Monday, November 05, 2007

It Is Hard To Predict, Especially The Future.

I've started noticing myself developing a real problem with books written more than a decade or so ago, which is that any time the plot depends on the characters being out of phone contact with each other or on characters not being able to find out some piece of information that I could google up in less than three seconds, I feel weirdly annoyed. Which I know is ridiculous for a book that's set in, say, the 1980s, but is probably a legitimate suspension-of-disbelief problem for books written in the 1980s but set in the 21st century.

Of course, the rapid march of technology doesn't just mean that science fiction novels might be dating themselves more quickly than ever. It seems pretty clear to me that it presents some challenges to modern storytellers, too. I think that cell phone reception suddenly going out for no good reason is already something of a movie cliche, and disrupting cell phone signals now appears to be a common ability (or intrinsic talent) for supernatural entities.

8 comments:

  1. But it's eerily frightening how realistic it sounds when the baddies in Doctor Who conquer the Earth through the cell phones that so many people have glued to their ears.

    Oh, if the Brain had only held out a few more years...

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  2. Oh, yes. That I can believe easily. :)

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  3. Science fiction, it should be noted, is extremely bad at predicting the future.

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  4. Which is fair enough, as that's usually not the point. Still, it's bad predictive power can be distracting when viewed from the standpoint of the future it got wrong. :)

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  5. Have you ever read William Gibson's "The Gernsback Continuum"? Sometimes, it's a good thing they got the future wrong.

    And, really, there's no workable solution to the distraction. Do we go all George Lucas and make changes after the fact?

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  6. I'm sure I've heard of it, because the title is familiar, but if I've read it, I don't appear to remember anything about it. I have, I'm afraid, a terrible memory for short stories. Still, I can't disagree with this:

    Sometimes, it's a good thing they got the future wrong.

    If they had got it right, I'd probably be reduced to making coffee for guys in white lab coats in a room full of cigarette smoke.

    Do we go all George Lucas and make changes after the fact?

    Ye gods, no. The simple solution, I suppose, is not to read books older than a decade or so, but I'm not willing to go that far. Although I am coming to the realization that 90s cyberpunk in general just has not aged well, and I should perhaps mostly stop bothering with it.

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  7. If they had got it right, I'd probably be reduced to making coffee for guys in white lab coats in a room full of cigarette smoke.

    You'd also have had the option, thanks to Dr Asimov, of being a deeply unhappy roboticist. :)

    BTW, Fred, I put a comment on your Kaleidotrope blog a couple of weeks ago saying how much I'd enjoyed the latest issue, but it has never been unscreened so that it can be seen.

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  8. That's true. I'd probably be a lot better at that. :)

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