Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Imagining the Future

Science fiction always includes and enjoys playing with possibilities of all sorts. Authors enjoy imagining the world from different perspectives, making suppositions about what the world would be like had various events turned out differently.

Interestingly, many of the things that sci-fi writers included in novels later came to be true in real life.

Perhaps one of the real purposes that the really creative writers serve is to imagine possibilities for us before we even get there. They imagine various futures and then inventors, engineers, architects, chemists, electronic marvels such as computer work are then put to the task of creating new worlds.

Obviously among the various inventions are new social roles, religions, philosophies and so on.

I find that fiction often stretches the mind to explore new concepts and different perspectives of the world much better than non-fiction. Where general fiction may concern itself with subjects like relationships or family stories, and crime fiction and romance novels concern themselves with formulaic situations, sci-fi and fantasy may concern itself with much larger subjects, such as the evolution of civilization, the evolution of humanity, the existence of alternate universes, parallel realities, time travel, interspecies communication and other topics.

Kurt Vonnegut once questioned the whole notion of classifying fiction as science fiction. Sci-fi does tend to have lots of new inventions in it, but he noted that just because he knows how some things work, that doesn't make it science fiction.

Over the years, people have tried to shift the focus by calling it speculative fiction or referring to it as futuristic writing, but terms such as that were not quite right either because all fiction is speculative, although sci-fi in more spectacular ways. Every author uses their imagination to describe characters and their actions, let you know what they are thinking and saying. It does tend to be futuristic, but many take alternative views of history as well.

Sci-fi now generously overlaps with the style of fiction known as fantasy, and frequently you see stores stock those two types together. It is a distinction, but not the only one, that fantasy may more frequently go back into history or alternate realms on this planet, where sci-fi may tend to go into more alternate realms on other planets in addition to Earth.

The job of imagining the future is the domain of sci-fi and fantasy authors. What they offer us is a variety of possibilities to choose from. Once we imagine a future, we can begin to move into it.

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