Monday, April 15, 2013

Perils of the Science-Fiction Writer: Avoiding Obsolescence

I'll admit I'm not a big short story reader, nor am I as versed in the classics as I ought to be.  That said, I have a certain fondness for Ray Bradbury's All Summer In A Day, and to a lesser extent, The Martian Chronicles.  Both are very human stories that take place on Venus and Mars, respectively.  But they were very much the Venus and Mars of imagination, the Venus and Mars that couldn't be written about after the 1950s.

It's easy to see how, when all that was known about Venus was its cloud cover, a writer might imagine a Venus where the rain almost never stops.  Now we know that isn't even remotely close to the truth.  We know that All Summer In A Day is an impossible story.  It's still a great story, and it holds up in the sense that you can willfully ignore real-Venus in favor of its pulp-Venus setting.  You allow yourself that willful suspension of disbelief because you know the context.*

We live in an exciting time, in terms of astronomical news.  We are constantly hearing news of another planet being discovered in orbit of a distant star.  We've just learned of an Earth-sized planet in orbit of Alpha Centauri B.

But that also makes it a... challenging time to be a sci-fi writer, especially one that does the kind of in-depth worldbuilding that I do.  Any day I expect the news of a discovery to come that invalidates a major element of my work.  And I can only imagine if, say, such news comes in between finishing a work and it being published.  Would that be embarrassing?  Will it be embarrassing in 60 years?  Or will readers shrug and say, "Hey, that was the 2010s.  They hadn't even met the Helari** yet." 

This is probably why some of the better sci-fi gives themselves some breathing room-- putting a few centuries between now and the story.  Therefore the minor or major discoveries in the near future can be handwaved away.  Write too close to the day-after-tomorrow, and the work seems very dated.  I love Snow Crash, for example, and it's still a highly regarded work... but it's set in a 1998 that was a nigh-absurd extrapolation when it was written, let alone in retrospect.

For some other news: Rayguns Over Texas now has a cover!  I'm absurdly excited for this book, especially since I'm being printed with such good company. 

*- And, of course, one can write something in a deliberate retro-pulp style, but then you're almost writing fantasy instead of sci-fi. 
**- The Helari, of course, would find it amusingly quaint.

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