The Beginner’s Guide to Futurism

Source (http://media.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/images/retro-futuristic-designs-tutorials/retro%20futuristic%20city%2010.jpg)

Futurism is a hot topic. Especially if you’re into being an entrepreneur. Predicting and/or setting future trends can be a make or break skill in the business world.

But what about the original futurists:

Science Fiction writers?

How does that work? Where would I start? What exactly is futurism?

Excellent questions.

What is Futurism?

Also known as future studies, futurism is the act of postulating different futures. So when Heinlein postulates space marines, he’s being a futurist. When Clarke postulates communications satellites, he’s being a futurist. When Rodenberry postulates personal communication devices, he’s being a futurist.

The single greatest joy of a science fiction writer should be futurism.

Basically you get to make up whatever you want. Make sure it’s a good idea.

The idea of futurism is not necessarily to predict the future, but rather to speculate on the future. Most writers who end up being prophets are speculating with known information, not dictating what will happen with that information. It’s a tough process sometimes, but one that’s worth going through.

Futurism and Science Fiction

Think about some of the most successful science fiction authors Arthur C. Clarke writes stories about solar system colonies and wandering alien space ships in the near future. Robert Heinlein writes about space marines fighting for territory on foreign planets in the future. Isaac Asimov writes about a world full of helpful robots that permeate every level of society. Philip K. Dick writes about memories being implanted and removed from people’s brains. Suzanne Collins writes about a near future held together by children fighting to the death for honor.

All they did was dare to dream of the future and what could be.

This is the staple of being a futurist as a writer: you have to dream. If you predict, you will almost certainly be wrong. But if you dare to dream, you just might be right. And that is the success of some science fiction writers. They dared to dream of the future and they actually ended up predicting the future.  If you haven’t, you should watch the Science channel’s Prophets of Science Fiction series. It details this process and is very informative. The series consists of biographical documentaries following eight science fiction writers who changed the world with their writing. It’s extremely intriguing, and gives a wonderful picture of these futurists in their element.

What Does the Future Hold?

As you begin to envision your version of the future, there is one central question that has to be your starting point:

Am I an optimist or a pessimist?

This is the difference between Utopia and Dystopia, a nuclear war or treatied world peace. Mad Max and Star Trek if you will. Look at the world around you and ask yourself where you see it going. Is it to greatness, or oblivion? This will greatly shape the world you are writing, and may even lend something to the story (other than setting, of course.)

Determining whether or not the future is shiny can determine whether or not your story is worth writing.

Well there’s a starting point for becoming a futurist in your science fiction writing. Stay tuned for future  parts to the series!

How weird can it get? Pretty weird

I just finished reading Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Sci Fi epic The Mote in God’s Eye.

I don’t necessarily agree, but Robert Heinlein said:

“Possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read”.

It was alright.

Actually, the story had a bit of a cycle. It was three pages of absolute garbage, and then a page or two of sheer genius. I seriously had to fight to get through the beginning. There’s a lot of background information to get through, and it takes forever to get through it.

The end result is actually pretty good though, as I said before, so I wanted to cover some things that make this novel a worthy read and some things we can pull from it as Science Fiction writers.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW

 

Absolute Weirdness

If nothing else, the ideas in this book are absolute gold. In most ‘first contact’ type books, the aliens come to Earth and are warlike or way more advanced than humans. Not really so in this one. For one thing, the humans go out to find the aliens in this one because the aliens went crazy and tried to go find the humans…you have to read it to get that.

Aside from the unusual meeting, the aliens are SUPER weird! I was honestly blown away by how original the aliens were. They are asymmetrical, breeding dependent, and live in a ridiculous caste system that they genetically engineered. Yeah, go check this junk out. On top of that, there are leftovers from all of their genetic experiments, which reveal the true nature of their species to the humans.

Plot. When it finally got there…

For all of its shortcomings in execution, the plot was actually pretty good. The Moties (the aliens) are actually aware of the humans existence, but have no way to leave their system. They actually try to hide their breeding problems from the humans in order to leave their planet! The humans discover all of the deception however and set up a military blockade. The unfolding of the plot is somewhat slow and labored (at one point, you the reader get told all of the Motie secrets but have to wait for the rest of the characters to catch up) but it really is very clever.

Accessible Hard Sci Fi

This book is definitely nestled in the hard sci fi genre. They accelerate in gravities, the military is very prominent in space, and explanations are given for everything from Motie physiology to how the airlocks work on multiple ships. And yet there’s enough action off of the ships to give it a little lighter feel. One of the things that gets buried under the Moties’ weirdness is the humans own societal systems at work. There is a somewhat complicated love story and all kinds of resentment on both sides.

The characters get a little hard to sort at times, mainly because there are so many of them, but they are generally accessible. I felt sympathy and empathy with a lot of them, along with anger and astonishment at some of their decisions. All in all it was way more enjoyable than this garbage I tried to read.

Interesting Futurism

If you don’t know, I’m a Christian. More specifically I’m a pastor. So the thing that stood out to me the most in this book was the religion. There was talk of the Motie religions, and a few offshoots within human religions, but there are definite human traditions at work. The Christian Church is still going strong and one of the characters is a sort of Muslim. I say sort of because he fights his upbringing in his head the whole time. I simply found it interesting that the authors projected these two religions forward. Most authors don’t bother with that. Something to think about.

