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View Full Version : Science fictions only follow imaginations about current technologies?



Inclusa
2013-Oct-03, 03:55 AM
I remembered very well in Legend of Galactic Heroes, in spite of interstellar travels and interstellar states, they do not have genetic engineering, body regeneration (just very advanced prosthesis).
Of course, 2001: A Space Odyssey has vastly overrated our technological progresses, though, and the writer could't predict the disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991.
Manned missions to the Moon suddenly ceased during the 1970s, and we haven't made progresses in several areas.

Noclevername
2013-Oct-03, 08:19 AM
Only current technologies? No, I've seen SF about technologies that never existed or can't exist, or SF that was not about technology at all (A Canticle For Leibowitz comes to mind, or The Handmaid's Tale).

Paul Beardsley
2013-Oct-03, 12:28 PM
What Noclevername said times 100.
There is SF which assumes the technology used in the future is essentially present technology but faster, more compact, easier to control or whatever.
There is SF which assumes engineering applications will be found for cutting-edge theoretical science, e.g. the manipulation of wormholes.
There is SF which adheres to all known science with one exception, e.g. it allows FTL or time travel.
There is SF which assumes that new scientific laws will be discovered in the future, including ones that get around the constraints of existing laws such as the ability to travel faster than light.
There is SF which is basically magic treated as technology.

Also, it wasn't that Clarke couldn't predict the break-up of the Soviet Union; he simply didn't. Does this make him a bad SF writer? Of course not. SF writers are not in the business of predicting the future, they are in the business of writing entertaining, thought-provoking stories that are (often) set in a future that is credible at the time of writing. Some of these futures remain credible even after they have been shown to be wrong.

Swift
2013-Oct-03, 12:57 PM
Only current technologies? No, I've seen SF about technologies that never existed or can't exist, or SF that was not about technology at all (A Canticle For Leibowitz comes to mind, or The Handmaid's Tale).
Exactly what Noclevername and Paul Beardsley said.

As an aside, A Canticle For Leibowitz is an amazing book.

To add to Paul's list, there is all the alternative history SF, some of which just uses the same technology as we had (though sometimes developed more quickly or more slowly), some of which uses "alternative" technology, like Steampunk.

Noclevername
2013-Oct-03, 03:14 PM
Science Fiction is first and foremost fiction, meaning it's about stories and characters, and how they respond to their circumstances. Whether those circumstances are new technologies, new societies, alien contact, different physical laws, or alternate timelines. Sometimes the characters don't even make a direct appearance, as in the short story "Daisy, In The Sun".

Krel
2013-Oct-03, 06:02 PM
Of course, 2001: A Space Odyssey has vastly overrated our technological progresses, though, and the writer could't predict the disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991.
Manned missions to the Moon suddenly ceased during the 1970s, and we haven't made progresses in several areas.

The funny thing is that Stanley Kubrick was afraid that he was being too conservative. At the speed the space programs were progressing, he was afraid that we would be much farther ahead in space by 2001. No one predicted that the U.S. space program would come to a screeching halt after Neil Armstrong set boot on the Moon. The race was over, and Uncle Sam was more than willing to drastically scale back the U.S. space program.

David.

NEOWatcher
2013-Oct-03, 06:26 PM
What everyone else says;
A writer will concentrate on what's important to the story.
If it's not important to the plot, technology will only be portrayed accurately enough to support the atmosphere.

As far as 2001 and the USSR. (I don't think in this case, but) some Sci-fi writers intentionally leave the status-quo so they don't confuse the readers. This leaves the reader to concentrate more on the main story.

Chuck
2013-Oct-03, 09:01 PM
Celestial Matters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celestial_Matters) seems like hard science fiction. Just not our science.

SkepticJ
2013-Oct-03, 10:11 PM
Predicting which nations will thrive, and which will fail, is even more of a crapshoot than predicting future technology. At least with technology, there's physics that can be pointed to. Large collections of people with a gallimaufry of ideologies (nations) in competition with one another across time in a constantly changing environment . . . unpredictable. Can you look at a biological species and predict what its evolutionary descendants will look like, or if the lineage will go extinct? Nope.

swampyankee
2013-Oct-03, 11:35 PM
One issue is that people tend to extrapolate linearly, but technology progresses exponentially, so they'll frequently overestimate short term technological gains and underestimate those in the long term. It's also impossible to extrapolate unexpected technologies: who would expect transistors in 1937?

Inclusa
2013-Oct-04, 03:14 AM
One issue is that people tend to extrapolate linearly, but technology progresses exponentially, so they'll frequently overestimate short term technological gains and underestimate those in the long term. It's also impossible to extrapolate unexpected technologies: who would expect transistors in 1937?

