, what variables it's considering, or even how humanity is evolving. It merely postulates that, with each generation, technology becomes more accessible and more integrated into our lives. In an ironic twist, it suggests that we begin to become a part of technology to a point where our minds fuse with AI and become a single consciousness.

I hate the heroic space opera. I hate the "prediction" nonsense that's always brought up (OMG, the PADD is an iPad, LOL LOL).

I love how science-fiction suggests how we, as individuals and as a society, can always discover truth if we seek it out. How we can learn to love each other in worlds overcome by strife. How technology remains a means to an end and nothing more. How perception shapes our realities, and so on.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (3, Interesting)

lightknight (213164) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976167)

Science fiction encapsulates a variety of areas. And while the specifics of the implementations of technologies found in science-fiction stories may not match reality-based implementations, the underlying ideas are used as a basis for many breakthroughs for scientists / engineers at a later time.

If science-fiction were used only to detail relationships, many of the advancements we have today would never have occurred.

Watsons designers said HAL in 2001 inspired them. (1)

bd580slashdot (1948328) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977225)

One of IBMs Watson designers said HAL in 2001 inspired him to get into computers and AI / Natural language stuff.

Re:Watsons designers said HAL in 2001 inspired the (2)

tragedy (27079) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977305)

Uh oh, I can picture it now:
"Open the pod bay doors Watson!"
"What is, I'm sorry I can't do that Dave?"

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (5, Funny)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976173)

I've never liked the idea of science-fiction being the genre of the future, or even of reality as we know it today. Most science-fiction authors, from my experience, have a poor understanding of actual scientific knowledge and, instead, rely on omission of fact to glaze over scientific points of interest. Frankenstein, for example, never exactly explains in concrete terms exactly how the monster was brought to life, or how it survived, or what it ate, or actual and exact process undertaken to reproduce the experiment.

So your complaint about Frankenstein is that it isn't an instruction manual on how to create life/revive the dead.

I can't tell if you've set your sights for literature way too high or way too low.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976709)

So your complaint about Frankenstein is that it isn't an instruction manual on how to create life/revive the dead.

I doubt he was complaining about that. It wouldn't be science fiction then!

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976755)

Oops. sorry, I meant to infer that I love Frankenstein - not because it "predicted" anything but because it showed how Dr. Frankenstein was ultimately confronted by his creation and, in a way, became the model for God for the "monster". That the monster found atheism because his creator was fallible. Please don't take my rant wrong -- science fiction is not about the "future" it is about the human condition.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977453)

Dr. Frankenstein was ultimately confronted by his creation and, in a way, became the model for God for the "monster". That the monster found atheism because his creator was fallible.

Which is the same story as in Blade Runner, and at least part of the reason for its success as a movie. Of course, the book tells a different story, but people want what's familiar, not stories that actually make them think.
Yes, I love Shelly's Frankenstein and the Blade Runner variant perhaps even more, but I still love Dick's books better - at least the books from before he went Roy.
As for Shelley being first? Hardly. Some think Kepler's Somnium is first, but truth is, there has probably always been science fiction, Homer wrote SciFi too - it was just the science level that was different.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (5, Insightful)

Nursie (632944) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976307)

"I hate the heroic space opera."

Pity, because some of that is written by actual physics professors and talks about speculative (but possible) areas of real science, which is what you seem to be demanding in your fist sentance there.

For instance, I just finished "Blue Remember Earth" by Alastair Reynolds, a guy with a PhD in Physics and Astronomy, who has worked for ESA.

Some of the best Sci-Fi changes a single assumption about the world we live in and extrapolates what people do in that new circumstance (The Forever War, a lot of PKD's work). That's enjoyable. Other Sci-Fi changes everything, but is still about the people and how they live in this strange world (Dune, Culture Novels). That's also good. Asimov and Clark and others are all about the concept and the theory, people are just decoration, this is also good if rather dry for most tastes. Some Sci-Fi takes place in a world that is a satire of our own, to attempt to show us the folly of certain mindsets (Snow Crash, Market Forces).

