Science Fiction Repair Shop: Yesterday's Tomorrow, Today! Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-12-05 15:00:00 No comments

E.W. Dijkstra Archive: On the cruelty of really teaching computing science (EWD 1036)

The usual way in which we plan today for tomorrow is in yesterday's vocabulary. We do so, because we try to get away with the concepts we are familiar with and that have acquired their meanings in our past experience.

This insight is a big part of why I'm convinced most any attempt to talk about "the future", especially in SF, is always going to be some form of talking about the here and now. When I wrote Flight of the Vajra I didn't really think the future I was imagining was the future we were going to have, or even a future we were likely to inhabit. It was a future, one I used more as a way to muse about where we're headed or even where we are right now. Such is the way of skiffy.

What I don't think we should ever do, though, is settle for only that. Today's tomorrow shouldn't look like yesterday's tomorrow if we can help it.

That was the other part of what motivated me to write the book: I took a look around and saw so much stuff that was not only indistinguishable from what had been written thirty or even sixty years ago, and was not only intentionally in that mold but was getting accolades for being that regressive. It's 2013 and we're still writing novels where soldiers in space scream lines like "Shoot him shoot him shoot him"? (Verbatim.)*

And I didn't want to make the "today's future" aspect of the story merely technological; I knew it had to be social and even spiritual as well — that is, without promoting a particular philosophy as the way forward. The gizmos are in there and they were as much fun to write about as I hope they were to read about, but the last thing I wanted was for all that to become the story.

Welcome to the Fold is set very much in the here-and-now, but at the same time suffused with all sorts of things that I believe are reflective of a radical newness. And again, it isn't the things themselves that make the story about such newness: the fact that this psychotropic drug or that digital currency figures into the story somewhere doesn't mean the story is about any of that stuff. It isn't, and I'm not intending it to be. The real subject of the story is how it is that people go about summoning the future in some form, whether by sheer willpower, cleverness, imagination, force, or taking advantage of the inertia of others.

What will it take to make something really new under the sun? More to the point, what will it cost?

And what's more, I don't actually claim to have an answer. In fact, I'm convinced "having an answer" is a mistake: it's better instead to ask better and more probing questions, and to keep asking them anew every so often. That way today's tomorrow can give way to something a little more like, well, tomorrow's tomorrow.

* I was going to say, "and use silly made-up swear words", but that's a sin I myself am thoroughly guilty of ("cosm alive!"), so I decided not to cast that particular stone lest it wrap around the playing field and smack me in the back of the head.

Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop futurism