Science fiction has a reputation for being of three sorts. First, there’s the pure entertainment, with no other agenda than to tell a good story. Second, there’s the kind that uses the genre to make a comment on contemporary society, sometimes suggesting what consequences might lie ahead. Third, there’s what has also been called “speculative fiction”, in which the writer looks to how our future might evolve
There’s no doubting the fact that some authors have been phenomenally accurate in their predictions, even though they may not have had contemporary references to work from. Just about every technology we know today was predicted by a science fiction author at some time. Jules Verne is just one author who seemed to have a window into the future, and his works certainly didn’t have the benefit of established science to be referenced. He wasn’t alone, either.
The question is, however, whether the visions of the future we read are the consequence of pure guesswork, speculating on the evolution of science (mainstream or not), or some kind of prophetic utterance inspired by the dreams of the author. Perhaps both operate, either together in one writer’s works, or separately according to the nature of an author. Reading science fiction, you can find sophisticated computers at a time when the best technology could offer was a comptometer, or electronic devices that are remarkably similar to the eReaders that have made such an impact in the last few years.
Of course, there is the possibility that science fiction actually helps to drive technology forward. Are our devices the result of inventors and technologists being intrigued by a science fiction concept? This is actually a strong possibility! There are more and more devices appearing which aren’t driven by an existing need. They come about because they can. It is easy to imagine some inventive person reading about a device of the future and feeling challenged by the concept. It would be natural for them to attempt to create that device, or something very similar.
Considering how often I’ve heard book critics sneering at the genre, it is rather amusing to think that it is changing our very society, at a fundamental level. I wonder how many of those critics routinely make use of the technologies the genre has inspired? I doubt any shun the devices that have come straight out of the pages of science fiction tales.
Prophecy or guesswork? Does it really matter? The fact is that we are all surrounded by the consequences of the genre today.