 

If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry I didn’t spoil too much. In fact, the first half will make you forget everything I’ve told you, so go pick up a copy! It’s definitely an interesting read.

It’s summer time, and I have two things going: reading list and baby watch. My wife is due in July, so I will be reading a lot of books while I wait for the baby. On top of several non fiction books I have lined up, i will be reading Ender’s Game and Rama II this summer. Join me? Or send some suggestions? Whatever you do, keep writing!

Embracing the Future (no matter what it may be)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately.

We live in an interesting period of history. I won’t go into a rant on any level. But I will say this: we have to start thinking about our future.

The Future!

Back in the 50’s and 60’s futurism was all the rage. The space race was on, the Cold War was in full swing, and Science Fiction writers were mostly positive about the way things were going. Artists and writers came up with worlds that were full of awesome technology and shining visions of jetpacks and flying cars.

If you haven’t noticed, we don’t have either of those.

Others envisioned a world run by electronic strips on small cards and computers that run everything in the home.

We have those.

The point is simply this:

They dared to dream of the future.

Futuristic Dreams

As writers of science fiction, it is important to dream of the future. Often our stories are set there, making it not only important, but necessary. Maybe you dream of a space faring human race. Or perhaps you stick with the 80’s futurists and see a world full of cybernetics and dystopia. But we have to always be looking forward, to what lies ahead.

What does your future look like?

I have several visions of the future. All of them are different and depend on an infinite number of circumstances.

Revisiting the Past

“A generation which ignores history has no past — and no future.”
Robert A. Heinlein

Have you read Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End? How about Heinlein’s Starship Troopers? Asimov’s Robot series? What about Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World?

All of these works have their own perspective of the future. And the best thing is that they were written in the past, yet they hold visions of a future not yet reached. By observing these writer’s visions of the future, we can draw our own conclusions. One interesting thing to note is that some of these writers thought their futures would be in place in the time we live in now. Which begs the question:

When do we see our futures happening?

This post is kind of weird and very speculative, but the main thing I want to get across is our need to dream. I said at the beginning that I have been thinking a lot lately.

I’ve been thinking about the future.

Ok for real, let’s talk about Arthur C Clarke

I’ve been on somewhat of a Clarke binge lately, reading two novels and a few of his short stories. If you haven’t read any of his work, I highly encourage you to pick some of it up. The two novels I read were ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ and ‘Childhood’s End’. I want to talk a little bit about them and a few of the things that make them great, and a few things that I felt were lacking.

SPOILERS TO FOLLOW

Style

First and foremost, I want to say that Arthur C. Clarke is a capital everything FANTASTIC story teller. I could not put either of these books down and finished them within a few days. He has a way of describing things without being too wordy. Circumlocution is not in his skill set.  These novels are not lengthy events, and yet they are packed with great wordsmithing.

World

If you read things that describe who Arthur C. Clarke was, you will often find the words ‘author’ and ‘futurist’. His novels are set in fantastical worlds where computers run everything and space is ripe for exploration.

But Will, computers do run the world and we have two cars on Mars.

Yeah but Clarke was writing before we even had a space program.

In fact, many of the things Clarke dreamed up in his writings are part of our world today. Go research it.

He also has a way of bringing you into his universe, and keeping you there. This is most likely due to his wonderful storytelling, but it’s a wonderful side effect. you get cool futures and the desire to stay in them.

Plot

Here’s where I start being slightly negative. Let’s start with ‘Childhood’s End‘. It’s split up into three parts, with the first being by far the best. In fact, Clark wrote the first part as a short story, and it was liked so much he made it into a novel.

I’m gonna be honest, I hated the ending. You can think I’m an idiot for that, or whatever, but I thought it was lame. A super powerful, corporeal presence needs a race of space devils to cultivate races to add to its hive mind?

Star Trek V anyone? You remember, the TERRIBLE one?

And ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ kind of let me down. I was entranced by the story for the whole book, and then BAM! ‘Well actually Rama is just using our sun for inertia to fly off again.’

The last line was pretty good though. And I do understand that he went on to write three more books. But the second was written 17 years after the first. So for 17 years everyone was left wondering what happened with Rama. But I’m still blown away by his storytelling abilities. I spent two days enamored with finding out why Rama was here only to find out that Clarke didn’t even know!

Characters

Clarke is great at writing, but not great at writing characters. And this is by design. He doesn’t focus too much on his characters because they aren’t the center of the story. His ideas and visions of the future are. Don’t get me wrong, i still like some of his characters. They’re often just used to add some new idea to the story, not to be the focus of it or thicken the plot.

I hope that this post drives you to appreciate Clarke. He was a great writer, and a dreamer of dreams. If you haven’t read the books i talked about, go pick them up. Maybe you’ll like the plots more than I did. But one thing’s for sure: you will finish them. And you will probably finish them quickly.

And when you finish great Sci Fi quickly, you have more time to write great Sci Fi 🙂