Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Fresh Ideas in Science Fiction

Quite some time ago a reader of my science fiction novel The Immortality Game (it isn't complete yet, but there is a link on the right-hand bar for anyone wishing to read what is there) wrote that while I was doing new takes on many of the ideas, the ideas themselves had already been done. I didn't argue with the reader, just said thank you, but I have to admit this criticism nagged at me for a long time.

I'm writing this post because the other day the reason it bothered me so much became clear to me. Okay, so other writers in the past first introduced into fiction the ideas of such technologies as nanobots and cybertech mind interfaces. But the idea that a science fiction writer is somehow lessened by using these in his or her own writing is, to me, absurd. As time goes on, what used to be purely speculative instead becomes fully expected, i.e. barring any huge misfortunes, I fully expect we will be using nanobots and mind/data interfaces in the near future (we already are using rudimentary versions today). Thus if I want to write about the near future in a realistic manner, I have no choice but to include such technologies. Doesn't mean I can't find some really cool and inventive ways of using said technologies!
We aren't likely to be looking like this!
I mentioned to a buddy the other day how I felt so many futuristic novels and movies got things wrong by ignoring technologies that will clearly be in play in the not so distant future. How come so many sci-fi books and shows depict characters as being human? In my opinion, we will all be cyborgs within the next century, or at the very least, the number of pure humans will be very miniscule (as in, a few hidden tribes out in the jungles and such). That doesn't mean we will all look like a bunch of robots with metal pieces and parts, but it does mean that our bodies will be enhanced by technologies like nanobots, sweeping through our blood to search out and destroy everything from viruses to cancers and maybe even the common cold.

So all I would ask of any readers of science fiction is this--be careful about criticizing authors for using ideas that you have seen other authors use first, especially if these ideas are ones that seem all but inevitable to actually be used.


  1. I don't think using familiar future tech is a problem, any more than a story featuring current tech in contemporary stories. Nobody complains about bank robber getting away in cars... again. It's more what you do with it. So AI in computers is fine, but super smart computers that start a war with humans and try to take over is much harder to make interesting because it's so familiar a narrative (although still not impossible). It's the story element rather than the tech element that will most make an idea feel done already, I think.


  2. I'm not sure how one would write science fiction without using other's technology ideas!
    The computer tablet in my books came from Star Trek. By the time the first book came out, the iPad was a reality. (And I'm sure that's where people think I get the idea, but I wrote the first book long before the iPad was even announced.)

  3. I agree with both of you. It just astonished me that someone actually nitpicked me for having cybertech and nanobots, as if they were done already so they shouldn't be used again!

  4. I think you're so right, Ted. You could say the same about fantasy. Writers use lots of the same fantasy races and magical gifts but that doesn't mean everyone can't put their own unique spin on it.
    I wish someone would hurry and invent the nanabot to make my joints young again.

  5. I agree, Susan. I'm sad when I think that I am amongst the last humans to not benefit from nanobots and such!

  6. Jules Verne used artillery to launch people into space and Arthur C Clarke used rockets, all existing technology. What matters most is not the tech, but the story and the characters.

  7. WEST SIDE STORY is a great musical based on ROMEO AND JULIET. How many books have taken that concept alone to tell an interesting story in its own right?

    You're right, of course, about the human element in SciFi. It is done in part out of laziness and out of wanting to strengthen the empathy between reader and hero.

    If you read the SciFi thriller MIDNIGHT written by Dean Koontz, you will see that the passing of one decade made it out-of-date as if it were historical fiction!

    Thanks for visiting my blog! :-)

  8. Yeah, I think if you KNOW the current state of technology, anybody paying attention would have significant overlap in what futures might look like. Sure, each can have this or that that is totally fresh, but there are also logical trajectories for various technologies. You're absolutely right.

  9. We're already part way there. Pacemakers, prosthetics, there are so many things in our bodies today that weren't there even 50 years ago.