Friday, March 03, 2006

 

Any New Futures?

(Via Locus Online) Another great essay from Michael Chabon, reprinted from the January 06 issue of Details. This one is all about the future.

Coincidentally, I've been thinking a great deal about the world of ten thousand years hence, too. Halfway through Chabon's essay I had my back up and was ready to rumble--something along the lines of "Hey, some of us are still thinking about the future, thank you very much!"--and then he said the following, and all was forgiven.
"...some days it feels as if the imagined future of the mid-twentieth century was a kind of checklist, one from which we have been too busy ticking off items to bother with extending it. Meanwhile, the dwindling number of items remaining on that list—interplanetary colonization, sentient computers, quasi-immortality of consciousness through brain-download or transplant, a global government (fascist or enlightened)—have been represented and re-represented so many hundreds of times in films, novels and on television that they have come to seem, paradoxically, already attained, already known, lived with, and left behind. Past, in other words."

This is something I've been wrestling with, all through the Space Opera project. I've been reading a huyge stack of space opera novels, published over the course of the last fifty years or so, and what I'm realizing is that "new" future are becoming pretty thin on the ground. Most of the innovative, forward-looking science fiction about the future new being published, it seems to me, at best introduces a handful of new tropes or spins to an already existing model of the future. And much of the most successful stuff (at least creatively successful) amounts principally to imaginative reworking of "old" futures.

I've come to accept that my humble efforts are not going to shake the genre heavens, and no new work exists in any kind of vacuum. Science fiction, perhaps more tham most genre forms, is built on precedence and interaction with existing texts. Charles Brown, in an editorial in Locus I believe, described science fiction as an ongoing dialogue, and it seems to be one in which the vocabulary has been gradually refined and codified over the course of a century. But that said, at key points in the last few decades, writers have occasionally been able to bring a whole new slew of concepts to the table. Have we reached the point, now, when all of the concepts, all of the vocabulary, has already been set, and every future vision from this point forwards is going to be built using an existing lexicon?

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