Cause in my head there’s a Greyhound station
Where I send my thoughts to far off destinations,
So they may have a chance of finding a place
Where they’re far more suited than here. – DCFC
Gods, I'm never going to get used to the fucked-up present, which used to be the future, and will, shortly, be the distant past. The weirdness, by turns, baffles, astounds, and makes me furious. Case in point: You may now preorder The Drowning Girl: A Memoir from Amazon.com, even though it won't be released until March 6, 2012, more than six months from now. I will not even pretend to try to understand this, but okay, whatever. Have at it. The goddamn CEM (copy-edited manuscript) hasn't even arrived yet. It was due on August 31st, but Irene waylaid it, to my relief. Anyway, hell, there are bits of this book that haven't even been written yet. But you can still order it. Oh! Hey. Let's have some fun. Follow the link and click the stupid little "Like" icon.
Yesterday, I wrote 1,250 words on an as yet-untitled Mars story (for Sirenia Digest 69). Most of my energy was spent trying to create a plausible voice. Not only the voice the story's being told in, but the voice of a woman who lives in a hardscrabble Martian society a couple of centuries from now. Maybe only a hundred years ahead, but still. It's a problem virtually no sf writer is willing to tackle, and that drives me nuts. The combination of multicultural and multilingual homogenization, normal drift in languages (cyclic long-term drift, unidirectional short-term, and also the creation of creole, possibly via catastrophic agents), accelerating technological advancement (even assuming the probability that this "ATA" will eventually plateau), and so forth – write good science fiction and take all this shit into account, and...well, you'd get a book or story as hard for an early 21st Century reader to understand as it is for them to understand, say, Beowulf in the original Old English (West Saxon and some Anglian). Sure, it's fun to play with nuts and bolts and gadgets, but if you want to convince me that I'm seeing a possible (but improbable) future, make an effort. It's no different than designing an alien ecosystem, but failing to take into account the innumerable variables that would shape the planet's atmosphere, geology, biosphere, etc. Actually, with both alien language and biology, and also with alien tech, the problem is so complex as to be unsolvable, as, we must extrapolate from a single data point: Earth. Give me a thousand data points, and we can begin to enter the realm of cautious certainty.
In short, sf is really fucking hard to write, unless you settle for hand waving, and pulling shit out of your ass, and not asking the hard questions.
And I admit that, very often, my sf has done all three. Look at "Bradbury Weather." I wanted zeppelins, of some sort, on Mars. This whole agonizing affair is recorded in my blog entries from sometime in 2003 or 2004, but I did the math, the aerodynamics, the physics, the chem, everything. And unless I wanted zeppelins that would crash, explode, or be the size of Manhattan, it just wasn't possible (this was based on a Martian atmo fairly close to the present condition). So, I said fuck it. Zeppelins on Mars will be cool. I want mind candy. And so I set the science aside and wrote a wonder tale.
There's nothing wrong with that. Not in the least. Some of the greatest writers ever to have written stories set on distant planets – Bradbury, for example, or Burroughs (E. R., not W. S.) – paid little heed to the problems of science, even as understood in their respective days. And the stories were none the poorer. And there are later writers who only went partway, like Ursula K. LeGuin and Frank Herbert, but again they have produced wonderful sf. Still more recent sf authors, even with short-term predictions – Gibson is a good example – almost always miss the mark, Gibson by his own admission**. The decision has to be made, a personal decision for each and every sf author – how hard do I want this to be on present-day readers?
But still, it drives me nuts. Especially the anthropological and linguistic angles. Some would say this is because I write so-called "soft sf." First off, this isn't really true, as my sf often employs biology and geology; a lack of focus on technology does not render sf soft (even if you buy into all that soft sciences vs. hard sciences malarkey, and I don't). Secondly, it ignores the effect that elements of so-called "hard sf" would have on elements of so-called "soft sf." Tech and language evolve hand in hand. You only have to look as far as the geegaws and lingo of our IT obsessed era to figure that out.
And, what's more, the future won't magically recall more of the past. No, not even with the internet or Google Books or any of that. In fact, given the transitory nature of much of the stuff you read on computers, people in the 23rd Century may have more trouble deciphering the common tongues and slang of people two centuries before them.
Oh, and hey...a hundred years from now, there will be no Twitter, no Facebook, no pdas or iPods or e-cigs or Kindles. There might not even be an internet that is recognizable as such. I know all this shit's shiny and makes you feel all Jetsons and shit, but the combined forces of capitalism, planned obsolescence, and actual technological "advancement" will insure that the shiny of today is the dull, rusty, and forgotten of just a decade or so. Eight-track cartridges, anyone?
Okay, now I must be a good honey badger, show the platypus my canines and the cobra stuck between my teeth, send the dodo for take out Mandarin/Abyssinian, and confab with the mothmen.
** Also, we should distinguish between that sf which seeks to be descriptive and that which seeks to be primarily predictive.