January 11, 2015

Slice of PIE: Does the Future Need to Be Plausible?

http://www.sportsmanskihaus.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/c9fb0618_mcfly-682_1393873a.jpegUsing the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in London this past August, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below…

8/14/2014 – 10:00 am

“One of the most common complaints about Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games is that the world she proposed was, at best, implausible. Collins is not alone in this. But to what extent do we need veracity from our imagined futures, and how much does the measure of ‘plausibility’ differ from reader to reader? Is a science fictional story diminished if it’s too divorced from the physical reality we live in? Is there a difference between a future we can see and a future we can only hypothesize in the abstract? Vylar Kaftan (M), Janet C Johnston, Kin-Ming Looi, Ian McDonald, Stephanie Saulter”

Tough questions!

I’ve discovered that “implausibility” is a slippery concept. For example, Robert A. Heinlein in a narrative from his 1942 novel BEYOND THIS HORIZON wrote: “For centuries, disease, hunger, poverty and war have been things found only in the history tapes.”

 Tapes? REALLY???

Certainly Heinlein was ahead of his time for a while there. Then CDs, ipods, and electronic databases left him behind. Written at the turn of the century, this article  http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~hbf/compulit.htm completely misses out on smartphones. Not even the “greats” were able to imagine a future in which eight-year-olds would walk around their schools and be able to not only take pictures with a flat device that is entirely electronic but reproduces sounds of mechanical devices; but can access global databases without using a physical keyboard by merely speaking a search into their smartphone. No one imagined 20-somethings  seriously addressing their cellphones by the name “Siri”.

In fact the total miss of science fiction writers regarding computers is so profound that when I typed smartphone and database, the spellchecker on this computer didn’t underline them as misspelled words – it didn’t even underline spellchecker as a misspelled word.

So what is “implausible”? Certainly second-grader-global-internet-data-searches would have been implausible twenty years ago!

By the same token, antigravity, a staple of SF stories for a long time, hasn’t even reached the theoretically applicable stage yet. In fact, “The Institute for Gravity Research of the Göde Scientific Foundation has tried to reproduce many of the different experiments which claim any ‘anti-gravity’ effects. All attempts by this group to observe an anti-gravity effect by reproducing past experiments have been unsuccessful, so far. The foundation has offered a reward of one million euros for a reproducible anti-gravity experiment.” (Wikipedia, “Anti-gravity”)

Is “antigravity” implausible? If we granted that, we’d eliminate virtually all space opera (writers from Asimov to Zahn) and pretty much limit space exploration to chemical rockets in the nearer parts of the Solar System and only robotic exploration of anywhere beyond.

Like I said, all of the questions above are good ones, but in the long run, most of us read and write SF because we don’t really care about plausibility! So, the criticism of Collins’ HUNGER GAMES books? Their popularity – and the fact that most of the writers on this panel have more than likely read at least once of them – makes it appear to me that plausibility is far from being enshrined in even the hardest science fiction.

Image: http://www.sportsmanskihaus.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/c9fb0618_mcfly-682_1393873a.jpeg

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