The Purpose of Speculative Fiction

April 28th, 2008  |  Published in Fiction, Misc, Rant, SciFi, Society, writing

I honestly started this with the intention of writing about Google Analyzer, but by the time I got to the end, I realized that I was talking about something else altogether. So I apologize for any meandering or lack of structure, but at the same time hope that you enjoy it.

It seems like I’ve been spending a lot of time recently talking about information overload, if not here, then in comments and other miscellaneous places. My take on it is that the human brain is an excellent filtering device – every instant that we are conscious, we filter out a good deal of sensory information. This isn’t a bad thing, as the alternative would be paralysis due to a tidal wave of trivia, and after all, it happens on a subconscious level, so we are never even aware of it.

Why does this matter? Because, much of technology today is all about bringing us more information, not necessarily better information. Take the internet, if you break it down, it’s probably something like 75% porn, 24.9% other irrelevant crap, and .1% useful information. That we can get anything useful out of it is in itself a wonder. We are in a process, however, of increasing the amount of raw data that we have access to, mainly through things like cheap cameras and automatic recording systems (every time you purchase something with a credit card, it creates a massive paper trail, or rather, data trail, it is only a matter of time before we do that for everything). This isn’t necessarily bad, but it does stem from the way we approach technology.

Currently, if you want to solve a computational problem, you simply throw processing power at it until you solve it. Very little resources are spent trying to improve the process, only trying to ensure that Moore’s Law will continue to hold true. So how do you improve the process? I’m not precisely sure. Improving processes is something that happens in non-intuitively connected leaps, and as such is something that is difficult to focus on. What I can say, though, is that the one area that will always pan out is basic research. By this I mean research that isn’t meant to solve a specific problem, that isn’t there to create a product, stuff that simply says, “we need to know more about . . .” and goes from there. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the more basic the question, the more we will have to be creative to answer it (read the analogy of the cave a couple of times and you’ll understand). The second is that Descartes was right, from every premise comes other premises. Every time you learn something new, when you connect it to the rest of your world-view, you can learn even more.

Unfortunately, it seems that basic research is not exactly a priority. Who would have said, a hundred years ago, that man would make it to the moon only to lose interest? Why don’t we have more large colliders? The list of questions is endless. Unfortunately, it seems that our curiosity as a species has been smothered by bureaucracy and self-interest (which is another discussion altogether, I’m afraid). I am hopeful, though, that our curiosity can and will be rekindled (as the alternative is extinction). The reason that I say this is that so long as people ask “what if?”, so long as people continue to read (or otherwise experience) speculative fiction, there will always be hope.

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The Blurring Line Between Science Fiction and Fantasy

April 23rd, 2008  |  Published in Fantasy, Fiction, Publishing, Science Fiction, SciFi, writing

In response to one of my posts yesterday, crochetyoldfan noted that it looked like I was espousing the view that the line between Science Fiction and Fantasy is being blurred (the rest of his blog is interesting as well). Although I hadn’t been thinking about that topic while I was writing, it is one that I have meant to write about for some time now, so now is as good a time as any.

First of all, I am not saying that Science Fiction and Fantasy are merging, unless you consider bringing them both under the banner of Speculative Fiction achieves that (which I don’t). What I am saying is that they share more similarities than differences. There are several reasons for this.

The first is that there is considerable overlap in goals. As I mentioned yesterday, one of the primary goals (in my opinion) for Science Fiction is to take current situations and remove the social baggage that is attached to them so that we can look at them from a fresh perspective. This definitely carries over to fantasy. There is room for debate as to which situations are best dealt with by which genres, but I would be surprised to see many fans of either genre say that either one is incapable of doing this.

The second reason is that both genres inherently contain elements of the others. For example, take Faster Than Light, right now it is as much fantasy as it is science fiction. On the other hand, what makes magic systems work for readers has a lot to do with how consistently they are presented, similar to the way an SF author will extrapolate science and technology to present a compelling vision of the future.

My final reason is that technology today has reached a level of incomprehensibility that effectively renders it magic to the majority of the population. This is not to make the elitist argument that people are stupid or ignorant, but merely that you have to have a compelling interest in technology to actually go to the trouble of understanding it (and a lot of this probably has to do with our education system, but thats another discussion). Most people could not tell you what a horsepower is or what clock speed means, much less explain something like cryptography, although these things all figure prominently into our daily lives. As a result, the perspective of a person reading about magic and looking at technology will become increasingly similar.

So is this blurring of boundaries good or bad? One could make the argument that it is simply the result of the growth of the genres and as such can’t be classified as either good or bad, but I would disagree. I believe that both of the genres are important, both as forms of entertainment as well as art that is meant to make the world(s) a better place. Very little bothers me more than when I see Science Fiction fans/authors bashing Fantasy or the reverse, usually with claims of things like escapism, as though one genre can gain some legitimacy by bashing the other. Both of them are valid, and every second spent criticizing any genre or art form is a moment that could be much better spent promoting whatever it is that you enjoy. The world is a messed up place, and if we are to have any expectation of progress, it can only come about if we abandon our prejudices, whether they be about race, sex, religion, or art.

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