2001: a Space Odyssey also doesn't feature smart phones, the Internet as we know it, etc.

Noclevername
2013-Oct-04, 03:24 AM
2001: a Space Odyssey also doesn't feature smart phones, the Internet as we know it, etc.

But other SF has predicted developments like portable "radiotelephones" and work desks linking to a computer network. I can't recall the exact story(ies?)of the latter but it was in at least one of Heinlein's juveniles, I think maybe.

SkepticJ
2013-Oct-04, 06:32 AM
2001: a Space Odyssey also doesn't feature smart phones, the Internet as we know it, etc.

It doesn't feature them, but in both the novel and movie, we're only given a highly limited vision of the future. IIRC, the novel starts with Heywood on the Shuttle about to leave Florida for the space station, and in the film, the future (now our past) starts in space.

It's conceivable that they do exist, we just don't see them.

Dave Bowman and Frank Poole do have what could be interpreted as tablet computers: those flat TV screen things that they carry around and watch the BBC news on.

SkepticJ
2013-Oct-04, 06:42 AM
Stanislaw Lem wrote about microscopic robots that could reproduce themselves and evolve. That sounds familiar . . .

Paul Beardsley
2013-Oct-04, 08:57 AM
2001: a Space Odyssey also doesn't feature smart phones, the Internet as we know it, etc.

Are you reading the other replies in this thread?

swampyankee
2013-Oct-04, 11:47 AM
A fair number of sf authors have written futures where there has obviously been genetic engineering (Ursula K LeGuin, Fred Pohl, Cordwainer Smith, James Blish, and Aldous Huxley, among others), and there are large-scale computer networks (John Brunner, Isaac Asimov, E M Forster). One could argue that cell phones were foreshadowed by the Dick Tracy wrist radio.

I think the important thing with sf is not how the technology got there (although there have been some good, or at least ok, stories about technological developments) but how it effects people.

Swift
2013-Oct-04, 02:15 PM
I think the important thing with sf is not how the technology got there (although there have been some good, or at least ok, stories about technological developments) but how it effects people.
Yes.

Larry Niven is one example, discussing the social effects of "displacement booths" (transport booths), with only passing hand-waving about the science of them.

Noclevername
2013-Oct-04, 03:09 PM
Heinlein's The Door In The Sky is basically Lord Of The Flies with a happier ending. The wormhole tech is just an excuse to put the characters into a wilderness environment; he could just as easily have used a shipwreck on an island or a plane crash in the jungle to achieve the same plot elements.

JohnD
2013-Oct-04, 06:58 PM
inclusa,
I think you have a distorted view (vision?) of what SF is and does.
What it is not, is a time travelling TV that shows you what WILL happen.

There are so many inventions/discoveries that no SF author never imagined, eg: Graphene

But simultaneously they DID predict things that happened, some times getting it right, but wrong, eg In "The World Set Free" (1914) HG Wells imagined the "atomic bomb". His version was little more powerful than a conventional bomb, but it went on exploding! He even built a half life into the device! This is extraordinary, given that radioactivity was forst described in 1898.
OR, Rudyard Kipling in "With the Night Mail", that imagined transatlantic flight, both passenger and freight, but not by aerodymanics, but a combination of balloon technology and something called "Fleury's Ray" that acted like the compressor in a refridgerator, or else a Maxwell's Demon, and recycled a turbine propelling gas.

But such right-but-wrong stories are only to be expected. A right-and-right one would be too much to expect.
JOhn

Van Rijn
2013-Oct-04, 07:13 PM
2001: a Space Odyssey also doesn't feature smart phones, the Internet as we know it, etc.

But it has tablet computers, or something very close to them. Samsung has even referenced this in a patent battle with Apple on the Ipad:

http://sawyerlex.tumblr.com/post/9336537798/did-the-idea-for-the-ipad-come-from-2001-a-space

It was wireless, it was a tablet, and could show TV news shows, or (from the book) could be used to read news text, with selection features.

Incidentally, Mote in God's Eye (1974) has a device that is more explicitly a tablet computer.

SkepticJ
2013-Oct-04, 08:42 PM
One could argue that cell phones were foreshadowed by the Dick Tracy wrist radio.

From the late 1960s, Johnny Quest has portable video-phones.

Noclevername
2013-Oct-05, 04:23 AM
I remembered very well in Legend of Galactic Heroes, in spite of interstellar travels and interstellar states, they do not have genetic engineering, body regeneration (just very advanced prosthesis).