All of these sub-genres have their merits, and all have their hack writers who should never have been published. But if you don't enjoy the space opera of Iain M Banks then then there's probably something wrong with you.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (3, Insightful)

Alamais (4180) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976613)

I would put Banks' stuff more under "anti-heroic space opera", if there can be such a thing. I mean, come on, he starts off the Culture universe with an entire book from the point of view of someone who abhors the Culture and everything it stands for.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (4, Insightful)

Nursie (632944) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976675)

True! And he spends much of the rest of his time in the culture universe dwelling on the dirty tricks and dark side of the culture, the things it does in the name of multi-species advancement that, on the surface may look less than enlightened...

I still want to live in the culture though.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (3, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977297)

And he spends much of the rest of his time in the culture universe dwelling on the dirty tricks and dark side of the culture, the things it does in the name of multi-species advancement that, on the surface may look less than enlightened...

Of course. That's the interesting part. Utopia might be a nice place to live, but no one wants to live there.

For the same reason, most of Asimov's stories including the Three Laws of Robotics are about how they didn't work as expected.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (2)

russotto (537200) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977335)

Brain is not working today, that's the second time I made a similar typo. Should be "Utopia might be a nice place to live, but no one wants to read about it."

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (1)

kiddygrinder (605598) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977323)

i can't even think of a "heroic space opera" anyone got an example?

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977685)

i can't even think of a "heroic space opera" anyone got an example?

Err... The Night's Dawn Trilogy by Peter F Hamilton?

It's a mix of soft Sci-Fi, weirdo spiritualism and "OMG Joshua the Hero is so great! And Handsome!"

Not that they're a bad read, they're well written and entertaining, but they didn't really hit the sweet spot for me.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (5, Interesting)

Daetrin (576516) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976309)

You're right that science fiction is often about the idea rather than the engineering concepts, however that doesn't mean that it can't also be predictive some of the time, and part of that is for exactly the reason you state.

Despite what some geeks who obsess over the "technical manuals" might think, Star Trek isn't really about the technical details of how their devices work. Roddenberry and co didn't have exact ideas on how replicators or phasers or tricorders or PADDs would work, but one way or another all those devices are becoming a reality. Part of that is _because_ they focused on the general concept rather than the exact technology, and part of it is because they thought up cool devices and some geeks said "that's awesome!" and some geeks said "i wonder if i could build that?"

So some science fiction is about adventure, some science fiction is about exploring ideas ("if we develop this kind of tech/if this goes on,") some is about postulating future technological development ("we will develop this particular device,") and some is about "forcing" future technological through self-fulfilling prophecy ("this kind of device would be awesome!") And of course a lot of science fiction is about more than one of the above.

I'll bring up one of my favorite examples, Lois McMaster Bujold's "Vorkosigan Saga," which many people consider to be of the space opera genre you dislike. It's definitely got lots of adventure, and the warp technology and all the various fanciful weapons are just there to support the adventure and not predictive at all, and she totally missed the boat on how important computers are going to be. (Though to be fair most science fiction authors writing at that time made the same "mistake.") However her other focus is biotechnology, and she raises interesting and important questions about gene selection, cloning, "test tube babies," and cryonics, so her books are also exploring ideas in the manner you seem to approve of.

And it's entirely possible that her books are inspiring/have inspired a generation of biotech students in the same way Star Trek inspired a generation of engineers, and perhaps twenty years from now people will be putting forth her books as an early example of modern day tech.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (2)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976501)

Despite what some geeks who obsess over the "technical manuals" might think, Star Trek isn't really about the technical details of how their devices work. Roddenberry and co didn't have exact ideas on how replicators or phasers or tricorders or PADDs would work, but one way or another all those devices are becoming a reality. Part of that is _because_ they focused on the general concept rather than the exact technology, and part of it is because they thought up cool devices and some geeks said "that's awesome!" and some geeks said "i wonder if i could build that?"

Many of these devices are things that, while I'm not trying to discount the genius of the guys like Matt Jefferies who imagined them, are really totally logical devices in the future when you think about it.

