Science fiction is about the present, not the future. That’s why I like the genre, at least as a writer. I was attracted to sci-fi as a kid in the 60s, inspired by the earliest space shots. One of the first books I remember reading was Promise of Space, by Arthur C. Clarke, who was and still is a giant of science fiction. (Promise of Space is actually non-fiction, but it felt like fiction to a ten-year-old.) As a teenager, I picked up Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, and Ben Bova. Hard science or speculative fiction got my attention. Fantasy never attracted me. I remember seeing the Sword of Shannara series on the shelf of bookstores and asking myself why anyone would be interested.
But my true love of science fiction came from television, starting with Lost in Space and then Star Trek (the original series). Later, I discovered Outer Limits and the Twilight Zone in reruns. Like most people, I was fascinated by the technology and the possibility of traveling to new worlds faster than the speed of light. Later, I understood that much of the “science” was highly speculative at best, and a lot of silly ray guns and monsters at worst. Later still, as I read criticism and gained some life experience, I learned that the real subject at the center of these dramas was the human condition in the mid-20th century.
Anyone who has studied brilliant writers and creative minds of 1960s television, such as Rod Serling, Gene Roddenberry, D.C. Fontana, Joe Stefano, Harlan Ellison, and others who contributed to these television shows, remarks how their writing reflected and examined the tensions of the day. That’s the great strength of television. Much of Star Trek, for example, deals with youth rebellion, the emergence of women and minorities into the mainstream, and whether or not intervening in another culture’s problems is right or wrong, all central issues in the turbulent 60s.
As I write my own stories, particularly my novel-in-progress Carbon Run, I’m constantly reminded by almost unconscious memories of these writers that my story is not about a warmer Earth in the 22nd century. It’s about how people in the early 21st century might deal with conditions of a warmer climate. In other words, it’s impossible to predict with any certainty how human culture will adapt to a planet with no ice caps and deserts where crops once grew. But I can imagine how my contemporaries might react and believe, using history and my own experience as a guide. In reality, I’m writing about today, not tomorrow.
What’s your opinion? Is sci-fi about the future or the present?