The Perils of Science Fiction

We are all living in science fiction.

Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. The concepts expressed in the pages of stories and in the images of film have been inspirational to scientists and the general public alike: communication satellites, the Internet, tablet computers – all of these have been made real in the wake of stories featuring them.

The problem for authors is that science and society sometimes move faster than ideas can be written.

This is especially true of near future SF, of course. Charles Stross (Charlie’s Diary) wrote Halting State and then watched as his technological predictions came true. His sequel to Halting State was pre-empted by actual events when the plot was played out by one Bernie Madoff (and was ever a crook so perfectly named as he made off with the money?).

The reworked sequel, Rule 34, seemed more fanciful – well-grounded fantasy to be sure, but quite fantastic all the same. Then I saw this story in The Guardian –

Download, print, fire: gun rights initiative harnesses 3D technology

There are echoes here of the HEAP gun from Cryptonomicon also, with the emphasis on producing guns for personal defense (HEAP standing for Holocaust Education And Prevention). The question is how printing of barrels and  receivers is supposed to work – as someone I know who is experienced with 3D printing pointed out, most printing fabricators make models which are brittle, that do not deal well with mere rough handling, let alone the pressures of explosive ammunition.  The HEAP gun in Stephenson’s book required barrels to be brought in from some external source – maybe something like that is needed here too. That Guardian piece includes a claim of having fired 200 rounds from a printed receiver, but that may have been using an industrial fabricator – others in the same piece said that the guns could best be considered single use. The risk of personal injury seems very high.

For my own work, I try to avoid the very near future. A Turquoise Song is set 75 years hence, for example, which is close enough to be predictable but far enough away that I am unlikely to be embarrassed by anything I predict.

Still, we truly are living in science fiction.

One Reply to “The Perils of Science Fiction”

  1. Ian says:

    Yeah, near-future science fiction is something that I agree is becoming really difficult. If you read some near-future sci-fi from the 1970’s, it’s very disappointing on the social/personal side of things, if a little ambitious on the scale of governments. Yes, we expected to be exploring the solar system much more quickly than we have, but we also never expected to have personal computers in most homes, or that smartphones could be nearly as powerful as they are. I’ve never really written near-future, except in very short stories, because of this. I’ll generally stick to either completely different worlds, present-day, or farther out into the future.

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