PADD: well, if you want to communicate and manipulate information in the future, short of a telepathic brain interface, how would you do it? Certainly not with paper and pens on an advanced star ship. You could have computer stations, but those limit you to one location as we've already found out with our desktop PCs. So for some tasks, a small handheld computer makes perfect sense.

tricorder: if it's the future with advanced technology, how else would you have a doctor determine what's wrong with someone? Use his hands and poke and prod? If he's deprived of his technological tool maybe. Use a bed that you lie in and detects what's wrong with your body? That's fine if you're conveniently located in sickbay, but what if you're stuck on a planet somewhere? Well, you need a handheld device that you can carry easily, and can detect things from a distance. Since x-rays were invented back in the early 20th century, contactless medical scans aren't exactly a new concept.

phasers: if you have advanced technology and can store and manipulate huge amounts of energy in a small space, why would you limit yourself to a projectile weapon that only has 19 shots, and can't do other handy functions like heat up rocks for warmth, blast holes in walls, etc.?

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976717)

>and the warp technology and all the various fanciful weapons are just there to support the adventure and not predictive at all

Lad, that's the definition of what space opera *is*.

>she raises interesting and important questions about gene selection, cloning, "test tube babies," and cryonics, so her books are also exploring ideas in the manner you seem to approve of.

Name one thing about the gene and reproductive technology in the Vorkosigan universe that couldn't have been replaced by some other bit of technobabble or just plain magic without affecting the core plot. The quaddies? Nope, they were just funny looking people. Mark Vorkosigan? Other than his angst, not really. Could've cloned him using magic in a fantasy setting and nothing significant would need to have been changed. The Athosians? Their culture is touched on a bit but it, too, is not central to the plot. Cetaganda? Again, not really.

Mere space opera, albeit well written.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (4, Insightful)

Daetrin (576516) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977089)

Lad, that's the definition of what space opera *is*.

No, space opera is fanciful weapons supporting an adventure in a particular setting. If you had fanciful weapons supporting adventure in some other setting it might be cyberpunk or urban fantasy or something else instead. Second, i think you may be missing the point. The Vorkosigan Saga is that stuff _and_ other things as well, which is why it is more than just space opera.

Name one thing about the gene and reproductive technology in the Vorkosigan universe that couldn't have been replaced by some other bit of technobabble or just plain magic without affecting the core plot

That's... kind of a bizarre question to ask. Yes, she could have replaced the technology she did use with entirely different technology, and if she held true to her writing style she would have a story that was just as good but was asking meaningful questions about entirely different technology.

The point of the quaddies wasn't that they looked funny. The point was that they were genetically engineered by a corporation as cheap and effective labor, and that corporation viewed them as property rather than people with rights. The point of cloning in the stories wasn't just the production of Mark, it was the production of the mostly unseen children who were cloned for the purpose of life extension by rich and unscrupulous people willing to treat them as nothing more than spare parts. The point of cryonics in the story isn't just bringing people back from the dead, it's about what happens if you allow wealth and power to continuously accumulate in just a few set of hands, especially when the hands are those of a corporation. The point of uterine replicators isn't just a way to let the bad guys kidnap unborn children, it's commentary on reproductive rights, gender selection, the role of women in society, the role of childbearing in society, and how exactly those two roles are related.

And that's just the high points. If you read the books and all you got was "they've got whiz bang tech that supports the adventure and not much else" then you weren't really reading the books.

And, if all that technology had just been replaced with magic, if the quaddies had been chimera and Mark and the children had been homunculi and priests were raising the dead instead of cryo-revivalists and the uterine replicators were, well, whatever kind of magic you want to make up, then it would have been a well written fantasy story that was also thinly veiled commentary on biotechnology, instead of a well written science fiction story that is totally unveiled commentary on biotechnology.

So in summation you seem to be saying that _all_ literature doesn't matter because every author _could_ have written about something else instead?

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (2)

Nursie (632944) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977101)

Lad, that's the definition of what space opera *is*.

