This might be a rhetorical question for some, that is, do science fiction or sci-fi writers, change the future? As I write high-concept thrillers in several genres, including sci-fi, I am going to throw in my observations on this matter, because I do believe that sci-fi authors sometimes get the backseat on credibility awards, just because this genre, sci-fi, is viewed as “fictional” “imaginative” “futuristic”. None of those words are wrong or incorrect modifiers, but too often, I think, sci-fi is regarded as outside the realm of reality.
But what is reality? Rod Serling gave a good definition on the subject of sci-fi. He said: “Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.”
In early sci-fi, long before the space program or NASA or flights to the moon or even the first satellites ever existed, science fiction writers were depicting technology in their books which later become ultimate reality. Wireless communication devices were in common use by space travellers in early sci-fi. It took society about five generations to catch up with those creative minds.
Sci-fi writers, again, in my humble opinion, are and were the misfits, the pegs that wouldn’t fit into anyone’s square or round holes. These people envisioned a different reality, a new future, progressive cultural advancement – and to use an overly trite expression, they thought outside the proverbial box.
Given that so much of what sci-fi authors have expressed in their works, has become reality and is, as we speak becoming reality with missions to mars in the near future, civilian flights to space, satellites landing on passing asteroids, etc., shouldn’t we also pay attention to their insights when it comes to cultural and global events?
Most people have heard the term 1984, in reference to a dystopian society – based on a book by the same name, written by George Orwell in 1949, in the wake of the growing threat of nuclear war, as the West (America) and the East (Russia) deepened the divide with the Cold War and the terrifying growth of nuclear weapons. Orwell knew then, as did many, that the existence of nuclear weapons presented an entirely new mindset or zeitgeist, one which had never existed before on Earth and which was imbuing the world with a fear which it had never before known – the fear of annihilation. Never before did any individual nation, or for that matter, individual leader, one man or one woman, possess the power to unleash weapons capable of wiping out entire cities with just one bomb. That threat never existed until 1945 when America demonstrated the power of such weapons when it dropped two A-bombs on Japan – eviscerating over 200,000 people in just seconds.
Ten years later, when the Cold War was reaching epic proportions and the arsenals of nuclear weapons on Earth were already numbering thousands, Walter M. Miller Jr., released his epic novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz – a ground-breaking story which depicted a dystopian society in the wake of a nuclear apocalypse. That story, though sobering, brought home a whole new level of realism, the “what if?” scenario – if someone actually started a domino-effect, a nuclear war.
There are many authors, sci-fi and in other genres, who have taken the nuclear theme and weaved it into different scenarios – but the question remains, did such authors as George Orwell and Walter Miller, who clearly wrote their stories not just for entertainment but as an attempt to open the eyes of the world to a lethal issue which in fact could spell the doom of our world, did they accomplish change?
It took some 15 years after Orwell released 1984, and only six years after Miller’s book, before the nuclear race, already mushrooming out of control, was being reined in, at least perfunctorily-speaking, with attempts to set up treaties and accords on their use and development. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that we saw actual treaties and accords signed between developing nations, in particular, the two holding the largests arsenals, America and Russia (then USSR).
Although it is highly unlikely that exact records are public, and they certainly should be considering that it is public money being used to create these beasts of destruction, the current estimated number of nuclear weapons still stockpiled, mostly by less than 10 nations, is over 20,000 in number – most of those between America and Russia – the two nations who can’t seem to hold a marital contract intact without throwing aspersions at one another over something. Considering that one nuclear warhead today is capable of delivering a destructive force 40 times greater than the bombs dropped in 1945, or comparatively speaking, a destructive blast zone of 200 square miles versus 5 miles, capable of wiping out multiple cities in one blast, one can understand why these visionary sci-fi and dystopian authors burned the midnight oil to bring us those classic stories.
One could argue that they wrote the books for other reasons, but to anyone who has read such books, the intent, the message and the import of the themes are clear – the threat and fear of annihilation must disappear from our world – they said it then and that message has been resonated by many others over the decades to follow. We cannot live under a mantle of terror that some day, some questionably sane leader of some nation, would find provocation to start a domino-effect which would reduce nations to smoldering embers and eviscerate millions, if not billions from our world.
So what’s the conclusion? Do sci-fi writers change the future? It could be argued as a moot point, and yet, we see the seeds of change in their works years, even decades, before those seeds mature into something tangible. So maybe the answer is yes.
I personally believe that sci-fi writers plant seeds which do not necessarily see fruition for years to come, and for that reason, sci-fi remains an incredibly important part of our culture and literary genres – just as important as those genres which depict the narratives of times-past, and the lessons to be learned from history, sci-fi embraces what will happen, eventually, if we embrace it.