Miércoles 19 de Noviembre de 2008, Ip nº 255

Sci-fi special: Stephen Baxter
It's true that many of the old dreams of science fiction have been fulfilled, or bypassed. And it does feel as if we're living through a time of accelerating change. But science fiction has - rarely - been about the prediction of a definite future, more about the anxieties and dreams of the present in which it is written. In H. G. Wells's day the great shock of evolutionary theory was working its way through society, so Wells's 1895 classic The Time Machine is not really a prediction of the year 802,701 AD but an anguished meditation on the implications of Darwinism for humanity.

As science has moved on, a whole variety of science-fictional "futures" has been generated. In 1950s and 1960s we had tales of nuclear warfare and its aftermath, like Walter Miller's A Canticle for Liebowitz. The 1980s saw an explosion of computing power that led to "cyberpunk" fantasies such as William Gibson's Neuromancer. Today we have the possibilities of a trans-human future opened up by information technology and biotechnology - see books like Paul McAuley's The Secret of Life as a response. And the great issues of climate change are explored in, for instance, Kim Stanley Robinson's Science in the Capitol series and my own Flood. Science fiction is a way of dealing with change, of learning about it, of internalising it - not so much prophecy as a kind of mass therapy, perhaps. Of course nowadays you get a book like Maggie Gee's The Flood, a disaster story of the near future, published without any reference to the genre at all. I don't particularly think this is bad. In fact it shows the success of sci-fi and its methods. Science fiction has been assimilated, but it's still there, still serving the same function.

In the coming years, whatever else we run out of - oil, fresh water, clean air - change itself will not be in short supply. So there will be no shortage of raw material for science fiction, and a need for it, however it's labelled in the bookshops.

  12/11/2008. New Scientist Magazine.