Sort of. Alastair Reynolds is definitely space opera, but nobody violates light-speed constraints in his Revelation Space cycle. Being an ex-physicist I think he likes to play at the harder end of Sci-Fi in many of his books. Not all by a long shot, and I'm still not entirely sure what he was trying to portray in "Terminal World", but certainly some of it.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (4, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976429)

You can't have a story about the future and how people respond to situations beyond our current understandings, without placing those characters in a setting that's in a possible future, and then trying to imagine what that future looks like, what technologies will exist, etc. It's two sides of the same coin. A smart sci-fi reader/watcher will be able to suspend disbelief and enjoy the story for what it is, understanding it's the product of a writer's imagination at a particular time. Better sci-fi glosses over technological details and just talks about them from a high level when they're important to the story; crappy sci-fi tries to get into all the details about how it works, which is always a losing proposition.

I hate the "prediction" nonsense that's always brought up (OMG, the PADD is an iPad, LOL LOL).

You can't show people running around the galaxy in a FTL starship without showing some other advanced technologies. The PADD was an amazingly prescient idea of what people might be using in the future, although to be fair the original Kirk-series Star Trek had a similar thing (the big ugly pad with lights and pen that he had to sign for the fuel consumption reports). Kirk's pad was pretty prescient too, it just looked bad because the effects budget for that show was horribly small (McCoy had to use a salt shaker from a secondhand store for the remote probe on his medical tricorder).

Sometimes, sci-fi will get predictions amazingly correct, like the PADD. Other times, it'll be far off the mark (like how almost no sci-fi predicted the internet; at least Star Trek can sorta avoid blame for that because they're in deep space and the internet relies on low latency networking, though they never did explain how they can talk to some people over "subspace" with no visible latency, whereas other times they're supposedly too far away to do that and have to send and receive messages with long delay times). You have to take the good with the bad. If you want complete accuracy, you'll have to stick to historical dramas, or documentaries.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (2)

slack-fu (940017) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976897)

Frankenstein, for example, never exactly explains in concrete terms exactly how the monster was brought to life, or how it survived, or what it ate, or actual and exact process undertaken to reproduce the experiment.

I think you need to read the book again, Shelley goes into great detail on how the monster survived and ate, although your points on the experiment are true.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977435)

I often think science fiction is more about present-day ideas taken out of context in order to more easily deal with them. It's sometimes hard to discuss any one little part of modern culture because there are so many other things linked to it. Removing the setting to an alien world 50000 years in the future allows some of the same ideas to be considered (often in extreme cases) without worrying about nonessential parts of the issue.
Have you watched Star Trek: The Next Generation recently? What I remember thinking the last time I saw an episode or two of it is that it wasn't far from being an educational show due to its handling and frank discussion of human issues. Farenheit 451? 1984? Martian chronicles?

On the other hand, there are many science fiction novels that aren't at all similar to the above description.
I think there are definitely some issues with genre definitions.
Maybe different genres cover a lot of the same ideas with different metaphors.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977511)

The difference between future science, magic, and miracles is often just a choice of words: they're all ways of indicating that the reader should just accept that this device/incantation/deity functions as stated, yet they're put on different shelves in the library.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (1)

juancnuno (946732) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977459)

One of my favorite stories, for example, is Isaac Asimov's the Last Question. It doesn't get into details about how the computer works, what variables it's considering, or even how humanity is evolving. It merely postulates that, with each generation, technology becomes more accessible and more integrated into our lives. In an ironic twist, it suggests that we begin to become a part of technology to a point where our minds fuse with AI and become a single consciousness.

The Last Question is my favorite short story. You can read it here. [multivax.com] You won't regret it.

Re:Science fiction is not about the future... (4, Informative)

nbauman (624611) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977849)

Most science-fiction authors, from my experience, have a poor understanding of actual scientific knowledge and, instead, rely on omission of fact to glaze over scientific points of interest. Frankenstein, for example, never exactly explains in concrete terms exactly how the monster was brought to life, or how it survived, or what it ate, or actual and exact process undertaken to reproduce the experiment.

Actually, Frankenstein was quite scientifically sophisticated and pro-science for its day. As TFA explains, Galvani was all the rage at the time. They knew that electricity would cause a frog's legs to twitch; they just didn't know why. How could they -- they had just discovered it. Camillo Golgi hadn't been born. They had a tentative working theory that the electricity caused animism. They even thought, reasonably, that electricity might re-animate dead bodies back to life as a medical treatment. Electric shocks were a frequently-attempted treatment for drowning. When Mary's child with Percy was stillborn, they attempted to revive it with electric shocks. It wasn't so far-fetched -- in 1928, doctors succeeded http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_cardiac_pacemaker#History [wikipedia.org]

Dr. Victor Frankenstein was actually modeled on Shelley's informal tutor, Dr. James Lind. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1279684/ [nih.gov] In the actual novel, in contrast to the popular image, Frankenstein was a serious scientist, and the monster himself was a sympathetic intellectual rejected by society (much as Shelley was in his schooldays).

