Fiction, Science and the Divided Future

Like many genres, science fiction is such a broad category as to be functionally useless. There’s at least three different subsets of what people generally consider “sci-fi” and many book dealers and libraries foolishly lump “fantasy” (another laughably meaningless label) into the category as well, creating a single genre with more identity issues than an entire middle school full of preteens. Since I’m running this blog and I get to define the terms, not to mention the fact that I am in constant need of content, I’ve taken it upon myself to set out and explain my own genres, including several that would normally be considered “sci-fi” in typical parlance. So far, the only one of these that I’ve touched on so far is space opera, although you can tune in next week for my thoughts on hard sci-fi. But that’s not exactly what I’m here to talk about today.

Today I’m here to talk about the new setting I’m introducing with next Monday’s short story Emergency Surface! Exciting, yes? Do I detect a lack of enthusiasm? -_-

Well, I guess that’s not surprising given that you know nothing about what’s coming up. As you may have already guess from the direction of this post, Emergency Surface is something of a sci-fi story set in something of a sci-fi world. The closest genre it falls into is hard sci-fi, but that’s a label that doesn’t really apply. To explain my reticence to use the term we have to step back a bit and examine the ideas behind science fiction as a whole.

As the name implies, science fiction is fiction where science (in the abstract), the directions science takes and humanity’s relation to science are all examined through the characters and plot. My problem with this approach is that pretty much every science fiction story assumes that science and technology will shape culture as they are introduced. Eventually some kind of technological turning point will be hit and humanity will be pulled together and all our differences will disappear, leaving us to deal with the new challenges of the space age as a mostly united group (sometimes this is called the “technological singularity” although that term doesn’t always refer to that sequence of events. Like most philosophical concepts, it means different things to different people.) Usually this breakthrough is something like technologically assisted group consciousness, nanotechnology creating infinite free wealth or some sort of free energy that is essentially the same as uberefficient nanomanufacturing. Once all our needs are met and we all think the same we’ll be able to join together and usher in a golden age!

(EXCEPTION TO THE ABOVE – Christopher L. Bennett’s Only Superhuman does a pretty good job of being sci-fi and yet showing how a culture will develop it’s own unique technological quirks, at least to an extent.)

Anyway, if you’ve spent any time reading this blog you know that I don’t buy that. (If you’re new, welcome! My name’s Nate and I’m a cynical grump.) Personally, I feel that the opposite is true – culture shapes the kinds of technology developed and the ways it is integrated into society. In short, just like a society gets the kinds of leaders it deserves, it will also get the kinds of technology it deserves (or fail to develop new technology at all , if it’s focused on something totally impractical.) In short, like all fiction, science fiction is about the human condition. In the case of science fiction, it is about the structure of our society and the products that our ways of thinking bring.

Technology cannot define humanity because the things that divide us are the very ideas that give rise to technological innovation. The value of a sci-fi story is in showing where ideas can go and asking the question, is this a road to take?

So. Emergency Surface is the first story in a very large sci-fi setting I call the Divided Future. You’re not going to find a world government, a human empire or aliens here. Those all detract from the emphasis on ideas and their influence on society. Likewise, no Strong AI to run our societies for us and no time travel for the convenient undoing of mistakes, part of examining ideas and their consequences is choosing something and living with the consequences. (NOTE: I do have stories that play around with these ideas but in the Nate Chen Genrely Speaking classification system these ideas belong in the fantasy group rather than the sci-fi group of stories.)

The Divided Future is the second largest setting for stories that I have, spanning over three hundred years. It begins in the late 21st Century with the beginning of the New Ice Age and progresses through the settling of the solar system and into the exploration of deep space. It’s a big world and I hope to have lots of time to explore it in the future, but for the first story we’ll actually be staying within Earth’s atmosphere. In fact, we’ll be farther inside it than most people will ever get in their lives.

Sound interesting? Then I hope you’ll tune in on Monday for Emergency Surface, a tale of deep sea survival! See you then.

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One response to “Fiction, Science and the Divided Future

  1. Pingback: Genrely Speaking: Hard Sci-Fi | Nate Chen Publications

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