Miércoles 19 de Noviembre de 2008, Ip nº 255

Sci-fi special: William Gibson
Por William Gibson

The Future of Science Fiction? We're living in it. Those "Future History" charts in the back of every Robert A Heinlein paperback, when I was about 14, had the early 21st century tagged as the "Crazy Years". He had an American theocratic dictatorship happening about then. I hope we miss that one. Otherwise, I'm assuming these are those years.

The thing called science fiction that we do with literature will always be with us. The genre we've called science fiction since about 1927, maybe not so much. That's something to do with the nature of genres, though, and nothing to do with the nature of science fiction.

The single most useful thing I've learned from science fiction is that every present moment, always, is someone else's past and someone else's future. I got that as a child in the 1950s, reading science fiction written in the 1940s; reading it before I actually knew much of anything about the history of the 1940s or, really, about history at all. I literally had to infer the fact of the second world war, reverse-engineering my first personal iteration of 20th-century history out of 1940s science fiction. I grew up in a monoculture - one I found highly problematic - and science fiction afforded me a degree of lifesaving cultural perspective I'd never have had otherwise. I hope it's still doing that, for people who need it that way, but these days lots of other things are doing that as well.

A few years out from discovering Heinlein's Future History chart, I adopted, as a complete no-brainer, J G Ballard's dictum that "Earth is the alien planet", that the future is pretty much now. Outer space (as far as science fiction went) became metaphorical. Became inner space.

When I started to write science fiction myself, in my mid-twenties, I found I could only leave Earth in a self-consciously nostalgic, low-orbit sort of way, the future having migrated into different emergent constructs, one of which I decided to call "cyberspace".

When I was twelve, I wanted nothing more than to be a science fiction writer. Today, I'm not sure I ever really became one. I suspect I was already something else when I began - probably what Donald Theall (1928-2008) defined as "paramodernist", meaning any cultural text that is neither modern nor postmodern, but can be classified as either/both). I took it for granted that the present moment is always infinitely stranger and more complex than any "future" I could imagine. My craft would be (for a while, anyway) one of importing steamingly weird fragments of the ever-alien present into "worlds" (as we say in science fiction) that purported to be "the future".

If I could magically access one body of knowledge from the real future, I think I'd choose either their history of the ancient past or whatever they might have that most resembles science fiction. The products of two different speculative activities. They'll know a lot more about our past than we do, and trying to reverse-engineer history out of dreams, as I recall, was quite a uniquely exciting activity.


  12/11/2008. New Scientist Magazine.