I read an interesting interview on Wired magazine the other day of William Gibson. I'm a huge William Gibson fan, so I naturally checked it out. The main premise of the interview was regarding the percentage of the time that Science Fiction authors "get it right", as opposed to the times that they come up with something that didn't happen to become reality.
In the comments, I argued that they were missing the point of Science Fiction, in my opinion. I see Science Fiction as a chance to make wild guesses, to make leaps of faith, and see where the story goes. It's kinda like the way scientists smash atoms together, just to see what interesting particles will result, and in which directions they will scatter off to.
Sometimes you do things because you are curious where they will go. If you are just trying to predict the future, you aren't writing Sci-Fi, you're writing the Farmers Almanac.
Now, I've read enough of Mr. Gibson's work to know that he isn't just trying to predict the future, but I realize that is certainly something that is expected of him at this stage in his career. He struck cyberspace gold with his first novel-Neuromancer, and since then everyone has expected lightning to continually strike in the same place, again and again. It's a conversation I am sure he is tired of having with reporters, but I didn't hear him come right out and say, "You know, it really doesn't matter how much any of us are right. It's about throwing stuff against the wall, and seeing what sticks."
Philip K Dick, one of the most celebrated Science Fiction authors of our generation, was someone who had no trouble taking risks. Sometimes they worked, like in "Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep", "A Scanner Darkly", and others, but some times they backfire, like in a story I recently read, "Lies Inc", where he spliced two shorter stories together incoherently and made a huge mess.
So I felt compelled to share my philosophy here. I've read a few incredible SF short stories lately, and some of them are incredibly out there.
There is one in the collection "Warriors", is titled "Forever Bound", by Joe Halderman. It's a story about a collection of remote military robot operatives that function as a sort of "hive mind" when they are on duty. The uniqueness, and, for lack of a better term, "spirituality" of the experience causes problems for the recruits when they are away from their squad. It's an incredible story, easily my favorite in a very strong collection. It's not all about flashing lights and gun-kata, but about exploring the intricacies of what it might be like when regular, flesh and blood humans are equipped with abilities that nature has for some reason denied us.
Another story that I love is titled "To Hie from far Celenia", from a collection entitled METAtropolis. This is a story that people either get and instantly love, or can't grasp and loathe with a passion. I loved it, because I have a well understood love of any story that transcends our reality in a functional way. This story does this in spades, with levels of virtuality that have to be negotiated in the style of the dream levels of the film "Inception". The games cease to be games, the world ceases to be virtual, as the simulations are reinforced with real people conducting real trade and the only laws that exist are the rules of the game. By the end, you are left wondering if you would be able to unplug yourself from such an existence, if one existed. And I believe that one day it will, but those people that didn't understand the story enough to enjoy it certainly disagree.
I really enjoyed these two stories, and I'm sure there will be more to come as I continue to collect my favorites. I learn a little bit more with each one, and each one makes me a better writer. There is in fact a scene in pre://d.o.mai.n that was inspired by To Hie from far Celenia, and the added texture to my world is owed to the author of Celenia. It's completely different from anything that happens in his story, but his story gave me the concept of a layered reality, and made me consider the type of reality someone might choose to replace theirs with, and why.
So take chances in your writing, even if you decide to only do so on short stories. If no one is pushing the boundary to include new ideas, then eventually every story will be told. If some of us are brave enough to try different things, then future generations will have a more fertile playground in which to be inspired by.