[This week's question was submitted by an SF Signal reader. Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Recently Neal Stephenson wrote an article for the World Policy Journal titled “Innovation Starvation“. In the article he discussed the serious lack of innovation in science today. Later in the article, he discusses a presentation that he made at the Future Tense conference where he said that good science fiction supplied “a plausible, fully thought-out picture of an alternate reality in which some sort of compelling innovation has taken place.” One scientist that he talked to complained that SF writers are slacking off, saying that SF writers need “to start supplying big visions that make sense.” With Planetary Resources announcing their plan to mine the asteroids, it seems that reality may be encroaching on science fiction’s “big idea” territory.

We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: Are SF writers “slacking off” or is science fiction still the genre of “big ideas”? If so, what authors are supplying these ideas for the next generation of scientists and engineers?

Here’s what they said…

Alexis Glynn Latner
Alexis Glynn Latner‘s science fiction novel Hurricane Moon was published by Pyr in 2007. Twenty-three of her novelettes and short stories have been or will be published in science fiction magazines, especially Analog, and horror and mystery anthologies. She also does editing, teaches and coaches creative writing, and works in the Rice University Library.

Possibly neither. The arc of big, epochal, scientific ideas may have run its course in science fiction – having flowed on into nonfiction and reality. In addition to asteroid mining, think about Google as an example. Bruce Sterling remarked at a convention that despite a unitary artificial superintelligence being a big idea in SF, there hasn’t been one invented, but there’s such an amazing, unanticipated thing as the distributed intelligence of Google searching and all.

I don’t think SF writers are slacking – although many on the advice of editors and agents have been writing fantasy because it sells better. Some are creating alloys of SF and fantasy. In the century we’re in now, for a big idea to catch fire with the upcoming scientists and engineers it may have to be not just an an overweening head trip, but a profound heart trip as well.
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