Why our science fiction needs new dreams.
This piece is part of Future Tense, a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University. On Thursday, Oct. 2, Future Tense will host an event in Washington, D.C., on science fiction and public policy, inspired by the new anthology Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future. For more information on the event and to RSVP, visit the New America website; for more on Hieroglyph, visit the website of ASU’s Project Hieroglyph.
Why are all our narratives about the future 50 years old? We seem to be recycling big ideas as if we live in an inspiration drought. We’ve retooled Star Trek so many times, it’s starting to look like one of those 1957 Chevrolets still cruising the streets of Havana.
One reason is that writing about the near future is hard to do convincingly. Imagining life 10 or 20 years down the road requires placing the same big bets that science fiction always makes (in the future, we will all wear matching leotards!) but provides an incredibly short runway to get from now to then.
Storytellers can play it safe by depending on tropes that we have already been trained to expect: In the future people will use phasers and doors will swish open with a satisfying noise. We make a comfortable nest of assumptions and “rules,” allowing everyone to get on with the tale of young love or the hero’s journey.