Blog posts in Science Fiction Repair Shop for September 2015:

Flight of the Vajra: A Better Tomorrow Dept.

"We expect more change than actually happens in the future because we imagine our lives have changed more than they actually have."

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/14 09:00

Tom Vanderbilt Explains Why We Could Predict Self-Driving Cars, But Not Women in the Workplace

... when I took a subway to a café to write this article and electronically transmit it to a distant editor, I was doing something I could have done in New York City in the 1920s, using that same subway, the Roosevelt Brothers coffee shop, and the telegram, albeit less efficiently. (Whether all that efficiency has helped me personally, or just made me work more for declining wages, is an open question). We expect more change than actually happens in the future because we imagine our lives have changed more than they actually have.

Emphasis mine. Such dilemmas manifested, in my case, in the form of questions about what kind of human behavior to depict in a story about the far future. I decided the best thing I could do, in the case of Flight of the Vajrawas not try to predict too much, but instead to do what any decent SF book does: take what we have now and comment on it by using SF as an interpretive filter.

Vajra was already bordering on obsolete, at least in terms of its technical predictions, by the time it came out. Right in the first sec tion, the main character users a disposable personal drone, and the way I wrote it I implied that this sort of thing was a) common and b) something of an arms race between the people who made such things and the people who try to defend against them. This has already happened, so the future in question already starts to look a little quaint. Ditto the way things like 3D printing or self-assembling materials figure into the story as local color and backdrop. All this stuff just seems hopelessly obvious now, and not very boundary-pushing in terms of asking hard questions about what our lives are going to be like in any number of years. (This isn't why I would want to revise the book, either. Rather, that was more around cleaning up the text itself, on a simple mechanical level.)

But then there are all the things that wouldn't change, most of them rooted in deep-seated parts of human nature. Rather than pin my hopes for the story's success on any one technological prediction, I decided the smarter thing to do would be to make the whole thing revolve around human desire: the impulse to move forward versus the urge to cling to what's familiar. That became the real axis for the story.

I don't think I was completely successful there either, but I hope that element of it has a better chance of meaning something to readers later on down the line than tech gimcrackery already dated by the book's release.

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Tags: Flight of the Vajra Science Fiction Repair Shop science fiction


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