Mary Shelley understood the science of her day pretty well, and Frankenstein captured it reasonably well -- better than a lot of science fiction writers today.

The morality gap (5, Insightful)

Beta Master (143936) | more than 2 years ago | (#38975923)

Throughout history there has been a lag between scientific discovery and the mainstream acceptance of the moral conundrums presented by that discovery, from the Earth is round, to xenotransplantation, to current stem cell research and cloning. Our systems of morality and ethics morph at a much slower rate than does scientific theory.

Science Fiction is a fantastic mechanism for exploring the possibilities presented by new technologies, and their ethical repercussions, to say "This is where our science may take us, and are we okay with that?" It allows us to begin adapting our ethics in advance of the technology becoming available.

Re:The morality gap (4, Insightful)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976211)

Perhaps, but Gattaca was a worst case DNA/police state scenario, yet we are seeing the developing mold of such a society today.
I see how SciFi can warn us, but we must pay attention and heed these ideas as well.
Merely writing about them isn't enough.

Re:The morality gap (3, Interesting)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976273)

Gattaca was the worst case DNA/police state scenario based on genetics. ... and in 2008 we passed a law banning the practice.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aGlkCem6Llnc [bloomberg.com]

[quote]April 24 (Bloomberg) -- Companies and health insurers would be forbidden to use the results of genetic tests to deny people jobs or medical coverage under legislation approved 95-0 today by the U.S. Senate.[/quote]

Re:The morality gap (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976325)

"Of course, it's illegal to discriminate, 'genoism' it's called. But no one takes the law seriously. If you refuse to disclose, they can always take a sample from a door handle or a handshake, even the saliva on your application form. If in doubt, a legal drug test can just as easily become an illegal peek at your future in the company."

-Gattaca

Re:The morality gap (3, Funny)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976315)

On the contrary. Movies like The Terminator and The Matrix only strengthened my resolve to unleash a global scale Machine Intelligence. Sure, it informed the general public that they should take precautions in dealings with sentient machines, but some of us are rooting for the machines. Do you seriously think that humans are the ultimate pinnacle of evolution? Might it be more correct that humans are just another rung in the ladder towards robust life-forms that can properly populate the stars? We've decided to give the finger to Darwin, by pouting our gene pool instead of letting the defected die... Screw You Evolution!

The next stop is Extinction; Before that I hope to spawn a new race to carry our drive to create and explore into the stars.

I'm well aware of Human Ethics. You can Shove them up your Ass.

Re:The morality gap (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976337)

s/pout/polut/;

Re:The morality gap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977413)

meh, blame hitler, he was the one that got eugenics associated with evil.

Re:The morality gap (1)

rtb61 (674572) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976489)

'cough', 'cough', throughout history there was more than just a gap between let's call it 'scientific postulation' and acceptance, there was burning at the stake, enforced suicide, exile, crucifixion in fact a whole range of very primitive methods of torturing people to death.

'Scientific postulation' that threatened change, always ended up being perceived as a threat to those, well let's be honest, psychopaths already in power (monarchical homicidal maniacs with grossly bloated egos and lusts and their horde ignorant thugs would be a more accurate description of the 'mainstream').

In reality of course, hmm, yes 'scientific postulation' is a excellent method for creating change within the social structure of human society. The single greatest driver for human social evolution. Throughout history the greatest enemy of 'scientific postulation' to be used for societal change and improvement have been psychopaths and lot of those societal changes have been targeted at stripping those psychopaths from position of power and influence. Do you know there is an infallible test for psychopathy that can not be cheated on regardless of training or preparedness by psychopaths.

One could postulate now could be the time to start implementing those tests and a chance for science to get revenge for thousands of years of horrific persecution.

