Let me tell you about the future …
Do you want to know about the future of mankind? Where we will be in 10, 20, 30 or hundred or a thousand years time? Of course you do! And as long as we stop doing silly things like burning up oil our descendants might actually be here but how can you find out? Well, foretelling the future, outside of gypsies with crystal balls or new agers with tarot cards has often been the province of science fiction writers so what about asking them or looking at their predictions?
Well, the truth is that the one thing that sci-fi has been miraculously unanimous in is an utterly miserable failure to get even close to a decent prediction. The history of science fiction is littered with forecasts that are so far off it is as if you shot the arrow, missed your shed and killed the neighbour’s dog five houses down. It really is that bad! Setting aside the idea that Venus has oceans on it, that we will get invaded by Martians (neatly sidestepped in the Tom Cruise remake of War of the Worlds) or that you can go to the centre of the earth without being turned nicely brown and crispy just look at the history of science fiction literature and film-making. If we were after accurate predictions rather than entertainment we’d all be asking for our money back. There’s a film of HG Wells ‘Time Machine’ predicting nuclear war in 1966 while George Orwell, instead of accurately predicting 1984, only managed to give rise to a terrible reality TV show that makes his version of 1984 seem quite pleasant by comparison.
I’m sure you can think of many more examples of totally off-beam predictions and by all means write them into the comments and a special no-prize for anyone coming up with an author who has actually made a good prediction. Here’s a last one from more recent years from us – Back to the future – now, honestly, doesn’t that really take the prize! Brilliant entertaining trilogy and despite its flaws it does some great tricks with time paradoxes but, oh dear, a little bit out on thirty years forward to 2015 weren’t we? Back in 1985 the writers of Back to the Future give us a vision of 2015 and what a vision that is! Apparently, everyone has completely lost all fashion and dress sense whatsoever wandering around in the most insane outfits you could never imagine no matter how many magic mushrooms you’ve had. But thumbs up on the technology because we’ve got hover cars and hover boards that defy gravity. Get going guys! You’ve got three years to come up with a way of defying gravity! What is superb of course is how so much has changed and we have such amazing technology yet nobody has a mobile or a laptop, nobody is on Facebook and in fact nobody even mentions the Internet or even email. But they still have FAX !!! Oh please!
So; given the spectacular failure of every generation of science fiction writer to come up with anything even remotely like a decent forecast what is the best advice for budding science fiction writers? One thing is to make sure you set your future at least 100 years from now so at least when the future turns out to be something radically different you are no longer around to receive the criticism. Asimov did this trick with the foundation trilogy and leapt forward at great leaps so far that his books should all be dust by the time anyone realises how far off he was … if he was. Alternate realities are a good cop out too so your future is just one of a number of possibilities so if it doesn’t happen you can just as, “Aah, well, it could have done!”
In a way it is nice to know that after so many years of scientific progress there are still some great mysteries in the universe and the future appears to be one of them.