“As well as a mere storytelling device, science fiction often articulates our present-day concerns and anxieties – paradoxically, it is often about the here and now rather than the future. As Stephen Baxter points out…, H. G. Wells’s ground-breaking 1895 novella The Time Machine – famous for popularising the idea of time travel – was more concerned with where Darwinian natural selection was taking the human race than with the actual nuts and bolts of time travel. In the 1968 novel Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner imagined the dire consequences of overpopulation. Arthur C. Clarke’s The Lion of Comarre explored the terrible allure of computer-generated artificial realities, which – god forbid – people might actually choose over the far-from-seductive messiness of the real world.
All of these books are about imagining where present-day, often worrying, scientific and technological trends might be leading us. They can act as a warning or, at the bare minimum, cushion us from what American writer Alvin Toffler so memorably described as ‘future shock.'”
Chown’s point is well taken. I’ve long believed that science fiction is less predictive than diagnostic, telling us more about the era in which it is written than about the future. Better to say that science fiction is the way we, in our own particular times and places, work out possible futures given the scenario we see before us. Can a truly ‘futuristic’ science fiction — one that makes no reference to its own provenance, but tries to depict the future while remaining free of the political and sociological baggage of the time from which it emerged — even be written? If so, how?
Addendum: In my view, the writer who came closest to the ‘futuristic’ goal outlined above was Paul Linebarger, who wrote under the name Cordwainer Smith. More on this remarkable man here.