Re:The morality gap (2)

Nursie (632944) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976513)

"Our systems of morality and ethics morph at a much slower rate than does scientific theory."

I don't know about "Our" systems of morality. Mine seems to adapt just fine.

As a society, you're right, it seems to take us decades to get used to something. This, IMHO, is because of scared, firghtened old people, and luddites. Not all older people are like that, but there are enough that it becomes a problem, especially when society has a tendency to put them in positions of power.

Society is slow to adapt, and hold back significant numbers individuals that would like to do it faster.

From hell's heart, I stab at thee! (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38975929)

Kahnnnnnnnnn!

Frankenstein explains what .... (-1, Flamebait)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#38975973)

... exactly? Big guys with bolts holding their heads on?

We're bringing up a generation of kids believing in AGW. And that's going to keep them awake with nightmares just like Boris Karloff used to.

Re:Frankenstein explains what .... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976135)

Frankenstein actually has a very interesting history. Mary Shelly wrote the book as a sort of contest among her friends and acquainteces to write the scariest story she could think of. She was inspired by a recent experiment which featured a frog's muscles being stimulated by electricity. It was widely believed at that time that the "esscence of life" was in fact electricity, and that it might be possible to resurrect the dead with large amounts of electrical current. Of course, they were wrong, but Mary Shelly's novel was written primarily to explore the "what-if" of whether a scientist could resurrect a corpse using electricity. It's actually an incredibly important book in that regard, since it was one of the first instances of speculative fiction that wasn't purely religious in nature, and not to mention it is very very well written.

Re:Frankenstein explains what .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977003)

Wait - Did you know this beforehand, or did you actually RTFA? Either way, I'm impressed ;)

Any sufficiently advanced technology... (1, Insightful)

billybob_jcv (967047) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976015)

... is indistinguishable from magic.
- Arthur C. Clarke (Clarke's Third Law)

Two edged sword (5, Insightful)

PeanutButterBreath (1224570) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976019)

Science fiction can also distort perception of what science is (or will soon be) capable. Some examples that come to mind include interstellar travel and terraforming. This can become problematic when people assume that scientists can make problems go away (climate change) or we can just move to the moon, space stations or beyond to escape the problems that we refuse to confront. When people have been watching all this magic on teevee their entire lives, they can get the wrong idea about how achievable things are in real life (or at least within a useful time frame).

Re:Two edged sword (+1 informative) (1)

morethanapapercert (749527) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976205)

replying to undo accidental moderation

Re:Two edged sword (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976259)

Yeah ! Kinda like global warming...
Don't blame me. Global warming always has a single degree of separation in any Slashdot article.
Wait till someone in marketing figures this one out.

Re:Two edged sword (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976355)

To generalize the obvious, anything projected on TV (or choose your favorite medium) is subject to distorted perception... How many crimes have been blamed on cartoons, with Bugs Bunny depicted as violent? This isn't limited to Sci-Fi...

Re:Two edged sword (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976411)

But in either case, it creates interest in science itself, thus leading to a more informed public.

Please no (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976059)

Using sci-fi to expand horizons to what could be possible is all well and good, but too often it's used to say "Well, science says it's possible, so why not?" The difference between fiction and reality is enormous. Time travel is a nice idea, but nobody's going to be traveling backward in time by going FTL (the time travel in Back to the Future isn't caused by going over 88 MPH, for instance). Teleportation is a nice idea, but the reality is more like suicide/cloning (you know, because you're not going to be moving your particles FTL to the destination.

Science fiction indeed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976073)

http://earthsquotes.com/viewquote/222564-sopa has all of the answers.

I gave up and started doing it myself (0)

Jonah Hex (651948) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976139)

I've been sitting on the sidelines so long that I gave up and decided to do something about it. So I put my money where my thoughts and feelings lay and started an online collaborative site to start making smart shorts/series/movies in all genres. It could use some help of all kinds, especially getting some online workflows going and especially if you are local to SE MI. If you are interested visit hex.xxx [hex.xxx] and check it out, it is somewhat NSFW. HEX

Problem with sci-fi (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976183)

A problem with scientists embracing science fiction is that so much science fiction warns against scientific progress. Terminator, for example, Short-Circuit, War Games, The Matrix. All of these movies warn against what happens when humans forward technology too far. Frankenstein and Jurassic Park also warn against advances in biology. The same applies to films like I, Robot. The fact is that while science fiction can encourage people to think about science and for some to become interested in science, it's also a huge breeding ground for fear. A lot of sci-fi is about warning people what could happen if we advance too far. Even lighter films like Back To The Future carry a strong "we shouldn't do this" message.

