If We Need SF, What’s The Best Form?

Back on April 26th I did a post on how there’s a kind of SF Gap. My theory can be roughly summarized as:

  1. A lot of our SF dreams and ideas have come true (often in consumer electronics).
  2. It’s all pretty standard.
  3. SF looks a lot alike – or in some cases is so way out it doesn’t give us something to reach for.
  4. We therefore lack the inspiration to create new technologies.

Well you can guess that got people talking at the original article, and fellow writer Serdar had his unique insights on a larger “personal gap” and on technology and deception that are well worth reading – and joining in on the conversation.

Clearly I touched a nerve. OK, nerves for me, Serdar, and some regulars, but that’s still some important nerves that my grubby literary fingers prodded. In fact, Serdar’s feedback got me thinking . . .

So, my theory is we need the kind of SF that inspires people to explore science and technology and invent new things. Good SF gives us ideas to aim for as it imagines solutions we want in some relatively conceivable manner, or it extrapolates on existing technology that gives us a rough idea of where to go and how to get there. Having these goals and at least vague directions, we get inspired to do things with science and technology.

All well and good. Certainly we can look back on great books, stories, films, and television shows that did this. Let me show my biases plainly, I think we’d have seen a lot less computer advancement without Star Trek shoving it’s bright shiny future in our faces, since it normalized and popularized portable devices and interactive computers.

Siri is just Majel Barrett’s bastard daughter.*

So, the answer is we need more of those books and TV shows and such that inspire us, right? We need a new Star Trek, or a new Tom Swift, or whatever?

Well, actually I don’t think it necessarily follows that we need something like the “old days” that got us here. That, in a way, is part of the problem of creating the kinds of tales and fables that help us craft the future. We know we need them, but we should also ask what form they should come in.

Sure, yes, we could have books and movies and TV series. Maybe you could do “Twilight” with handsome scientists and mysterious computer programmers. Maybe you could do a gritty-but-inspiring space adventure story. Maybe . . . well maybe you could just do updated versions of what we did in the past.

But why? There are far, far more mediums that we can use now to create inspiring SF.  Besides, there’s so much repetition of the way-we-were that could be a problem.

Webcomics come to mind immediately, and not entirely because I adore Girl Genius** and Penny Arcade. They’re a popular method of getting fiction out there, and frankly there’s a lot of really good stuff – oh and there’s the advantage of wrapping it up and re-doing things as TBPs. Certainly XKCD showed that science-and-humor one shots can get a lot of attention.***

Serial fiction is another possibility. I know it’s still in an erratically realized stage right now, but e-books have led to at least some experimentation. An e-book series released serially could then be turned into a print book at the end, doubling publicity – and letting you measure the market.

Online video series are a third option, as many people are experimenting with them, and as Dr. Horrible proves, some can be quite successful (well, with the right backing). A highly visible, visual, and in a way “portable” series could go over well. Also with cheaper video technology, it’s amazing to see what people can do.****

Video games are a big, big option for communicating science fiction ideas and science ideas, and with the ever-expanding indie market, I’m sure someone could step up to the plate. Imagine combining good storytelling with interesting mechanics (based on real/extrapolated science) to deliver a seriously inspiring one-two of artistic experience. My only concern is games might get lesser exposure than other inspiring mediums, but I’m willing to risk it for the cool factor.

Finally, you have so many other ways to do more and reach people:

  • Kickstarter for funding.
  • Assorted POD and delivery methods for your book.
  • Do games or extra merch like trading cards at assorted printing companies. Create tie ins – or just interesting experiments.

So, yes, I’d like more inspiring SF. But there’s many other ways to deliver it, so I wonder – what is the best way to deliver such fiction in a way that will get the right attention?

Now I admit I’m biased towards the “old ways” of books, TV, and movies since those are what people seem to want. But now . . . I’m not sure. With these options, maybe they aren’t the right ones.

What do you think?

What are you going to create?

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.fantopro.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.

* Yes I had a minor crush on Majel Barret in my youth. I consider this totally rational.
** I’m not sure if I want Tarvek or Gil to Marry Agatha, but I’m leaning towards Gil.
*** And if the guy from XKCD decides to work on science fiction . . .
**** Like “Manborg” being done for $1000 Canadian . . . which I think is six hectares of liters in American currency.