Looking Ahead

2002-07-14

While on vacation I read some older fiction (Willa Cather's O Pioneers!) and some more recent work by Ursula K. Le Guin. I like Le Guin's writings, although I find them a bit maddening (or, sin of sins, boring) at times. She also engages in some worthwhile reflections on science fiction or, as I like to call it, speculative fiction. Le Guin is right that SF does not merely extrapolate from current trends, but rather speculates about what the future might be like. Yet sometimes I wish that SF stories would extrapolate, in the sense of writing about near-future events rather than just far futures in which interstellar travel and communication are givens. How did humans get to the point where crossing the interstellar deeps was normal? What were the first steps in that direction -- L5 habitations, space arks, Mars colonization, what? How did such events relate to human history on Earth? Perhaps it's harder to write stories set in the near future precisely because it's necessary to speculate about the near future of Earth as well, and recent history has been so fast-paced and disruptive that it's difficult to know what aspects of human life will be like in even 50 years, let alone 100 or 200 or 500 years. I was thinking about this the other day while waiting outside Bonnie Brae Ice Cream -- this neighborhood and the stores in it didn't even exist 65 years ago, so it's hard for me to imagine what this area of Denver will be like in another 65 years. And that's just one little street corner. Multiply that by hundreds of countries, thousands of languages, millions of towns, and billions of people. Suddenly extrapolation looks awfully challenging.


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