Flashforward Friday: Social Science Fiction – Raven Oak

Flashforward Friday: Social Science Fiction

For this week’s Flashforward Friday post, I’m honored to have the always thought-provoking author, J. L. Forrest, here for a guest post on the “science in science fiction’s future, the social in science fiction’s future, and the challenges our species is facing right now, for real, in the here and now.”

First Space Walk

Edward White‘s First Space Walk. Image used via CC from NASA.

I write social science fiction. In this week’s Flashforward, it’s the social aspect of our fiction, reality, and future, which draws my attention.

Here on the eve of 2015, fifty years after Edward White‘s historic first spacewalk, we humans seem once more at some bifurcation. In one direction might still wait the future promised us by the Silver Age of science fiction; in the other threatens a catastrophic mess reminiscent of So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.

What do I mean by this? While we’re not yet cruising in the flying cars of The Jetsons, only a moment’s reflection tells us our world is becoming less science fiction and more science fantastic every day.

Just a handful of the developments this month, never mind the year in review: BYU is developing a working holodeck, the Curiosity detected organic matter on Mars, a quadriplegic at the University of Pittsburgh simultaneously controlled multiple prosthetic devices with her mind, South Korean researchers created an artificial skin which feels pressure at varying forces and from multiple directions. This month, hundreds of other jaw-dropping advances quietly passed most of the public by. We live in a truly remarkable age.

Yet, at this moment, a corporation (Sony), a superpower (the USA), and a despotic state (North Korea) appear to be waged in all-out cyber war, using billions of dollars of twenty-first-century technology, over a Seth Rogen film. In Peshawar, Pakistan, Taliban fundamentalists killed 132 school children and nine adults in an unforgivable tit-for-tat massacre, as much as anything a statement about secular versus fundamentalist education in the perennially unstable region. The United States appears fractured by racial tensions unseen for decades, driven mostly by irrational and racist social fears, and it has unprecedented levels of anti-science sentiment in its own Congress; for example, the incoming chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe (R-OK), believes that global warming is a hoax orchestrated by Barbra Streisand. If I wrote that as the plot for a science-fiction story, we could only call it satire, and yet Inhofe’s statements have been clear, public, and sincere.

As our technology races ahead of us, how do we square its power and potential with the remaining, and sometimes strengthening, ripples of fundamentalism, irrationalism, and outright social insanity? Science fiction tries, as much as anything, to hold a mirror of futurism against who we are now. Our technological future becomes more real every day, but we haven’t yet learned, as a species, how to match our humanity, our reason, and our collective empathy to the powers which technology grants us. Science fiction can, in its own small way, show us a future not only filled with sparkling wonder, but a future where we humans are sane enough, wise enough, and humane enough to use it to our collective benefit.

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