June 14, 2006

Robert Sawyer Interviewed

I first discovered Robert Sawyer in the pages of Analog magazine 12 years ago. Regular readers may recall that I wrote about his novel Calculating God a little over a year ago. Now, thanks to SFSignal, I was able to find this recent interview with him. I found this exchange quite challenging:

MemeTherapy: It was once said that Science Fiction is the only pill for Future Shock. Do you think the predictions of Future Shock that were made back in the 70s have now or ever will materialize?

Sawyer: ... We talk about starships, but no human has left Earth orbit for thirty-four years now; we talk about AI, but Deep Blue is not one whit more self aware or intelligent in the sense that you and I mean "intelligent" when we use that word in daily conversation, than Eniac, the very first digital computer. Does reading science fiction inoculate us against future shock, or does it distract us with what are essentially fantasy visions? It's a good question; I don't have a solid answer, but I tend to think the value of SF is much more in its sociological thought experiments than it is as any sort of predictive science.

I'm not sure if I totally agree with his point about SF not inoculating us against future shock. But I'm not ready to argue the point, either, yet. Maybe later.

Go read the whole thing. Sawyer is one of the better recent SF authors out there.

Posted by JohnL at June 14, 2006 10:05 PM | TrackBack

I think Sawyer's underlying point is that he isn't much a believer that the predictions of Future Shock didn't come to pass.

Remember Future Shock was never a "reality" just a very popular prediction of how we as a culture might react to change.

Personaly I'm inclined to agree with him people living at the dawn of the 20th century saw more dramatic change than we have had over the past thirty years.

The next thirty years might be a different story though.

Posted by: Jose at June 15, 2006 03:16 AM

I see his points but he conveniently talks about two areas which have not kept up with Science fiction, but how about the area of genetics?
Cloning, transgenetic food, and animals? these are all a reality. In some other areas such as the impact of personal digital devices, I think reality has outstripped a lot of Sci-fi.
The reason there is no Future shock is because these things happen incrementaly and we anticipate them.

Posted by: kyle8 at June 16, 2006 08:02 PM

I wouldn't go so far to say that our genetic technology outstrips SF predictions. Most of the older SF steers clear of biotech in general but there are plenty of counterexamples.

I agree with you on the Future Shock front but its also true that our modern world resembles 1950 a lot more than 1950 resembles 1900. Alvin Toffler, the author of Future Shock, was talking about a radicaly different, unrecognizably alien future compared to the one we have today.

Posted by: Jose at June 22, 2006 11:49 AM
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