Is science fiction predictive?

I've seen and heard from various places that the value of science fiction is in its ability to predict the future, to predict the ways society and technology will develop in a century or twenty. This leads to dismissing works that didn't predict cell phones or the September 11 attacks or that had computers the size of a city block that only the five richest kings in Europe would be able to afford (Simpsons moment...for an episode I saw years ago, so I've likely completely mangled it). I say poppycock. (I've always wanted to say poppycock and never had an opportunity to...I wonder where such a ridiculous usage comes from.)

And I have none other than Ursula LeGuin on my side. I just picked up a copy of The Left Hand of Darkness the other day (and you'd be right to question my moral fortitude when I admit that I'd yet to read it--but that's being remedied at the moment). She wrote an introduction to the book some seven years after it was first published, and it's included in this edition I have. Prediction, she says, is for prophets, clairvoyants, and futurologists, not novelists. "The weather bureau will tell you what next Tuesday will be like... I don't recommend you turn to writers of fiction for such information. It's none of their business. All they're trying to do is tell you what they're like, what you're like--what's going on now--what the weather is now, today, this moment, the rain, the sunlight, look!"

She goes into the whole question much more, as well as the nature of fiction as lies that are true, and it's certainly worth reading for all writers. I think it's why I find attempts to rigidly define science fiction apart from fantasy or speculative fiction apart from mainstream as silly. Looking at SF as primarily predictive leads to the type of snobbish view toward fantasy that some science fiction fans have, as if this future-looking prediction somehow elevates it above other writing. No. Whether science fiction or fantasy, whether superficially speculative (in the broad sense) or claiming (pretending) to be mimetic, fiction speaks about us. Today. About what it means to be human. And for those works that last, it's because they continue to speak to the nature of humans, not just then but now, a today that keeps shifting as we do. Even if they lack cell phones.


visionbird said…
Well said!! It is incredible the layers of snobbery that cross cut the worlds of creative endeavour, which should be about getting around those boundaries!
Daniel Ausema said…
Thanks, Dana. Yeah, better to tear down the walls than tried to reinforce them.
Karen said…
Good post. That's an interesting way to look at it.
A belated "amen" to that post.