Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Yesterday's Future Today


Gregory Frost sent me a link to an article about a new prosthetic hand that not only responds to its user's thoughts but also provides a limited sense of touch. Which put me in mind of a conversation I had in the early 1980s with William Gibson.

This was at the Chicago Worldcon and Bill was working on his first novel. He told me he'd just written a scene he was rather pleased with in which a character goes to a hotel and instead of a room key he's given a swipe card. Then he arrived at the Chicon hotel and the desk clerk slid a rectangle of cardboard with a magnetic strip into a machine which chose a number at random, gave it to the card, and then sent the code up to his door lock. A day before, GIbson had been ahead of the curve. Now, he said ruefully, he found himself behind it.

You won't find that key card in Neuromancer, I'm sure. Gibson went back and rewrote the scene. But that was the same Worldcon, I believe, in which I discovered that the airport had slidewalks and that the sinks and toilets turned the water on and off using infrared sensors.When I checked in, the clerk told me I could check my email on Channel 1 of the TV -- as if I had any idea what he was talking about.

A day before, I'd been living in the present. Now I was living in the future.

So are we all, today, and have been for decades. But it's an easy fact for a science fiction writer to overlook.  We are so immersed in the literature that it's easy to forget that not all of it's fiction.

But if you're writing about a world with astronauts, thought-controlled prosthetics, robots, and genetic engineering -- and you haven't added anything genuinely new to the mix -- you're not writing science fiction at all. You're just writing badly-researched mainstream fiction.

All you new writers out there... this is your thought for the day.

You can read the Guardian article here.

And just a reminder...

My final book tour appearance will be next Monday at the Penn Bookstore.

That's September 21 at 6:00 p.m.  If you have a hankering for an autographed copy of Chasing the Phoenix, or if you just want to hear me read from it, this is your opportunity.

I'm hoping there will be a big turnout because the alternative is always so depressing. So tell your friends! Dress up your cats and dogs in human togs and bring them too! And if alien life is discovered in the next five days, they're welcome too!


Penn Bookstore
September 21 at 6:00 p.m.
3601 Walnut Street, Philadelphia


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