Karl Schroeder: Science fiction versus structured study of the future, sf as aspiration

Karl Schroeder, a fantastic science fiction author (see this review for a taste of his work) has spent the past two years in a Master's programme in Foresight at the Ontario College of Art and Design. In this guest essay on Charlie Stross's blog, he describes the way that structured study of the future interacts with science fiction. Karl is always the furthest-out guy I know — he was the person I first heard the word "fractal" and "SGML" from, long before they'd entered the popular consciousness.

If you're afraid of being a poor predictor of the near future, you'll avoid writing about it. But what if you were never out to predict in the first place? What if you don't care if a story you set in 2012 gets immediately overtaken by events? What if you set the action there not to predict some event or outcome, but to encourage some action on the part of your readers?

In other words I have a new ambition for my own SF: not as prediction, and not cautionary, either–but aspirational.

The fact is that if I've learned one thing in two years of studying how we think about the future, it's that the one thing that's sorely lacking in the public imagination is positive ideas about where we should be going. We seem to do everything about our future except try to design it. It's a funny thing: nobody ever questions your credentials if you predict doom and destruction. But provide a rosy picture of the future, and people demand that you justify yourself. Increasingly, though, I believe that while warning people of dire possibilities is responsible, providing them with something to aspire to is even more important. The foresight programme has given me a lot of tools to do that in a justifiable way, so I might as well use them.

Beyond Prediction