Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Just Like Science Fiction

A genre is a warehouse of tropes.  No, it's like an Ikea catalogue. You could use it to furnish a house.  Or it's like one of those old Sears Roebuck catalogues: you could use it to furnish a life.  But no matter how much you rearrange the furniture, you can't escape the feeling that the house you've built is no more than a variation of all the other houses furnished by the same catalogue.  It's a roomy old catalogue, but it's much smaller than the world.

Some of the items you can order from the science-fiction catalogue aren't quite ready for the real world.  They may seem plausible or possible, but they're unrealised possibilities, golden vapourware.  Others are tick marks on a fantasy wishlist.  But there are items that were once golden vapourware that have escaped from the pages of the genre catalogue.  Space stations and satellites and spacecraft.  Cyberspace and robots.  They are part of the furniture of the happening world.  And the world continues to find new uses for them, and their importance to us continues to change, just as they continue to change us.  A science-fiction writer can choose to deal with them as if they were still no more than catalogue images, as if robots (for instance) are still no more clanking, vaguely human-shaped metaphors for oppressed workers, or machines too powerful to control, or unfallen humans, or silver-metal lovers.  But she would be looking backwards, or inwards.  She wouldn't be writing about the future; she wouldn't even be writing about the present.  She would be writing a fantasy polder about some future of days long past.

Here's an idea: why not write about them as they are now, or as they might become? Why not write about robots that are extensions of ourselves, in our blood, at the bottom of the ocean, falling past the heliopause? Why not write about killer drones, panopticon drones, soft robots, robots on Mars, robots swinging around Saturn's rings and moon, microscopic robots, surgical robots, cockroach robots, robot cockroaches, swarming robots, hive robots, spam robots, robots that connect to satellites and plot your route through the world, robots that live in your phone and help you live your life, wave-rider robots. . .

Push what they are, what they can to do, how they are changing us, as hard and as fast as you can.  Turn them into metaphors for the way we live, the way we might live, new angles on the human condition.  Mash them.  Mutate them.  Make them dance.  Make them sing.

Just like science fiction.


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