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Hard SF - "Predicting" the future? 
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Post Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
From the previous thread:
nunnya wrote:
the nature of hard SF in which someone tries to predict the future by extrapolating from current technology or a mathematical/scientific idea

i don't know much about SF history, but it always bugs me a little when people say that SF writers try to "predict" the future. I think good science fiction simply illuminates our own understanding of the world we actually live in. Any fictional book written from a scientific viewpoint can arguably be called hard SF in my point of view. Soft SF (to me anyway) is just another word for fantasy. Maybe some hard SF writers start out with the intention of "being right" but that can be disproven with Heinlein because not all of this books are set in the same version of the future. (One could argue that he is "always right" if you can somehow convince yourself that the world-as-myth concept is literally true....)

The Door into Summer was written in the mid 1950s and takes place in a 1970 where suspended animation and time travel already exist. I'm personally convinced that RAH was not trying to predict the future. I think he wanted to set his story in a time which was recognizably similar to the present day, with the minor additions necessary to his plotting. He obviously knew that in a few short years his "vision of the future" would not come to pass, and he didn't give a damn. Setting it in the future just gave the plot devices he needed a modicum of plausibility.

He did occasionally make real predictions ("Pandora's Box"/"Where to?" in Expanded Universe) although he acknowledged "Science fiction is not prophecy." Here's a great quote from "The Happy Days Ahead" in the same book, describing his "predicitions": The story "purported to be a nonfiction prophecy concerning the year 2000 A.D. as seen from 1950. (I agree that a science fiction writer should avoid marijuana, prophecy, and time payments - but I was tempted by a soft rustle.)" [It was a commissioned work.] I love how RAH uses the word "purported" because he knew the futility of prophecy.

Interestingly, Heinlein then goes on to happily take credit for "inventing" the waterbed in 1941 and describing it in Stranger in a Strange Land in 1961. I am convinced that RAH only accepted responsibility for his fictional "predictions" when it suited him. In other words, when he was right. But my only point is that it doesn't hurt his works in the SLIGHTEST if history turns out differently. That's not the point of science fiction. Agreed?


Sun Oct 25, 2009 1:01 pm
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
I was under the impression that Heinlein considered what he wrote to be "speculative" fiction - which allows for error in predictions, I would assume. If we are only speculating here we do not have to be accurate.

In fact I wonder if much of modern SF is not simply the same stories we think of as sf but marketed as mainstream. I saw a review for a book (Chronic City) by Jonathan Lethem today and the description of the plot cannot be considered anything but a standard SF device, IMHO. "Alternate reality?" That is mainstream now?

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/books ... &ref=books

I understand that he wants to be considered (and have his works considered) mainstream. This is actually perhaps not a bad thing - he may have covered up his Ubik tattoo but wasn't Heinlein also trying to get speculative fiction to be seen as part of mainstream literature as well?


Audrey


Sun Oct 25, 2009 4:32 pm
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
audrey wrote:
wasn't Heinlein also trying to get speculative fiction to be seen as part of mainstream literature as well? Audrey

I haven't read Chronic City, but yes-- alternate history is mainstream. Michael Chabon cheated the SF label with NYtimes bestseller The Yiddish Policemen's Union. His trick was writing non-SF beforehand, so he got labeled a "modern" writer, and the publicity for the latter book also presented it as mainstream, if I remember correctly. He still couldn't help but win Nebulas and Hugos for it.
audrey wrote:
I was under the impression that Heinlein considered what he wrote to be "speculative" fiction - which allows for error in predictions, I would assume. If we are only speculating here we do not have to be accurate.

To quote RAH ("Ray Guns and Rocketships" - Expanded Universe):
Just as the term "historical fiction" includes in its broad scope Quo Vadis, nickel thrillers about the James Boys or Buffalo Bill, and Forever Amber, so does the tag "science fiction" apply both to Alley Oop and to Aldous Huxley's After Many a Summer Dies the Swan. It would be more nearly correctly descriptive to call the whole field "speculative fiction" and to limit the name "science fiction" to a sub - class - in which case some of the other sub - classes would be: undisguised fantasy (Thorne Smith, the Oz books), pseudoscientific fantasy (C. S. Lewis's fine novel Out of the Silent Planet, Buck Rogers, Bradbury's delightful Martian stories), sociological speculation (More's Utopia, Michael Arlen's Man's Mortality, H. G. Wells' World Set Free, Plato's Republic), adventure stories with exotic and non - existent locales (Flash Gordon, Burroughs' Martian stories, the Odyssey, Tom Sawyer Abroad). Many other classes will occur to you, since the term "speculative fiction" may be defined negatively as being fiction about things that have not happened.


Mon Oct 26, 2009 2:43 am
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
I am currently re-reading Friday (for about the 100th time) and considering it was released in 82 it does have some pretty good "speculative" guesses in it. Particularly about the use of the "computer net". I know the the internet was just about starting up way back then, but would we (did we) forsee just how dependant our lives would be on it? RAH certainly hit the nail on the head on that score.

Pity women dont wear superskin jumpsiuts though! Well certainly not in England!


Tue Oct 27, 2009 12:57 pm
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
Well, not in Wolverhampton, certainly :-) Maybe certain communes in Sussex...

In 1982 the size of the Internet (then called the ARPAnet) was about forty nodes. A network diagram fit on a single sheet of paper. The backbone links ran at 56kbaud. So yes, RAH nailed it.


Tue Oct 27, 2009 2:19 pm
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
Re: supertight skinsuits>

Observe your local 16 year old girl. Observe that they are wearing a pair of "skinny jeans" that must be pulled on (and fit like) nylon stockings. Add 2-3 camisole tops that all fit like a second skin. They will have different hem lengths and several colors of straps showing.

For formal occasions like school throw a bedraggled hoodie over it.

Skinsuits are here. When you see them on your daughter it brings an entirely new perspective to the issue.

(Of course I never worse anything so wild in my glory days....)

Audrey


Tue Oct 27, 2009 6:33 pm
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
In mainstream media someone who just read Friday for the first time notes that Heinlein got an AWFUL lot right about California....


http://www.cnbc.com/id/33482832


Tue Oct 27, 2009 7:45 pm
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
audrey wrote:
In mainstream media someone who just read Friday for the first time notes that Heinlein got an AWFUL lot right about California....


http://www.cnbc.com/id/33482832

Oh, I think that's more in the nature of the category of prediction Heinlein talked about, of looking out your window and seeing a train heading in your direction.

By the time Friday was published, he and Ginny had been living in California for 16 years (and of course Heinlein had lived in California from 1934 to 1947 as well and then for a bit in 1949-50 too.)

And something you said upthread startled me: I thought you were currently in your "glory days."


Wed Oct 28, 2009 6:12 am
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
Dear Bill,

You are always gracious, but skinsuits and I parted company (in more ways than one) many decades ago.....

But thanks anyway -


Audrey


Wed Oct 28, 2009 4:47 pm
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
OK I will accept skinsuits are around (I am afraid I have a teenage daughter too!) perhaps I am just getting too old to see them!

I think if RAH had lived in the Midlands (Central England) instead of California Friday and Maureen may not have been quite so sexy! :lol:

What about "semi ballistic" travel? That is the current flight development that everyone is trying to develop - again in Friday amongst other books. I bet this was influenced at least in part by Arthur C Clarke, but definately another "prediction" waiting to come true.


Thu Oct 29, 2009 11:59 am
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