My understanding is that in the early days of science fiction, stories were used not only as mind stretching entertainment, but also to either get popular ideas about science into the public eye, or to act as a predictor of future events. I’m thinking of Jules Verne, and his predictions about long distance submarines with their own power supplies, and rocket ships visiting the moon. Of H.G. Wells predicting the atomic bomb in 1914, Bradbury predicting earphones back in 1950, and Mark Twain, of all people, predicting the internet in 1904. About all the amazing things which have come to be from 2001 – A Space Odyssey including arguably the iPad.
However, these days modern science is pushing into concepts like dark matter and energy, string theory and the discovery of ever more bizarre particles, like the Higgs-Bosun, which may finally have been observed. For the average person, these are pretty obscure concepts to grasp, and the degree of mathematics knowledge required to really understand them is beyond most of us. There are a lot of scientific concepts that we just have to take as read these days, and I’m sure that this has lead to the rise of pseudo-science. When it’s not possible for us to run the models, do the maths, or even understand someone else doing it, then there is a degree of faith in our scientists required.
I’m wondering where exactly this leaves science-fiction? Now that the cutting edge of science is slipping from the grasp of the average reader, is science fiction destined to either bend the rules of science, or to some kind of steampunk nostalgia? This question is perhaps particularly relevant to Hard Sci-fi, rather than people-based fiction (like mine, thankfully).
It seems to me that there is a fine line of definition we can make here which gets us out of this dead-end. Many of the innovations of old-school sci-fi were perhaps really new developments of technology, not science. Referring back to the examples above, submarines, earphones and the iPad fall more comfortably into the technology basket than the science basket, and I think we are free to be as futurist as we like in technological terms, without threatening too many laws of physics. Would it be offensive if we started calling parts of science fiction tech-fi? Would we perhaps reach a larger audience with it?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!