It's J.G. Ballard's future. We're just living in it.

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The good news is, we're living in a science fiction novel. The bad news is, it was written by J. G. Ballard.

When people complain that the Golden Age of science fiction never came true, they usually mean that the space programme has devolved to a series of uncrewed robot missions, or that we don't all have flying cars. But another, slightly later era of science fiction - the era I grew up with - is showing a dispiriting level of predictive power.


I'm referring to the science fiction of the late 1950s through to the 1970s: the social SF of writers like Fred Pohl, Ursula Le Guin and James Tiptree, Jnr, on the one hand, and the British New Wave SF exemplified by J. G. Ballard on the other.

Ballard, that exhilarating, exasperating bard of entropy, turns out to have had sharper eyes than most. The other day, I was looking at images on my computer of housing developments in the US abandoned in the wake of the credit crunch that started in 2008: rows of McMansions, left uninhabited because their owners could no longer afford the mortgage payments, standing empty and desolate, their drained swimming pools filling with leaves.


These were images straight from an early Ballard novel. Of course, the basis for all that imagery was Ballard's own experience, early in World War II, of being wrenched from a privileged expatriate enclave in Shanghai into Lunghua internment camp, and seeing the world he knew collapse around him.

A counterexample: one of the concepts that excited me most in the SF I read as a youngster was the universal translator, a device that would render any language immediately intelligible to someone who did not speak or read it. Now I have a universal (or close to universal) translator at my fingertips. It's called Google, and all I have to do is press the "Language tools" link to the right of the search box to access what is (though we rarely think of it in these terms) its quite astonishing power.


Did I get into reading, and then writing, SF because of its predictive ability? Not at all. I started to read SF because it offered an escape from the rigours of life as a young English boy growing up in a part of New Zealand that didn't have a lot of time for Pommie bastards who spoke funny. I kept reading it, and began to write it, because it spoke to me about my life and my hopes for the future far more directly than any number of novels about status anxiety in middle-class drawing rooms. And I keep reading it today - though my reading has broadened greatly from the days when SF was almost all I read - because the best SF still speaks to my hopes and fears for myself, my family and the world in all the ways that mainstream fiction, for all its virtues, often does not.

That's why my favourite SF writer over the last decade or so is Kim Stanley Robinson. His best books, notably his Mars Trilogy, bring together everything I have loved in SF over the years: there's the hard-SF world-building, the fascination with the interaction of characters adapting to a new environment, the politics of inhabiting and organizing a new world, and under it all an enduring sense of wonder at the strangeness and beauty of the universe. That's the sort of SF I like to read, and the sort of SF that, when I can, I like to write.


Robinson's hopes and Ballard's fears. Somewhere in between these two marquees, I pitch my tent.

This post by Tim Jones, author of Anarya's Secret and the story collection Transported, originally appeared as part of the Fantasy-Science Fiction Guest Author series, featuring primarily Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction writers, being hosted on Helen Lowe's " ... on Anything, Really" blog to celebrate the release of her novel The Heir of Night in the USA (Eos) and Australia/New Zealand (Orbit).