Change is inevitable

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

I found the wise quote above on the internet, of course. Whether or not Heraclitus said these exact words, his idea is still irrefutable over 2,000 years after his death: everything changes.

Lately, technology has been one of the areas most drastically affected by change. Technological innovations have been profound since the beginning of the 20th century, but in the last 20 years, the leap towards internet and cell phones proved the most staggering of all the prior technological advances. One of the fields most impacted by those revolutionary changes is science fiction literature.

We could read Tolkien today and don’t feel that it is dated. Classic fantasy doesn’t get dated easily, because magic, its main component, is not real. Its impossibility doesn’t alter from century to century. A magic ring 60 years ago is still a magic ring today.

On the other hand, science fiction is all about scientific devices. Science fiction writers, the poor fellows, tend to explain their ‘futuristic’ gears. Unfortunately for them, what was imaginary 20 years ago – in most cases – isn’t imaginary anymore, technology-wise. In the last couple decades, the computers and the internet have outstripped the most daring science fiction writers’ explorations. And the velocity of the progress is increasing exponentially.

The result: the majority of science fiction novels written in the last 50 years has become outdated by now. The most awe-inspiring tricks of computers and AIs in the late 20th century science fiction (the 1970s and the 1980s and even the 1990s) became a reality of life for preschoolers in 2019.

Ditto for urban fantasy. Case in point: Tanya Huff’s wonderful vampire novel Blood Price, published in 1991. It was once one of my favorite books. It has fascinating characters and a fast-moving plot. Sadly, the plot wouldn’t have worked the way it did, if the characters owned cell phones. Cell phones hadn’t been invented then, so the author couldn’t insert them into her narrative. Hence, her story worked, but today, the first question any youngster would ask, if he tried to read that novel: why didn’t they use cell phones? Not many below the age of 30 can imagine their lives without a cell phone.

What it all comes down to is that as soon as a writer focuses her story on technology, she faces the risk of being outrun by the everyday progress in the next 10 years. What are science fiction writers to do? How could they stay fresh 10 or even 20 years after publication? Is it possible? Or should they resign to becoming obsolete a decade after they publish?

My own solution: in my sci-fi stories, I never make technology central to my plot. I use it peripherally, like a wallpaper in the background. My characters drive the plot, while the genre just flavors the story and provides colorful details. And still I’m not sure if any of my sci-fi stories would work 10 years later.

What do you think about this phenomenon?


This entry was posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Change is inevitable

  1. Good point. Technology is catching up so fast. Remember the tablets they held on Star Trek? IPads now. I don’t focus on technology either. That and I set my science fiction stories in a galaxy far, far away…

  2. It is really hard to keep up with technology in our stories today. Especially with urban fantasy – the mix of medieval and modern. You know, I am a Star Wars fan, but find it funny that nobody has a communicator device of some sort attached to their body in some way. Ten years after publication? Huh, seem ten months is the life of any new technology. Its impossible not to use devices in our stories, but it really does date a story.

    I agree, it is a difficult segment to integrate into our writing.

  3. My contemporary NA/YA series was set in the early 90’s. They had cell phones and social media, but I kept those elements to a minimum and focused on real life events instead. Because it is so easy for work to become dated due to technology.

  4. emaginette says:

    I think that all the stories written and considered outdated are from another time-dimension and are still as awesome as ever. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  5. patgarcia says:

    I am not science fiction writer, but I do use technology in my manuscripts. I try to stay on the periphery where I feel safe about what I am writing if I bring something technical into the script. To avoid technology in any genre regardless of what you’re writing is not wise, in my opinion.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  6. Loni Townsend says:

    Yeah, I can’t help but think about Back to the Future and wanting a flying car (4 years ago). I think that’s what draws me to fantasy over science-fiction. My impossibilities usually stay impossible. 🙂

  7. cleemckenzie says:

    It’s annoying as all get-out! Even when the book isn’t sci-fi things can become outdated before you’re finished. One of my earliest stories had a phone booth that was critical to the plot, and if I wanted to keep that story set in modern time, I had to completely revamp the plot. I actually went out in search of a phone book in a couple of nearby cities. NONE! Next, I had a flip phone. Guess what?

  8. Natalie Aguirre says:

    Sounds like you have a good solution to technology becoming outdated in your stories. And you’re right that it’s not such an issue in fantasy.

  9. Denise Covey says:

    Wise words, Olga. A lot of science fiction is now science fact. But that just shows how visionary those early writers were! That’s why I”m sticking to romance – whether paranormal or contemporary. Not that romance never changes. Now you have to include all the modern gadgets too, otherwise a contemporary romance wouldn’t be contemporary – texting, Google, Instagram etc. You’ll find them all in my Paris romance.

  10. I’m working on an AI meets high tech novel but it’ll take a few years to get out. By then, it’ll be out of date. You’re making me think I should replan that book.

  11. Yvonne V says:

    That’s an interesting point! It does make writing sci fi tricky.

  12. ChrysFey says:

    Whenever I have to write about my characters using a cellphone, I always pause and think about how, years from now, cellphones will likely be much different than they are now.

    “A magic ring 60 years ago is still a magic ring today.” I love that!

  13. Hmm, is the time before cell phones now considered historical fiction? Is my childhood considered historical fiction now? Ack! 🙂

  14. yvettecarol says:

    That’s the reason I prefer writing fantasy because I don’t have to worry about the technology side too much. However, I do have to refer to a few gadgets in my WIP and even as I’m writing them, I can feel them getting outdated!

  15. It’s an issue in horror, too. How many situations could be resolved with a cell phone? Pretty much all of them. So you have to figure out how to properly isolate the characters.

  16. rolandclarke says:

    Interesting observation, Olga. Technology dating SF might equate to forensics dating crime fiction – except one is speculative and the other rooted in reality. Should we all use time/date stamps/markers? A challenge for you SF writer indeed. Makes me lean my SF scribbling to parallel timelines – or as Alex says, ‘a galaxy far, far away…’

  17. Diane Burton says:

    You make such good points. When I write sci-fi, I keep the technology vague. It’s there in the background. Watching shows from the 90s, showing hulky big cell phones, is a hoot. Even writing about “current” events dates a book. Change is inevitable. We have to just go with the flow. Love the quote.

  18. I think you are handling it well. I usually am not as interested in technical details as I am in the characters. But if all the technology comes to pass in a book then move it from Sci-Fi to Historical Fiction. 😉

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