Recently Travis Perry addressed this significant topic: “How Science Fiction Portrays the Future of Christianity.” For some time people have commented on the fact that science fiction can “predict” the future. Not really, of course, but a significant percent of science fiction imaginings become the technology of the future.
I remember, for instance, when the original Star Trek cast pulled out their communicators and flipped them open. Then along came those early cell phones that flipped open in much the same way. Of course the electronic tablets the various Star Trek shows used for passing on information and/or storing it, are so reminiscent of today’s computer tablets and reading devices.
But there are dozens more such connections between science fiction and the inventions of the future. Most famously Jules Verne described a submarine in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870), though apparently a writer named Margaret Cavendish first mentioned submarines in a 1666 satire, The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World. I don’t know if the latter counts since satire and science fiction are not trying to accomplish the same thing. Still, it’s remarkable that people so long ago imagined technology we now take for granted.
Other such looks into the future by science fiction writers include things like space travel, space stations, and going to the moon; cloning and robots; the use of microwave technology, radar, x-rays and CAT-scans. Artificial intelligence, of course, is a major player in many science fiction concepts, but so is “Borg technology,” and artificial implants.
Some of the science fiction ideas came less from imagination and more from an awareness of the current direction science was heading. Electric cars, for instance, popped up in 1969 in John Brunner’s novel Stand on Zanzibar. Aldus Huxley, influenced by J.B.S. Haldane, wrote, in his novel Brave New World, about a world dependent upon what we now call in vitro fertilization.
Of course there are many imagined science fiction concepts that have not (yet) been turned into fact: star ship “cloaking devices” and “transporter technology”; “photon torpedoes” and “dilithium crystals” that make “warp drive” and interstellar travel possible. These ideas come from the Star Trek family of stories inspired by Gene Roddenberry, but of course there are many others that readers of science fiction can add.
Some of the futuristic ideas coming from the genre, however, point to a bleak future. Thus, the start of the dystopian novel. Much of the downward turn of society, according to these science fiction accounts, comes from the political and social arena: power in the hand of the unscrupulous (such as Darth Vader and the Emperor, or The President in Hunger Games). Divergent by Veronica Roth also conceived of a world engineered by analytics—each young person took a placement test that figured heavily into the “faction” or various divisions from which they’d be assigned.
George Orwell in his novel 1984 married future technology with societal changes, envisioning a world divided into three states based on location. The one known as Oceania was ruled by Big Brother who controlled the population by a sophisticated system of surveillance. From this authoritarian control came unreliable or “fake” news intended to deceive, not enlighten, the public. Along with this effort the Ministry of Truth regularly modifies photograph (photoshops pictures) to portray what they wish, Orwell’s novel introduced the Thought Police which is a forerunner to the politically correct climate of western culture today.
Similarly Huxley brought science and society together in Brave New World, and in the process “anticipates huge scientific developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning” (Wikipedia, “Brave New World“). He included a society that was drug-dependent in order to keep them compliant and peaceful.
So I wonder, although speculative fiction has taken the duel turn toward horror—vampires and monsters of various kinds—and superheroes, are there writers imagining and producing in their stories the next set of future technologies or societal trends?
As I understand it, science fiction can serve as a prophetic voice, a warning against the natural outcome of directions that currently exist, or they can point toward hope and help and creativity. The former seems to have dominated the dystopian novels, but without real influence. So another question I have: is a novel successful just because it is popular, or should it have an impact that changes people?
I’d be curious what you all think, especially those who know science fiction better than I do.