Saturday, September 19, 2009

New Scientist Sci Fi Special


New Scientist has a special featuring flash fiction from eight modern British SF authors.

http://www.newscientist.com/special/sci-fi-the-fiction-of-now

They were asked to visualise the world 100 years from now.

The results are very pessimistic partly, I suspect because the authors are British and partly because they often have scientific or technical backgrounds. Looked at through the eyes of a natural scientist, western civilisation seems to be in a 'progress trap', heading for a disaster that our political institutions are incapable of solving.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

New Scientist also have a writing contest for unpublished authors.

In the meantime, here is a photo of the city in which I live. No really, you are looking at a city. If you blow the picture up you can just see our church tower. It is clad in scaffolding for repairs. The church is 800 years old so it does need a bit of tlc from time to time. This is the Saxon Shores, once ruled by the comes litoris Saxonici.

11 comments:

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, John. Why do predictions always have to be so gloomy? With more people in the world being fed, more above the poverty line and more people better educated than ever?

No one is arguing that the forests aren't losing, or that climate change is not an issue - but can't we have some optimism!

I guess its back to the old adage that 'pessimists are never disappointed' - I guess noone wants to stick their neck out with an upbeat prediction!

I'll be keen to check out the special.

Cheers,

Kate said...

Actually, I'd say that they're not so much gloomy as extensions of current trends. There's a pretty keen observation of human nature in those stories, and most of them have the sense that while we might make a horrible mess we'll still ultimately keep trying to make our lives and our world a bit better.

Quite a few of them seemed to see that political institutions are useless for anything except posturing and increasing their own power - and celebrated the ability of individuals to choose to improve life.

Thanks for the link :)

Ori Pomerantz said...

The results are very pessimistic partly, I suspect because the authors are British and partly because they often have scientific or technical backgrounds.

Have you people always been this pessimistic, or is this a recent phenomena? Somehow, I can't see Lord of the Rings, for example, with Sauron ultimately victorious.

Mike said...

Chris? Not sure I can explain why people do gloom and doom in predictions, but I do know that when I teach risk management, I always point out that both positive and negative events are risks. For example, getting something delivered too early can be as disruptive as getting it too late.

However, when they turn in their risk management plans -- the assignments? I'm pretty sure I've never gotten a positive risk. Everything is what could go wrong -- nothing about what would happen if something went better than expected.

It's as if that half of the normal curve doesn't exist, somehow. We have terrible, bad, and okay... but no better or best.

John Lambshead said...

Dear Chris
That's the point. Climate change deniers seem to outnumber rationalists. This is how a civilisation self destructs. It is not that it cannot theoretically reverse the downward spiral but that it is politically incapable of making the necessary changes. The ruling classes cannot find a political solution that allows them to keep their power and status.

There are a number of examples from history. The salination of the fields of Mesopotamia by irrigation is an example. The power of the elite depended on the grain crop so irrigation had to continue even though it would detroy the civilisation in the long run.

Fossil-fuel burning is starting to look like another progress trap.

John

John Lambshead said...

Dear Kate,
Yes, that's how I see it.
John

John Lambshead said...

Dear Ori

Good question.
We have certainly been pessimistic for my lifetime and my fathers. It is a good self defence mechanism and makes us very resistant to fads. It always puzzled the hell out of the Germans who could not work out why such a pessimistic people had such a high morale and self belief.

But as we say in England, "it's being so cheerful 'as keeps us going".

John

John Lambshead said...

Dear Mike,

You are quite wrong to say we English don't do positive. We positively know it will be aweful,
John

Mike said...

That's true... like the optimists who think this is the best of all possible universes, and the pessimists who are afraid they're right? Of course, the good news is that most of your surprises will be pleasant ones. When you expect bad news, getting it wrong means good news, right?

Ori Pomerantz said...

John: This is how a civilisation self destructs. It is not that it cannot theoretically reverse the downward spiral but that it is politically incapable of making the necessary changes. The ruling classes cannot find a political solution that allows them to keep their power and status.

Ori: This is exactly what people in the US right wing say. The changes required differ between the camps, but not the expect result of not making them.

BTW, would you say you're pessimistic except when things are really bad (say, WWII)? Or are you always pessimistic, and you just pretend to be optimistic when things are really bad?

matapam said...

I think it's the Inner Storyteller in each of us. If nothing goes wrong, who cares?

Climate Change and the fall of civilizations is an interesting topic. Because the civilization at risk has to respond in the correct fashion to overcome the challenge. How do you get past all the politics and pandering and flat out bad science, and figure out the cause, let alone the _correct_ response?

Can't you see the Mesopotamians sitting around arguing about which god needs the most sacrifices, to stop the problem?

Hmm, must put that in a story sometime . . .