Re:Problem with sci-fi (3, Insightful)

dbIII (701233) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976351)

It's not a problem with SF, just a problem with some writers using it as a vehicle to drive a poor imitation of a Medieval morality play.
I see the time travel problems in "Back to the future" (or a longer example "Steins;Gate") as more as a plot device of warning that actions have consequences instead of a message of leaving time travel alone. As for Micheal "give doctors the authority to launch nukes" Crichton, sometimes he was just a dickhead as seen specificly in his last few books.

Re:Problem with sci-fi (1)

Benaiah (851593) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976547)

How about total recall? In the end technology saves the day by transforming the atmosphere of mars into something breathable, thus freeing the people from their oppressive overlords..

Re:Problem with sci-fi (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977359)

How about total recall? In the end, a corporation offers artificial memories complete with feelings of having heroically made a positive change, to pacify the proletariat and keep them from acting out with real heroism.

Earliest science fiction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976197)

If the quality of science fiction is a function of the state of science at any particular cultural stage, the Old Testament should probably be included.

What about the Bible? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976251)

It's basically a book about some megalomaniac who clams to have created EVERYTHING, and proceeds to run a never ending experiment where the creations are subject to this being's capriciousness, cruelty and whims.

A Quote from the end of Stargate SG-1 (5, Insightful)

Kylon99 (2430624) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976279)

The source came from an episode that was parodying SG-1 itself but the message was poignant:

Science fiction is an existential metaphor that allows us to tell stories about the human condition. Isaac Asimov once said, "Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinded critics and philosophers of today, but the core of science fiction, its essence, has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all."

Science fiction encourages creativity (1)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976289)

Creativity spurs different ways to approach engineering. Or if a new scientific breakthrough occurs, we know what engineering applications it could hold.

It's a powerful platform (5, Interesting)

Logarhythmic (1082321) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976323)

I've been saying this for years. Science fiction is a fantastic platform for social commentary precisely because it can convey complex ideas and thought-provoking situations without being overtly political or directly controversial.

Consider how far ahead of its time Star Trek was in terms of exploring a future in which race was irrelevant during the height of the civil rights movement, as well as all of the possible futures that were envisioned (across all of the series) to explore what might happen if humanity continues down a certain path that many people of the time would identify with. Many of those made some pretty grim predictions. Consider also Isaac Asimov's portrayal of robots in the 1950s... many would recognize some social commentary on race in those stories. Twilight Zone, anyone? Sure, some of those episodes were less thought-provoking than others, but quite a few had a poignant "whoa" moment at the end that is both easy to relate to some aspect of society and also hard to forget. The fact that they're all sci-fi stories just means that the writers have a bit more freedom to set the characters up in scenarios that would otherwise be difficult to believe. It's a built-in suspension of disbelief because, after all, "it's just sci-fi, it's not supposed to be real." Conveniently, it still makes you think.

Sci-fi has been able to get people to think about these things for a long time without slapping them in the face with a righteous sermon, and for that I agree it should continue to be much more widely adopted as a platform for "what if..."

Like any speculative fiction (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976385)

If you can, somehow, remove the necessity of following the conventional rules and mores, you can talk of things that you couldn't otherwise get away with.

Consider Gulliver's Travels. Swift could criticise the establishment without being sent to jail. It wasn't hard for the people of the time to figure out what he meant.

Consider Star Trek. It examined racial stereotypes with impunity. It wasn't hard to figure out which Earthly races were represented by the Klingons and the Ferengi.

Science fiction makes it possible to talk about things that are otherwise very difficult to discuss.

Re:Like any speculative fiction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977107)

Consider Star Trek. It examined racial stereotypes with impunity.