Sometimes it's a matter of conservation of focus; The writer want to keep the readers' attention on specific plot elements and interactions instead of getting sidetracked by things that have nothing to do with the story. You can have every bit of technology mentioned in one story, but it would be at the expense of character focus.

A sweeping Space Opera like LOTGH does not require any mention of genetic engineering because it does not impact the plot. It would be a distraction. That doesn't mean GE doesn't exist in that universe, only that they don't use it on humans for relatability purposes. Star Trek is the same way, gene mods of humans are strictly forbidden; in-story it's because of Khan and the history of the Eugenic Wars, but the real backstage reason was because Roddenberry et al wanted recognizably human characters that the audience could identify with. Even most aliens are treated as no more than an exotic ethnicity for plot purposes.

Inclusa
2013-Oct-06, 02:11 AM
Sometimes it's a matter of conservation of focus; The writer want to keep the readers' attention on specific plot elements and interactions instead of getting sidetracked by things that have nothing to do with the story. You can have every bit of technology mentioned in one story, but it would be at the expense of character focus.

A sweeping Space Opera like LOTGH does not require any mention of genetic engineering because it does not impact the plot. It would be a distraction. That doesn't mean GE doesn't exist in that universe, only that they don't use it on humans for relatability purposes. Star Trek is the same way, gene mods of humans are strictly forbidden; in-story it's because of Khan and the history of the Eugenic Wars, but the real backstage reason was because Roddenberry et al wanted recognizably human characters that the audience could identify with. Even most aliens are treated as no more than an exotic ethnicity for plot purposes.

Genetic engineering does impact a major part of the story in LOTGH, though; it was mentioned repetitively even with all the blunt efforts to eliminate the "bad genes", the royal family and the nobility still bear a few people with genetic diseases. Of course, good genes do not always result in superior leaders, since there are so many factors for superior leadership qualities.

Noclevername
2013-Oct-06, 06:12 AM
Genetic engineering does impact a major part of the story in LOTGH, though; it was mentioned repetitively even with all the blunt efforts to eliminate the "bad genes", the royal family and the nobility still bear a few people with genetic diseases. Of course, good genes do not always result in superior leaders, since there are so many factors for superior leadership qualities.

ST notably has genetic engineering tech far beyond ours and yet Geordi was born blind due to a mutation. So just because the tech exists, doesn't mean it'll see human use. There may be some in-story reason or stigma to avoid using it on the royals.

The out of story reason was that there would be no motivation to overcome the royals' genetic predicament if GE was in widespread use. (Possibly a reference to real life royal inbreeding?)

Noclevername
2013-Oct-06, 06:32 AM
Also, when LOTGH was written in 1988, it was far less clear how GE would develop and the human genome was still unmapped; there was every possibility that some hereditary diseases might prove incurable or intractable.

Inclusa
2013-Oct-07, 03:54 AM
Also, when LOTGH was written in 1988, it was far less clear how GE would develop and the human genome was still unmapped; there was every possibility that some hereditary diseases might prove incurable or intractable.

This is exactly why I think the current development of technologies affect the imagination of writers. If we compare the power of ancient mythologies and modern fantastic works, no ancients would have thought of planet-busting technologies (in fact, they aren't knowledgeable about planets yet.)

Noclevername
2013-Oct-07, 09:23 AM
This is exactly why I think the current development of technologies affect the imagination of writers. If we compare the power of ancient mythologies and modern fantastic works, no ancients would have thought of planet-busting technologies (in fact, they aren't knowledgeable about planets yet.)

The ancients did have stories of the world getting smashed, within the limits of their physical knowledge.

And there were SF stories pre-dating LOTGH where genetic engineering did play a major role.

Yes, current development affects writers, but your OP premise and title said that SF only follows current tech, which is a very different statement.

Krel
2013-Oct-08, 01:03 AM
"Metropolis", 1927 had video phones. "High Treason", 1929 had video phones on aircraft. "Just Imagine", 1930 had video phones. "Transatlantic Tunnel", 1935 had video phones. "The Shape of Things to Come", 1936 had wrist phones and video phones. Video phones and wrist radios are an old concept.

I read an interview with Chester Goulld, where he said that his original concept for the two-way wrist radio, was for it to be a two-way wrist tv. The problem was that the publication syndicate refused to let him do it, and made him make it a two-way wrist radio, and they were unhappy with that. The syndicate didn't like the sf gadgets, so he only put more in the strip to tweak their nose.

David.

Noclevername
2013-Oct-08, 06:06 PM
The first conception of a space station rotated for centrifugal artificial gravity was in 1929. It was solar powered, using reflectors and a mercury boiler.
http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/spacestations.php#id--Designs--The_Problem_With_Space_Travel
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_station#Early_concepts