Recently I found out about a new venture between Tor-Forge Books, famous publisher of science fiction and fantasy, with NASA, the guys who do real space stuff. Together, they plan to co-write a new line of more scientifically accurate science fiction. Here's an article.
So it got me thinking--how do speculative fiction writers approach and understand technology? How should they?
Technology is a BIG topic and very important to me as a reader and writer and human being (and you too!...as I'll explain). So, for the next couple of blogs, I'd like to focus on the topic of technology in fiction and what it means for the genre(s) and the reader.
So grab your thinking caps or cortical stimulators (either will suffice), cuz it's time for the Electric Didact!
I have to admit, when I first heard of publisher Tor-Forge's planned partnership with NASA to produce so-called "NASA-inspired" works of sci-fi, I was disappointed. I thought: Where's the imagination in that? They're gonna gut sci-fi of its most essential element, the imaginary!
Why Technology at All?
Now, let me offer a disclaimer. I think technology is great. As a kid, I loved looking through Popular Science and Popular Mechanic looking for the articles about the newest developments in technology and science and what the future held.
As alleged "grownups," my wife and I own three laptop computers, a cell phone, a digital piano, a coffee maker, a microwave...the list goes on and on. We're dependent upon technology in all its forms, both mechanical and electric/electronic. Heather reads books on her computer. I stand against e-readers, and prefer paper books in my hands. But that's technology too--what do you think they use to bind and print all those books!
In other words, technology is one of those elements that make us human. What better topic for speculative fiction? Remember, the best fiction is not about aliens or computers, but about the human condition--which, it seems, has always been enshrouded by the proclivity toward and use of technology in all its forms.
It's broad, folks.
While some are calling foul on NASA for propagandizing science fiction, this sort of venture is actually what a lot of people like.
I may have been premature.
Admittedly, it's no secret that, as Alexandra Alter points out in her article (provocatively) entitled "NASA Tries to Rewrite the Book on Science Fiction," both parties stand to gain. That is, Tor-Forge authors get access to research and experts, and NASA gets a channel for outreach and awareness (usually known as advertisement, but come on--it's NASA!).
...the best fiction is not about aliens or computers, but about the human condition--
Back to NASA...
While some are calling foul on NASA for propagandizing science fiction, this sort of venture is actually what a lot of people like. Within science fiction, there are a plethora of subgenres (read more about that in my blog defining speculative fiction), one of which is commonly referred to as "hard" science fiction, meaning that the story's technology and scientific premises come as close to real-world accuracy as the author can make them. For this reason, a lot of it doesn't occur in far-future settings.
Take the premise of the first "NASA-inspired" novel, Pillar to the Sky by William Forstchen: "The plot of Mr. Forstchen's novel hinges on a multibillion-dollar effort to build a 23,000-mile-high space elevator--a quest threatened by budget cuts and stingy congressmen" (ibid., WSJ.com, Feb 10, 2014).
No aliens. Certainly no hyperdrive. But it's still speculative fiction (and it's probably pretty good, at that).
I mean, when you google "nasa science fiction," one of the first results is their web page "Science Fiction or Science Fact?" (which is interesting, by the way). Still...does it really matter?
To some, it clearly does. To others, it doesn't so much. But ask any writer and you'll discover that plausibility is important--even to non-speculative fiction.
Do you like to read or write "hard" sci-fi or "soft"? What do those terms mean to you? Start the discussion in the comments below. Over the next few blogs, I'll talk about three different levels of technological "hardness" with which authors of spec fic tend to write.
Until then, tell me what you think about this issue.
Jedd Cole is a professional writer and author of short speculative fiction. He resides in Ohio where he is completing a degree in Rhetoric & Professional Writing, crafting short stories in every time-nook he can find, all while frequenting the pages of imaginary worlds with his wonderful wife, Heather, and no pets. None.