William Gibson explains why science fiction writers don't predict the future

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37 Responses to “William Gibson explains why science fiction writers don't predict the future”

  1. Alan Olsen says:

    “Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense.”

  2. Brainspore says:

    A sci-fi writer trying to predict the future is like a travel writer trying to author a guide to an exotic, as-yet-undiscovered new locale. Anything the writer might come up with will tell far more about the writer’s times, hopes, dreams and experiences than anything else.

  3. Gyrofrog says:

    He looks a bit like Dr. Eldon Tyrell in this photo (ignoring, for the duration of this observation, whether Tyrell would have kept printed books around).

  4. Halloween_Jack says:

    I’ve heard this criticism of SF before–that it doesn’t predict the future–and it’s sad and bogus. People that can predict the future don’t write SF for a pittance, they become Warren Buffet. 

  5. JohnQPublic says:

    methinks the nerd protests too much.  Therefore, that can only mean that he IS a witch!

  6. Es See says:

    So by this guys claim technically all theorists who push science forward are just “charlatans” or deluded, but just enough to get something right once in awhile… Wow took a genius to tell us that???? The world certainly must be getting less smart if we have gone through this ground-breaking find multiple times… Ohhhhhhhh its just a DIFFERENT persons opinion about this. Yeah they all think the same thing, they are all SF writers!!!!

  7. nixiebunny says:

    My favorite science fiction writer is Gordon Moore, the creator of Moore’s Law. He inspired two generations of engineers to advance the state of the art of semiconductor fabrication at such a breakneck pace that we have exceeded most of the electronics technology futures written about by the science fiction writers of the last 75 years.

  8. BarBarSeven says:

    The way I have always understood the concept of sic-fi was it transposed ideas & issues of the present into a hypothetical future. Nothing more & nothing less. Once you understand that concept, good sci-fi becomes even better to understand & it’s clear why bad sci-fi is bad.

    • Lemoutan says:

      … sic-fi was it transposed …

      I see what you did there.

      Must it be a hypothetical future though? Or are stories of long, long ago in galaxies far, far away either bad sci-fi or non-sci-fi?

      • BarBarSeven says:

        I love Star Wars but it is clearly more fantasy than science fiction. Swords, wizards & magic… At least now it is thanks to the prequels hammering that point home.

        • Lemoutan says:

          Correct. ;)

          But – as long, long ago from far, far away, could still end up being experienced in our future …

          Albeit as nothing we could do anything about, except possibly in some sci-fi scenario involving temporal shenannigans.

          • BarBarSeven says:

            Whether a story is “far, far away” or “in the near future” the crux of that conceit is the same as “Once upon a time…” which is to disconnect your mind from the politics & the world world of now and “let go” to experience a “different” world.

            Which is all to say, you know what the best way to convey a story?  In a fiction where the personalization & politics are removed just enough to allow you to shut up people who say “Hey, that’s not a fact…”  A historical fiction will always compel more and convey a greater truth to a larger audience than a deeply researched but tedious non-fiction.

          • Lemoutan says:

            which is to disconnect your mind from the politics & the world world of now …

            Mmm. Like I said, ‘as nothing we could do anything about’.

  9. Jasonbe says:

    Yes, they don’t predict ‘the future’, they catalyze it.  :]

  10. chris jimson says:

    Fortune tellers and sci-fi writers are similar in that they are basically making educated guesses, in the case of fortune tellers it is to defraud, in the case of sci-fi writers it is to entertain and provoke thought.  PLUS with the writers, even when they get it wrong they have provided a valuable service (assuming they can actually write well.)

  11.  The best way to fail about predicting the future is get specific. Gibson failed by talking about specific quantities of RAM. Niven failed in Ringworld by mentioning broken CRT monitors. WTF? They had boosterspice, hyperdrive, doctor boxes, and Slaver tech. Why the hell were there CRT’s?

    A Logic Named Joe failed the same way even as it was otherwise so awesome. A scientist asked the Tanks how to make a cold emission vacuum tube. An interesting task, but the logics of the story could be carried by a single man, they would not had tubes as their primary circuitry.

    Good sci-fi focuses on potential capacities, not on potential technologies.

  12. Daemonworks says:

    Or, conversely, they predict a great many futures, and every so often get something right, or close enough to right as to make people go “oh wow, remember that story…”

  13. NickPheas says:

    It is one of those odd criticisms that come up. There’s this regular thing that comes up in interviews were a literary author has written something mildly futuristic “but what if that doesn’t happen” which generally just leaves the author and the listener baffled.
    Fiction, science or not, is about exploring ideas. Science fiction is (often) about an idea of the future, and therefore is as much about to the time in which it is written.

  14. Don B. Cilly says:

    Oh, he did. In more incredible ways than anyone I ever read.

    Unless you really go for meaningless details, he, well, not quite predicted as much as imagined, incredibly plausible and fascinating future scenarios. And the human condition and emotions that would go with them. Dostoevsky would have cried.

    It’s not the little details, it’s the picture, the Matrix Voodoo, the Flatline asking to be erased, the simstim stars, the corporate extraction scenarios, the derms, the decks, the street… I could really go on,  there is just _so_ much in the early Gibson books. Just Molly, as a character. Lady 3Jane. The extinct horses. The blue Zeiss Ikon eyes.

    Like Neal Stephenson wasn’t predicting a down-to-the-quarter-tone future, was he.
    But he certainly let us have a good laugh at it, just at WG let me have a good cry.

  15. Casey Conway says:

    Science fiction and other in-the-near-future type novels tell us more about life within the culture and society at the time they were written than they do a glimpse into the future.

  16. Thomas Shaddack says:

    Scifi writers don’t predict the future, they make it. They write up the possibilities. The ones who like scifi are often the ones who like tech and who couple years afterwards end up as inventors or scientists, still remembering the possibilities/gadgets/technologies described in the books they read earlier. The best prophets are these that make self-fulfilling prophecies.

  17. Fredrik Holmberg says:

    To change my perspective on our life here and now I read Sci Fi. For predictions i listen to the weather report.

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