The Shape of Things Come

July 2nd, 2013

Arthur RadebaughWearable tech, near-planet colonization, computer-assisted telepathy – the future looks amazing, so why aren’t more people writing about it?

In a literary scene dominated by backward-looking steampunk and pessimistic dystopia, isn’t it time for some forward-looking, problem-solving science fiction.

Last Thursday, during the summer residency at Seton Hill University’s graduate program in Writing Popular Fiction, 32 MFA candidates and I worked together to extrapolate workable futures and brainstorm plots that might give their next SF project an edge in the current marketplace.

The Time MachinesOne of the first things we considered was advice that John W. Campbell gave to his writers in 1939. Here’s how writer Mike Ashley summarizes that advice in The Time Machines, his three volume study of the history of the sf magazines:

Campbell […] wanted the stories to read just as though they were contemporary stories in a future magazine.  New scientific concepts to us would be everyday things to people of the future and wouldn’t require lengthy descriptions. The writer had to find a way to introduce new inventions and yet make them well-known objects.

We talked about how to do this through incluing, which sf writer Jo Walton has described as the process of “scattering pieces of information seamlessly through the text to add up to a big picture.” We also talked about infodumps which can work if done right. Honest. Read Neal Stephenson if you don’t believe me.

RalphAs an exercise we deconstructed and revised a page from Hugo Gernsback’s proto-sf novel Ralph 124C41+, attempting to update the opening scene for 21st Century readers. That was fun.

Along the way, I attempted to make a case for writing real speculative fiction in this backward-looking age, when even Disney’s once visionary Tomorrowland has gone disappointingly retro.

Toward the end of the session, I allowed time for  each writer to submit questions and comments on notecards. As is usually the case, time kept us from addressing all of them.

Here, then, are the two we didn’t get to, along with my responses. Please feel free to post follow-up comments. It’s always good hearing from you.

Where can a writer learn about the latest technological innovations?

For starters, you might try LiveScience, Physorg, Scientific American, and Wired. For your iPod, consider subscribing to the podcasts at Science Friday, Studio 360 (which covers more than science-related stories), and On Science. There are tons of others. These are simply the ones that I usually try to make time for.

Any comments on nanotechnology? William Gibson has said that “he can’t wrap his mind around the concept,” which I why he hasn’t written about it.

You can check out an excellent list of nanotech stories from LiveScience here. Also, the Physorg website has a tab devoted to nano news. Some amazing stuff there.

As far as the challenge of wrapping one’s mind around the topic, I think it all comes down to exploring one aspect of the technology rather than its myriad implications. Check out M. Shayne Bell’s “Anomalous Structures of My Dreams,” which originally appeared in F&SF. Audible has included the story in The Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, January-February 2003. Highly recommended.

I think that’s it for this installment, although there’s always a chance that one of the notecards got lost in transit. If that’s the case, or if there’s a question you had meant to submit but didn’t, please post it below. Likewise, if you were not in the session and you have a question or comment about something posted here, please feel free to join the discussion.

WPF SymbolPhaseFinalColorFor my next post, I’d like to take a look at some questions posed during a Time Management for Writers presentation that I did for Seton Hill’s In Your Write Mind workshops (which ran concurrent with SHU’s summer residency). Beyond that, I hope to offer a summation of my WPF presentation on Revision and possibly some comments on the IYWM Book Signing and a TV interview that Will Horner and I did with Heidi Rubi Miller and Matt Dowling (of GoingLIVE TV). More on those soon.

Until then, keep writing, look toward the future . . . and rock on!

  1. This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 at 1:37 pm and is filed under 21st-Century Scop. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “The Shape of Things Come”

  1. […] In a literary scene dominated by backward-looking steampunk and pessimistic dystopia, isn’t it time for. . . . [Read more at the 21st-Century Scop.] […]

  2. Todd Moody says:

    Hi Larry,
    I love future tech, and try to keep up. The Futurist is a bimonthly magazine from the World Future Society ( is another great source as is Bruce Sterling’s blog

    I’m writing a story 40 years in the future that has a lot of gadgety things and I’m having a great time!

    Great post!

    • Lawrence C. Connolly says:

      Hello, Todd: Thanks so much for the links. Both are excellent resources. Delighted to hear your latest story is going well. I’m looking forward to hearing how it turns out. For my part, I’m deep into the third installment of my “Daughter’s of Prime” series, set some 100 years in the future when personal cybernetics and a fairly sophisticated form of three-dimensional printing (two topics we discussed in the module at Seton Hill) have revolutionized space exploration. The first two installments appeared in F&SF and have since been reprinted in my collection Voices. So far, the new story going well. Keep in touch!

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