Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Speculative fiction: keeping it honest

Jamais Cascio has a set of guidelines that he thinks futurists should follow. They are broad in scope and seem to be targeted largely to those analysts that forecast where technologies are heading and the implications of their directions.

However, Cascio features fiction in his links and pays attention to speculative fiction writers as part of the futurist society. On this note, he lists a few key futurist maxims for behaving correctly:

1) ... There is a responsibility not to let the desires of a client (or audience, or collaborator) for a particular outcome blind him or her to the consequences of that goal, and will always inform the client of both the risks and rewards.

2) Responsibility to understand, as fully as possible, the range of issues and systems connected to the question under consideration, to avoid missing critical potential consequences.

3) Responsibility to acknowledge and make her or his client (audience, collaborators) cognizant of the uncertainty of forecasts, and to explain why some outcomes and consequences are more or less likely than others.

4) Responsibility to offer unbiased analysis, based on an honest appraisal of sources, with as much transparency of process as possible.

5) Responsibility to recognize the difference between short-term results and long-term processes, and to always keep an eye on the more distant possibilities.

I applied this litmus test to my own speculative fiction, Darwin's Orphans, and seem to pass the test. The story has a future world with a balanced look demonstrating risks and rewards in the outcome; kept the connected range of issues in check; uncertainty was obvious; transparency of sources and processes doesn't apply to fiction (but research sources are available); short and long term processes are differentiated with an eye to more distant possibilities. Yes, it is an honest work of speculative fiction according to these guidelines. There is a broader point here though: in publishing this blog, readers are relying on my truthfulness and accuracy of information. Otherwise, web content like this gets reduced to non-information. In cyberspace, we need to live by a similar set of rules otherwise this post and ones like it becomes worthless digital blather.

Cascio's definition of futurists is also eloquent: "Futurists perform a quirky, but necessary, task in modern society: we function as the long-range scanners for a species evolved to pay close attention to short-range horizons."

Live in the now, look to the future.


Renata Hill said...

Mark, you make some interesting comments regarding philosophy in your writing. I'm still struggling with the more mundane craftwork of plotting, character development, and the like, but I agree that speculative fiction, as with almost any genre, can become an excellent platform for well-worded political, religious, and/or philosophical views. I am writing a novel, my first, and haven't yet decided whether the spec fiction setting (in this case, science fiction) is more a backdrop for the story or if the setting is integral to the action.

Mark Salow said...

Thanks for your thoughts Renata. In the case of Darwin's Orphans, the setting is more of a backdrop for the story but it's still a key component of the action. Best of luck in your writing - Mark