SF, Vision, And Beyond

Space Station

Some time ago I mentioned the role of SF in having a vision, how our culture’s attitude made “visionary” SF harder, and the virtue of incrementalization. Serdar further examined how we might examine progress inappropriate.

But something kept kicking around in my head. There is some good SF out there, challenging SF, outrageous SF out there.  But I didn’t see anything that was really inspiring to me, that felt like it’d build the future.  Certainly little of it inspires me (especially as you’ve heard talking to me about my editing experience).

Then I realized that if we’re looking to SF to provide visions and growth and direction, to inspire us to more, it doesn’t matter if the SF is good (in some ways), challenging, or outrageous.

The thing is we need SF that really inspires us to do more. That means it has to have two traits.

TRAIT ONE: It Must Present A Vision

If we want SF to provide us with guidance to a better future (and one that’s not just commercialism as noted in the previous articles), then it has to provide us a vision of some kind.

That may sound rather obvious, but it’s actually not. A SF setting may have world building, detail, cool ideas, and neat gadgets. But for it to really inspire us to do something more it has to have a larger vision.

A vision means:

  1. A coherent idea or set of ideas . . .
  2. . . . that is desirable . . .
  3. . . . that we can reach for . . .
  4. . . . and that can be measured.

If you’ve done any kind of management you recognize this right a way. It’s kind of a SMART goal in fiction form. But it has to be something that you can actually measure and achieve.

Even something as simple as “using only renewable energy to avoid pollution” is al of those things. Its a coherent idea, that one can understand, and that can be measured (if only in lack).

I think visions can lack in SF for the following reason:

  • First, the person didn’t really have a vision. Hey, that may not be the goal, so no harm no foul.
  • Second, the vision is really just a load of tropes. Sure it might be based on original work, but after awhile you end up with enough tropes you can build a kind of Potemkin future that’s really not “real.”
  • Third, visions at times are seen as cheesy or creepy. That I kind of understand having seen both in SF that was really a political/personal screed in s vision suit.
  • Foruth, as noted some visions are crappy anyway. A personal screed driven by your own inner demons doesn’t count as a vision very much.

So if we want SF to inspire us, SF must give us a vision. And sometimes it doesn’t – somethings that’s OK.

But even if it has a vision, there’s another factor . . .

TRAIT TWO: It must be accessible

This is something that struck me as I mulled over the SF I’d heard about. I’d heard about things that were mind-bending and complex and filled with technical references and stuffed with imaginative ideas. I’ve heard of many a wild book in reading various geek sites.

But it doesn’t mean that enough people are going to get it to make a damn bit of difference.

Whenever I hear about how some SF novel is mind-blowing or has these crazy ideas part of me thinks “Great, even if I read it maybe me and 1000 people are going to get it and less are going to care.” Which may be fine, but that reduces the chance it’ll do anything effective to change the world.

If we want SF to make a difference, it’s vision has to be presented in a way that’s accessible to others.

That is something that has troubled me with supposedly visionary SF for some time – it felt like it was so crazy, so wild, so outrageous it was meant for some kind of elite club. It felt like the weirdness (no matter how warranted) was a kind of barrier. After awhile the promotion of said works sat ill with me, it felt like “join our special club.”

Really, you’re not going to make a better world joining a special club to sit around and feel superior. Actually that’s often the way you make a crappier world.

I think real visionary SF that is also accessible is rather missing today.

THE SAD TRUTH: It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect

And here’s what’s really sad – it doesn’t have to be perfect – or even that good – to change the world.

Let’s take a look at original Star Trek. It had vision of a unified earth and indeed many races, of exploration and high technology solutions. It even had a bit of history, of wars suffered and alliances made.

But it had its flaws. It seems very cheesy today, it struggled against budgetary limitations, it gladly dealt in some tropes. We look at it with affection, we see it was good in many ways, and some of the cast were absolutely stellar (for my money Leonard Nimoy and Mark Leonard were truly fine talents). But it also had problems that make it, simply, less than perfect.

But it really seriously changed people’s lives. Trek had a vision and an accessibility that made it work – I’d say that it even overcame it’s limits because of those two traits.

I have to wonder how many authors, publishers, filmmakers, and so on decided a really visionary, accessible, idea wasn’t “good enough” and nixed it for something esoteric or pandering. That, for that matter, probably failed.

The Perfect really is the enemy of the good or even the good enough.


Real, visionary, inspiring SF that changes the world needs to have a dream that a lot of us can participate in. It’s a difficult thing, I think , between many assumptions, marketing campaigns, desires to go bonkers, and more. But it’s needed if you want real, world-changing SF.

It just may not seem to be spectacular, or epic, or truly visionary. But if its a dream people can share and they get it, they can make it happen.

– Steven Savage