Science Fiction is not a new genre. For as long as there has been science, there have been people curious of what it will one day bring to society, and many of those curiosities have become entwined in narratives.
While it is common to aspire to become greater than what you are, what you were born as or capable of, many of these Science Fiction stories have concentrate too much on pressing ahead with their proposed advancements rather than concentrating on their more profound aspects.
Any story is most powerful at the nexus where the outside forces interact with the characters. People make the story, in other words, not the wondrous set pieces, or high tech gadgetry.
This situation is never more evident than in Science Fiction Films, namely their sequels. The universe I am creating for my upcoming novels is set in the near future, approximately 35 years in fact, and while there are many things that are different, much will remain the same in regards to the day to day interaction of the characters.
The vast majority of people do not read technical manuals and scientific publications recreationally. I would ask why, but the reason is obvious-they are dry reading. It's not very impressive of exciting to read new information without seeing the impact that new technology will have in the lives of others.
I've seen it many times. I enjoy learning about what is coming as much as anyone, because I spend alot of time thinking about it's many implications. I try to explain things that I find fascinating to friends, things like scratch repairing paint, graphene, carbon nanotubes, artificial muscles, brain computer interfaces, and most of it flies either over their heads or in one ear and out another.
Until I explain what they will one day be able to accomplish with these advancements, they could usually care less. Some would say that the average person suffers from a lack of vision, some would say that they are simply more concerned with what is in front of them, the various obstacles they must overcome in their day to day lives.
I think that the majority of the populace worries about what they must, and that maybe I spend too much time with my head in the clouds to see the world normally. Luckily, I am choosing to build a career that follows my interests. I can't get enough reading about new gadgets, new technology, conspiracy theories regarding ancient civilizations, and archaeology. Couple that with my overwhelming need to fabricate stories, and it's no surprise that I will eventually be a science fiction writer.
In order to overcome the trappings of some of those that have come before me, I need to be able to recognize those that have been instrumental in advancing the genre. I need to see what they have done right, and understand what some have done wrong.
When the story become more about the flashy new gadget or the grand idea, eschewing the characters that they impact, the story devolves into a technical manual with witnesses and explosions.
The world I am creating has been over a decade in coming, and I have had years to design and create the technology in it and investigate how it fits into the lives of those that wield it. Many SciFI writers aim very high with their technological advancements, naming years and making predictions regarding when things will come to pass.
We have seen many of these predictions come and go. 1984, 2000, 2011, and eventually 2012 as well.
The only flying cars we have are essentially planes with bigger wheels. We have no hoverboards, we have no cyborgs capable of uprooting trees with their bare hands.
They overshot their time frame, is all. They based their assumptions on the bleeding edge of tech and forgot to account for that faction of the population that is threatened by change and advancement, more concerned with the moral implications than the possible good.
There has been fighting within the government for almost a decade over the morality of stem cells, and these people are expecting cars that fly by interacting with the magnetic field of the earth?
As a culture we have lost our boldness. Those in power are more afraid of their job security than they are with quality of life. They create laws blocking innovation so that they can sleep a little better at night. THIS is why you are stuck in traffic, tethered to the road. THIS is why you are still getting sick even more than you were in the 70's.
The environmental pollution in our world, cast out by careless corporations, is stronger than ever. Congress has no problem looking the other way when lobbyists stuff their reelection fund with cash as industry makes more people sick, but has every problem with relaxing laws to allow innovations like self driving cars, genetic modification, and changes to intellectual property law and the patent system.
This restraint will always be there, and I think that is one of the major factors that some previous authors have not been able to account for properly. The only real innovations left are in safety and software.
Artificial Intelligence will happen right under the governments noses, unless a sufficient fuss is made over it in the media. The Government is more concerned with financial matters, land and wars than they are in science. (unless it impacts any of those three areas, of course. DARPA's bills get paid, don't they?)
The government is content to let public opinion and the media inform it of when there is a problem, at which time the leaders take a look at it and decide if it has any merit. Of course, do you see John Boehner, George W Bush or Sarah Palin making sound judgments on these matters? Of course not, they lack the foresight and understanding of the IMPLICATIONS.
I capitalized that word not because I am yelling, but because I have finally come full circle to my opening. The science is the frosting to a good Science Fiction story, it is not the cake. The people and their story is the cake. People eat cake without frosting sometimes, bland as it be, but the only people that routinely eat frosting without the cake are either pregnant or trying to see how fast they can eat themselves to an acute diabetic coma.
