Science Fiction Does Something Way Better Than Predict The Future

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People get stuck on the idea that science fiction predicts the future, and that we should look to SF books to find out what we'll be doing 20 years from now. But actually, says Questionable Practices author Eileen Gunn, science fiction does something way more valuable: teach us that change is inevitable.

Top image: Oliver Heun on Flickr.

Talking to Locus Magazine, Gunn says:

When I interviewed William Gibson a couple months ago, I whined, 'Why do people want SF writers to predict the future?' I thought Gibson's answer, which was edited out of the final article, was particularly informative: he said (and I quote): 'I take it for granted, both as a reader and a writer of SF, that one aspect of the potential pleasure of the text may be pretending to believe the future as presented is a likely outcome.'

'But the usefulness of science fiction is not that it predicts the future, and to come up to a writer afterwards and say, 'You got that wrong' is dumb – although, of course, everyone is happy to think they got it 'right.'

'What science fiction does, especially in those works that deal with the future, is help people understand that things change and that you can live through it. Change is all around us. Probably things change faster now than they did four or five hundred years ago, particularly in some parts of the world. As Gibson said decades ago,'The futureis already here – it's just notevenly distributed.'And it's uneven in interesting ways: there are people in some parts of the world for whom change is slow, and life is much the same as it was when they were born. But because they don't have the old technology, the dead weight of the infrastructure (telephone wires, say), they can leapfrog ahead of us.

'Writers don't use science fiction to understand what's going to happen. They use it to examine what's happening now– and yet everyone's reality of that is a bit different.


Check out more of Gunn's interview at Locus, and in the new issue of the magazine, including some details about her novel in progress.