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The result: the majority of science fiction novels written in the last 50 years has become outdated by now.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?