Science Fiction And The Predictions Of The Future edited by Gary Westfahl, Wong Kin Yien and Any Kit-Sze Chan (book review).

Something that has frequently come up in recent years is that Science Fiction does not predict the future. I doubt if anyone reading here will dispute that. As is pointed out in the book, it would be impossible with such a range of stories not to have a few that have proven right and that’s mostly with technology as co-editor Gary Westfahl points out in his introduction.


So through some of the fifteen chapters, ‘Science Fiction And The Predictions Of The Future’ looks for these few. I love one of Westfahl’s observations that we write in all sorts of medium, including stone still. If you think the last is absurd, pop along to your local graveyard because not only do we write on marble and other stones but also metal.

One of the things that is prevalent with SF is that it doesn’t do small changes because they aren’t so significant as to make a difference to qualify as being part of our genre. If you look at the current SF reality we live in, the initial changes were gradual and then became an epidemic as they population gets the herd instinct and doesn’t want to be left out. Look at the rise of the mobile phone, home computer and the Internet for examples of these patterns. It would be interesting to see this observation being used more by SF authors.

I would like to take Westfahl to task about the possibility of asteroid impacts on our planet might be one hundred million to one against. We get meteorites crashing through our atmosphere all the time, just that much of the time they burn up in the atmosphere and aren’t big enough to do damage. Just because the odds are against does necessarily match the reality when one big enough does meet our planet or, as seen in Russia a couple years back, beat the odds of it landing on your head.

There is quite a lot of space devoted to Murray Leinster’s story ‘A Logic Named Joe’ as being an earlier version of the Internet. Leinster was the pen-name of Will Jenkins who was also an inventor so it’s hardly surprising that he might have come across computer connections amongst his ideas. He even hinted at radar in one of his stories in the middle of World War Two and had it black-noticed and removed from publication making him and Heinlein, who wrote a storyabout the atomic bomb, unique in that respect for spotting things in articles in general release and extrapolated them into stories. It does make me wonder if SF authors unconsciously don’t want to add that particular feather to their caps but there isn’t anything that significant on the horizon.

Had Kirk Hampton and Carol MacKay watched or read ‘2010’, they would have realised that the HAL 9000 wasn’t infected by a virus but sorting out contradictory orders. Indeed, even in the original ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ there was never any hint that he had a computer virus. At the time the book and film was released, the nearest thing to a virus was a bug which invariably had gotten into a computer’s innards and shorted out a tube.

Gary Westfahl spends an entire chapter looking at Clarke’s opus and sequels and an over-indulgence look at Jack Kirby’s comicbook version but not owning the tenth issue which suggests he was padding or justifying his collection. I have to be really critical here, although there are some interesting observations there is nothing here that matches the book premise. He wastes a marvellous opportunity to look at the space technology shown in the film but never why it never evolved from the 60s to where we would had more than one base on the Moon because Man lost his enthusiasm to get out there before inflation hit. Concentrating on the monoliths instead is hardly a prediction of the future. In answer to one point he makes, actor William Sylvester was in his 80s by the time of filming ‘2010’, so his age would have worked against him for taking part. Back when director Peter Hyams made the film, forty million dollars to make an SF film, especially a sequel to such a famous film, was seen as a big undertaking and he had to use bankable stars for the American finance. To be fair, his observation that Kubrick used his actors as a demonstration as being tool dependent is very astute. To some extent, that is true of the western world but there are still people out there who don’t so it isn’t totally the norm today.

I can’t help feel that in places that all the contributors had a particular booklist to ensure that they had read simply because of lack of knowledge Clifford Simak’s ‘City’ and especially Martin Caiden’s ‘Cyborg’, whose descriptions were such that people thought was based off a real bionic man actually existing.

The latter chapters seem to go way off track because they don’t compare SF to predicting the future. Part of me feels that they ran out of ideas to cover which seems a wasted opportunity when you consider how much SF has been attributed or what its writers haven’t done. For neo-SF writers, we are in a world of instant access and it’s a shame more of you don’t extrapolate from the material you see. This book will at least give you some insight into what has happened in the past.

GF Willmetts

May 2014

(pub: McFarland. 263 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £28.50 (UK), $33.25 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-5841-7)

check out websites: www.mcfarlandpub.com and www.eurospanbookstore.com


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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