Nothing builds intricate worlds like the attention to detail given to the story’s geography. What makes a setting compelling is the effort that goes into creating elaborate planets that are logical and familiar in terms of geology, history, climate and all that encompasses the geographical nature of the fictional world.
The field of economics probably bores the average lit reader, and probably most sci-fi readers as well. Yet the best sci-fi reads are the ones that construct plausible alternative financial constructs and economic environments. Whether we like it or not, our lives are immersed and enslaved to whatever the current economic paradigm is in place. So much so that most people don’t even know that alternatives exist. They don’t comprehend that the economic system that they are bound to be only an invention, and that other (maybe better, possibly worse) systems can exist.
A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.
Stories about the ‘mad scientist’ kicked off genre literature, ever since Daedalus fabricated wings from feathers and wax for himself and his son Icarus. Invention is the heart of all sci-fi stories, which in turn becomes the heart of inspiration that turns science fantasy into reality. Geosynchronous communications satellites, computer worms, Segways, wall-mounted home theatres, exoskeletons, smartphones, virtual worlds, and organ harvesting were all described by sci-fi writers long before engineers turned them into reality.
Whether it’s curing existing diseases or encountering new ones, a bit or a lot of pathologies doesn’t hurt a story or make for a bad plot device. Injecting fear and dread into any scenario can be as easy as prescribing an epidemiologist or two.
We are already living in Isaac’s world. Big data already allow governments and corporations to make educated guesses at what’s coming around the corner. As this information age deepens, how will it change the way we live? Does big data ever get too big to predict anything?
This science is a given. Even if the story doesn’t involve alien ecosystems, a near or far-future world is an undiscovered country of new manifestations of living things, human or otherwise. What have we so far found living on this planet? Plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, slime moulds, archaea. From synthetic to quantum biology, the list of organisms that can be conjured up is endless.
With Dan Simmon’s Hyperion Cantos and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series inching closer to television screens, a question resurfaces, a question I’ve been asking ever since first reading these two works of classic science fiction, both of whom have been fighting an eternal battle for the number one spot on my favourites list.