Why science fiction matters now more than ever

History is tough to read.

Aside from the matter of finding a book that grabs your interest, you’ve got to determine the author’s expertise and biases, and look at the source material—knowing that it will always be complete because nothing survives forever—and in all honesty, I don’t think it’s fair to expect everyone to have the time and expertise to do it.

(Expertise? Yes. Without familiarity with various fields, my best proxy for questioning an assertion is whether or not both written and archeological sources support said assertion. On the occasions when I do read books dealing with eras and locations I’ve studied, I tend to find at least a few quibbles, which to me indicates that nothing should be taken at face value.)

History is tough to read, but that’s where we get our best lessons from.

Acknowledging the issues above, though, science fiction is the next best place to look.

Science fiction is well known for exploring contemporary issues, especially (at least to me) in the ’60s and ’70s. In science fiction we see what authors thought tomorrow would look like, and even when they don’t hit the bullseye there’s a lot to be said about their fears and hopes and how the issues would translate today.

I’m reading John Brunner’s ‘The Shockwave Rider’, written in 1975, and it’s almost insane to me how much of this book is relevant today. Private citizens have willingly handed over most of their data to the government in order for a more convenient lifestyle, which has led to people failing to stay in places as long and a culture that is centered on instant gratification, as well as shocking violence. There’s even a bit about how government officials are generally elected with 40% or less of the vote.

Of course, not all of this has come to pass as described, or will ever, but it’s worth considering that if science fiction in 1975 could be so prescient, what would works written today have to say?

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