Editorial – Aug 2017 : Why Science Fiction isn’t keeping up?

Hello everyone

Although I’ve been reading more non-fiction for review than current Science Fiction, something that has struck me is how little modern technology has filtered into it. When you see American TV films acknowledging the using mobile phones to text message and showing the message on screen, you do have to wonder why instant communication, at least on-planet, isn’t acknowledged or used in our genre. It isn’t like it’s a trope that is likely to go away any time soon. If anything, it’s likely to intensify over the generations. People like to be in contact even if it doesn’t always mean in the physical sense.

Looking objectively, the most revolutionary change in communication in our modern world affecting most people is the ownership of a mobile phone. Oddly, I don’t own one myself but am aware of the dependency a lot of people have on it. On some levels, it’s just an extension to what we use laptops for Internet communication.

Other than size and application capacity, I doubt if that will go to implant stage. We have enough proof from car crashes and accidents where inappropriate use of these devices means implants aren’t likely to be an option in the future. Humans are too easily distracted. Then again, if there are areas where they turn off automatically then the ball game changes…except when you witness an accident and need to notify the police and ambulance but who needs a human intervention for that to happen? Inter-phone communication would be enough if it’s monitoring medical functions and do the alert for you. You might even get AI first aid faster than waiting for an ambulance to arrive. None of which is likely to change any time soon so why isn’t it used in its more rudimentary form?

Oddly, an Artificial Intelligence supplying information via an ear link isn’t actually new. It goes back as far as 1984 with Kevin O’Donnell Jr’s novel ‘ORA:CLE’. So any advances in Internet connections aren’t really going to beat that but you would expect it to happen more in fiction. Having something whispering information in your ear all the time could advance sufficiently so the human element isn’t even needed in the end. Your devices exchange information and only let you know what you need if you need it. Then again, why should you be bothering to communicate in person anymore anyway?

Unlike futuristic devices like the laser gun whom you can track back to the earliest projectile weapons, the function is the same just a different means to achieve it. The same with mobile phones. They work within the limits of what we know and where they go beyond that might make it Science Fiction. But it doesn’t need to be futuristic to be in use, it’s just another aspect of everyday life that is taken for granted. Like no one predicted the way computers would work out, no one foresaw most people owning a mobile phone neither. Reality beat us to it and yet Science Fiction doesn’t embrace its use. Yet it’s a present day trope that can’t be ignored.

Granted it can get in the way of having characters in peril but when you look at the amount of crimes and disasters in our modern world, even the likes of city surveillance cameras and mobile phones have their dead spots, being wiped or plain not being in the right area to catch something happening. It’s not an omnipotent tool. Are things going to be that different in the future? Is surveillance going to go up or down? Unlike George Orwell’s ‘1984’, it’s less likely to be Big Brother Government who is making use of the information received by Big Brother Corporation who are just as likely to be insidious with it. To not to acknowledge how our modern world has/is changing in Science Fiction is hardly the right way to look at things, even if it’s only background to the main elements of the story.

It does make me wonder if the real problem with modern SF is that writers have fallen in love with the glory days of our genre too much and not acknowledging where we are heading or what it would really be like in the future. It’s either that or we have the biggest dead spot in not acknowledging our own reality in our writing. To not use our current reality as the starting point for affecting the future seems off. For any Science Fiction story, the future starts from our present today. This might explain the current popularity of Steampunk and its various flavours. People want a simpler time not an intense version of what we have today. Orwell’s dystopia of the future was designed to shake things up. Shouldn’t we have shown some stronger dissent in Science Fiction by now or are we truly in love with what we see as the ‘good stuff’ without looking for deeper problems to display in our fiction?

Reflectively, I could ask the same of my own fiction. I used sat-nav once in one of my Psi-Kicks stories nearly a decade ago now and then showed it misdirecting which is a common mistake and still reflects on how some people can’t read maps. As my Psionics can spake to each other then there’s little need for them to use mechanical devices so no one listens in. Certainly their Blank keepers/assistants wouldn’t necessarily need to be in constant contact when many of their assignments need them to be off the grid as they are supposed to be undercover but I am giving some serious consideration to the problem.

I’m certainly have to think more about the communication angle there as well. If someone like me, who doesn’t own a mobile phone can be concerned, it does make me wonder about the other ‘modern’ SF writers out there who must surely use such technology all the time and have taken it so much for granted that they don’t use some things in their own stories. So, well and truly, Science Fiction needs to be introduced to the modern world. It also makes me wonder what else we take for granted but still ignoring.


Thank you, take care, good night and beware the alien with a phone, he might be ringing here than home.


Geoff Willmetts

editor: SFCrowsnest.org.uk


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