Star Wars, Star Trek, and the really far flung, deep into the future universes don't have this problem. In fact, they don't even bother too much with giving the back story with how we get from there (unless you really dig into the canon).
In what I am working on, I am unable to completely avoid relying on the government to pull it's own weight for my predictions to come to pass, but I've tried to minimize it. There are no flying cars, and everything I've created has a firm foundation in technology that exists in a lab somewhere today.
35 years is enough time for advancements to be considered futuristic, but not far enough to where we will not see much of today remain.
I think sometimes SciFi writers forget that even though we trade in fiction, we are a part of the media as well. We can fabricate moral possibilities, and by extension lessons that people young enough (either in body or spirit) to not yet be consumed by power and/or money) can carry with them to the point in life where many of them will be making decisions for others.
There are politicians out there that have read stories on artificial intelligence. They recall stories of genetic modification (though many of them are cautionary tales, sadly), and while many of them mock something like the Singularity Institute for being a bunch of quack jobs, they don't see that the leading edge of every field is often preposterous in nature.
If you haven't heard of something, it will sound foreign and unlikely. Ask Copernicus. Ask Galileo.
But it is our purpose, our destiny as Science Fiction authors to ask the hard questions that we don't yet have all the facts to, to not be taken seriously and in some corners mocked because we dared to look beyond our noses.
The pitfalls in Science Fiction are to not properly account for human nature and emotions, and/or to simply discard them in large part.
Anyone expect Michael Bay to win critical acclaim for any of his movies for anything more than special effects? No.
The reason is that he makes blockbusters that require spectacle, they require explosions that are larger and louder than his last movie, or else fewer people will come to see them and profitability will suffer. To create the future and all of it's myriad possibilities takes time and money, but often rewards us with the spectacle of showing people things they haven't seen before. Those things are what bring people back every two or three years to see the next installment, which must then dedicate more screen time to spectacle or risk losing the audiences hard won attendance.
That is why sequels more often than not suck. The origin story in the first installment captivates the audience, shows them wonder and makes them respect it's beginnings. Characters are necessary to drive the narrative, but once the ball is rolling by the end credits of the first film the sequels are no longer obligated to dig deep for the continuing implications of the new world they created. They simply replace the squibs with larger models, allocate more money to the CGI department, and slap a "2" on the end of the title.
There is a modicum of story to support the story, to keep it from becoming another Demo Reel for an established director, but it often bears little weight. There are exceptions, but they are notable because of their rarity. The ones that are well done are able to focus again on the characters.
Never lose sight of the characters in your writing. I do not intend to, and as such have already outlined the sequels before I wright the first installment. Not because I am that much smarter or talented than anyone else, but because I am human, and have human weaknesses (oh, do I ever. Did I hear Olivia Wilde is single again? ;-) .
If, by some miracle, my story pre://d.o.mai.n becomes a big hit, then I will not have to worry about coming up with a story to top the first one. I will already have it. The sequels shift to focus on other characters while retaining the prior ones as secondary characters, at the same time as the narrative continues on it's merry little way, lol.
Make no mistake, 35 years into the future much of what I will have predicted will have come about much differently than I foresaw, but I believe my heart is in the right place. I hope I've accounted for the human element in my stories as much as I know how, and while I get many of the details wrong I hope the underlying themes persist.
Well, not all of them. I have hope that much of the bad in the world will pass by then, but I'm not counting on it.
The best I can do is caricature it the same way that I will the advancement of technology, and hopefully shame those that deserve to be shamed.
Maybe the lessons the leaders of tomorrow pick up from the SciFi of their youth will include the struggles and will of the people, and they will think twice about accepting that bribe.
So, this generations science fiction writers, I challenge you. We have work to do. Simply because those in power have forgotten the people, and have gotten distracted by the Michael Bay-sized explosions of multiple wars .and the shiny gleam of coin in their bank accounts doesn't mean that we have to.
Remember the plight of the characters, but give them some cool shit to use as well while you are at it.
We don't have production costs, it didn't cost Isaac Asimov any more for his words than it does Nicholas Sparks.
We don't have budgets when it comes to the worlds we create, so dream big.
Leave the question of how to pay for it all to the Production designer when they try to adapt it.