Illustration for article titled What if the future is just like today?

Philosopher John Holbo believes that the future might be the same as the present. Therefore, novels about today's world can count as science fiction - as long as they have the right perspective on technology and society.


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In an essay partly about why some works of 19th century novelist G.K. Chesterton should be considered science fiction, Holbo asserts that one possible SF scenario is that things will remain more or less the same. He argues that this means novels about the present can be science fictional - and even futuristic.


Writes Holbo:

We tend to assume science fiction is about portraying technological change – or potential technological differences from how things are now. But, logically, one of the possibilities is that things could be pretty much the same. Of course, this is rather silly because it turns every work of fiction into science fiction (because every work of fiction either imagines things to be different from how they are, scientifically, or more or less the same.) Which induces us to pluck the string of motive. What makes something sf is either its foregrounding of technological difference/change or its impulse to indulge the sociological imagination, more generally . . .

Now, let's run through it again. Logically, it should be allowable for any imaginative treatment of the future of science, or the possibilities of science (up to and including fairly flagrant impossibilities) to count as sf. But that means, potentially: things stay the same. But that's a silly sort of sf. So we expand our definition to include works of sociological imagination, as it were. But now it's a bit tail-wags-the-dog. The fact that Chesterton's novel, framed as it is, is plainly sf, goes to show that sf is a subset of a broader set of works of sociologically imaginative fiction. In much sf, the machinery functions not as a fictional end but a means of getting the sociological ball rolling. Instead of deus ex machina, to end the thing, you have populus ex machina, to get it started.

Read Holbo's whole essay at Crooked Timber.

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