Although science fiction fans know better, the general populace likes to think of sf as being written with the express purpose of predicting the future. So we posed the following question to a bunch of people in the since fiction community:
Science fiction is often accused of being The Great Predictor. Which predictions did Golden Age science fiction get right? Which ones were way off the mark?
, Emeritus Professor of English at K.U., has published a dozen novels and half a dozen collections of stories, and has edited a dozen and a half books. His best-known novels are The Immortals
, The Dreamers
, The Listeners
, and The Joy Makers
. The Immortals
was filmed as The Immortal
and became a TV series. He published The Science of Science-Fiction Writing
in 2002 and edited Speculations on Speculation: Theories of Science Fiction in 2005
. He has been president of the Science Fiction Writers of America and the Science Fiction Research Association. His most recent publications are Gift from the Stars
and the reprint edition of The Listeners
, both available from BenBella Books. In 2007 he was named a Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master by SFWA.
Science fiction has included a lot of speculations that look like predictions, and some of them have come to pass, most spectacularly spaceships and atomic power and bombs, but prediction is a side effect of creating plausible scenarios about future change, not its intent. SF has been more important as a means of persuading readers to think about issues and the ways in which they might develop and how that might affect the human condition. As Isaac Asimov said in 1973, “We live in a science-fiction world, a world very much like the one we were writing about in 1939.” It is a world that might well have been significantly different if science-fiction writers had not imagined it in detail. More specifically, to quote Isaac again, “Science-fiction writers and readers didn’t put a man on the moon all by themselves, but they created a climate in which the goal of putting a man on the moon became acceptable.” The same process is at work on other potential changes, in which, as John Campbell put it, futures are tested for human habitability. Or, as he went on, science-fiction is a way of practicing in a no-practice area. Some changes, like a parachute jump, have to be perfect the first time.
Read the rest of this entry