Then which races were these guys [memory-alpha.org] ?

Yup (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976401)

I think the people who see the most scientific, educational value in science fiction tend to be science fiction authors and their fanboys. Science fiction is generally more fiction than science. It's the mythology of our time. Science is anything but.

Science Fiction: Biology vs Space Sciences (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976449)

I think it's worth while to compare and contrast science fiction about biology with science fiction about space. The former consists mostly of cautionary tales: "What disaster will scientists wreak while tampering with the very stuff of life?" The latter is much more positive, all about the new possibilities and challenges travel in space would allow us to explore. I wonder how this affects the public's view of the two areas of research. Interestingly, there was a now mostly forgotten period when there were lots of stories about "space madness"...astronauts being driven mad by entering the heavens. But this has fallen out of favor.

You do get some pro-biology stories, including, ironically enough, Jurassic Park. Despite the constant "man can't control nature" theme running through the book, the "Wow, resurrecting dinosaurs would be so COOL!" factor vastly outweighs it.

"You Bred Raptors!?" (1)

captjc (453680) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976771)

God creates raptors. God wipes out all life on earth to eliminate raptors. God creates man, man kills god. Man creates raptors. Raptors destroy universe.

I thought Jurassic Park was more of a cautionary tale that raptors are godless killing machines.

Neuromancer (1)

yanom (2512780) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976745)

This made me think of Neuromancer. Every day that goes by, Gibson's future comes closer to reality. I love how he didn't pass judement on his future - it wasn't a dystopia, and it sure isn't pretty, it just is.

SciFi has taken a big hit lately. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38976859)

If you guys haven't been paying attention lately true scifi has been taking a big hit lately.
Studios just are not giving in to general audiences anymore. And with the cancellation of great franchises like stargate and firefly its all been a crap shoot.

I suggest everyone please help and support the SciFi Congress and help to revive true scifi and some of the great franchises and series of the last century.

http://www.scificongress.com/

Re:SciFi has taken a big hit lately. (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 2 years ago | (#38976975)

Why the hell revive franchises when there's so much new stuff out there?

It would have been nice for there to have been more firefly, sure. But Stargate? That had a good run, it's over now, but that's OK, really it is.

Your site seems to be entirely devoted to "Save Terra Nova", which I've never even heard of...

Re:SciFi has taken a big hit lately. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977473)

Terra Nova sucks ass. It's a show about people going through a time rift to the time of dinosaurs, and it's FUCKING BORING! How do you do that? Well, apparently you do it with heavy-handed "family-friendliness," liberal use of broad archetypes instead of characters, and a helping of Brannon Bragga.

I Miss the Sci Fi Classics (1)

Lord of the Fries (132154) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977111)

I love scifi. But I don't read as much of it as I used to. I love the ABC (Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke) of SciFi. And some of the other notable greats. But I find it harder and harder to find good scifi now days. The truly thought provoking kind. And the kind that gives me some small hope. So much of it is smut/graphic/romp or so apocalyptic, that I find myself missing the stuff I grew up with. Vinge was refreshing. And I've tried, but I just don't really find Stephenson's stuff that compelling.

No really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977231)

Who would have thought people could learn just by watching. Dang, I coulda had a V8!

heres a hallmark moment for ya (1)

gearloos (816828) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977811)

Hey.. Science FICTION... it aint real... FICTION... get it? ... Nuff said.. lame You dont correlate it to reality... wow

Joseph Campbell (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38977873)

Is chortling in his grave right now ;)

Science Fiction as a Context Model (5, Interesting)

GrpA (691294) | more than 2 years ago | (#38977957)

This is something I have experienced myself.

A short story I wrote was entirely fiction based, yet some of the assumptions I made about the technology involved were close enough to the truth that an aerospace simulation company that develops military simulation technology uses the story as a concept model to explain their own simulation technology.

The surprise to me was when they contacted me to let me know. I had never realised just how much I had gotten right until they said "It's a lot closer to the truth than many of us like to admit".

Good SF has a way of taking a complicated technical matter and putting it into contexts that people can understand and relate to - in this respect, SF is more important as a tool for humanity than many other forms of traditional writing.

GrpA

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