Comic-Con 2009: How to Create Tomorrow Based on the Tech of Today

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | July 27, 2009 5:25 pm

cclogo.jpgThe ubiquity and rapid evolution of technology has made science fiction one of the hardest genres to master. In Friday’s Comic-Con panel “Building Tomorrow’s Technology,” moderator Steve Saffel, a New York editor and publishing consultant, and four sci-fi novelists explored how present technology and availability of natural resources affects how we imagine the future.

“There was a day and time when authors didn’t worry about making technology work. You just had to have the spaceship work,” said Staffel. “These days, technology is changing at such a rapid rate, that the science-fiction writer has to compete with reality in a way they didn’t before. People also understand technology more so than in the past, so if it isn’t right, the reader will spot it.”

The panelists—Greg Bear (City at the End of Time), David Williams (Burning Skies), Dani and Eytan Kollin (The Unincorporated Man) and Kirsten Imani Kasai (Ice Song)—cited alternative energy sources, environmental decay, eventual development of quantum computing, and man/machine interfaces in military and biotech arenas as technologies with the most impact on society.

“Biotech is transforming everything,” said Bear. “It has resulted in the removal of the middleman between audience and creator. But removing teachers and experts from the throne is not always such a good thing.”

Williams mines the weaponization of outer space and cyberspace, and military application of civilian technology for ideas.

“The only thing that’s cooler than ‘x’ is blowing ‘x’ up,” he laughed. He also noted the acceleration of technology will redefine our lives and ourselves. “In the next few decades, the focus will be less on what kind of energy we have and more on how we use it, what we define as human, and huge segments of the population retreating into religious denial, because technology is coming at them so rapidly.”

In The Unincorporated Man, the Kollins brothers explore the economic implications of technology and true nature of freedom. That story chronicles the last unowned man in a world where humans have become incorporated and no longer own a majority of themselves.

“Economics is the study of how masses of humans behave with a series of rules and using it to predict behavior,” said Eytan. “What happens when you really understand this and can manipulate the human mind?”

“We simultaneously want to be freed by technology, but we are also terrified by it,” added Dani. “And we should be terrified. Technology offers better ways to live and quicker ways to kill. Even if we used technology to create the perfect world, we’d probably screw it up, because that’s the nature of the human condition. It’s in that middle ground that we get to write our stories.”

For research, the novelists relied on science journals, Google searches, and getting the appropriate scientist to vet their writing for accuracy. “A scientist writing science-fiction is still only a specialist in one area,” says Williams.

Even when the science is stretched, it still must adhere to the universe imagined in the story. “Even if it’s excellent research, you only need a nugget of it, because it’s fiction,” says Kasai. “You can create a separate new reality as long as you operate according to the rules of that new reality.”

—Guest-blogger Susan Karlin

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biotech, Books, Conferences
MORE ABOUT: Comic-con

Comments (7)

Links to this Post

  1. David J. Williams » Blog Archive » Spacing out | July 28, 2009
  1. This is a great article! Glad I found it today! You are absolutely correct; rules must be obeyed even if the author has created the reality. Guess that’s why there are so many fictional planets written into science fiction fantasy tales. As a published author that’s what I did since I’m not the rocket science in my family, my brother is an aerospace engineer! lol. Check out my first and recently released novel, Long Journey to Rneadal. This exciting tale is a romantic action adventure in space and is more about the characters than the technology.

  2. Science Fiction – the stories – has rarely been used by the typical readers to predict the future – i. e., new technology dev’t. This is in spite of what some non-aficionados occasionally say. Instead, it has sometimes been used to extrapolate perceived trends to discover how people might behave in the new situations. The stories of the 1950’s rarely thought about human induced climate change, pollution effects of wasteful consumption, or realistic costing of energy. That is, there were no “Limits to Growth.” Now many stories do consider these, and situations involving societal responses.

    When engineers design something new, they must work within the restrictions of physical items. When SF writers dream up a conflict for their characters to deal with, we generally expect them to stay within some bounds of “physical laws of reality.” If they stray far, we call it fantasy, or Celtic (and other) – derived myths, but there are still restrictions on characters’ actions. If all the “rules” could be ignored, there would be no conflict, and what’s the story in that?

    So keep on digging, dear writers. Sticking to physical laws is great, but I want a good story at least as much.

  3. bob elsey

    Good stuff. Used for teaching English to Chinese

  4. Chris Hamilton

    Steve Saffel said:
    “These days, technology is changing at such a rapid rate, that the science-fiction writer has to compete with reality in a way they didn’t before. People also understand technology more so than in the past, so if it isn’t right, the reader will spot it.”

    I think science teachers might disagree with that statement. There is certainly a minority of the American public that keeps current on scientific developments, but the tendency is to understand less and less the technology that underlies the tools the common man uses in his everyday life.

  5. typondis

    “If all the “rules” could be ignored, there would be no conflict, and what’s the story in that?”

    Not at all true. You have all kinds of conflict in ridiculous fantasy stories, and often few really significant boundary conditions in many of them. Conversely, let’s say a story had no conflict. Would it be boring? Most people want to tell (and hear) stories about ‘good’ things. At least, that’s what people want to remember. And we know that it’s a human habit to forget ‘bad’ times in favor of ‘good’.

    No, people want conflict because they’re genetically disposed to need to achieve things. (And because they’re saps.) Conversely, attainment is something one simply becomes, embodies, through some revelation. Nothing gained, yet one is ‘more’. Greater. And I think there are very interesting stories in transcendence.

    “I think science teachers might disagree with that statement. There is certainly a minority of the American public that keeps current on scientific developments, but the tendency is to understand less and less the technology that underlies the tools the common man uses in his everyday life.”

    Most people aren’t SF readers. Neither the article nor you are making this distinction.

  6. Fantastic informative website and also you have made great content with useful points.I hope that you won’t mind to comment on website related to your architecture with a link back to your site. Cheers!

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