According to JJ Abrams’ TED talk, “Mystery is the catalyst for imagination.” He said that at times, he started thinking that mystery is more important than imagination. Also according to JJ, creativity and filmmaking is now “democratized” due to the availability of technology to every aspiring filmmaker. This is true about writing as well.
Well, to put this in the context of monkeys and kittens, I think this has to do with curiosity. I think people are biologically constructed to be curious, and that using our imagination is as natural and essential as eating and drinking. As we are living in a world where current science and technology is as “magical” as that which was posed by science fiction writers in the 1930’s and 40’s (some very “off” and some amazingly right-on), I think what we need to write about is any place or any thing that our imaginations – to which there is no limit – can take us.
Along those lines, Crossed Genres magazine is sponsoring a Science In My Fiction Contest, with an entry period of April 1 to June 30. The premise of the contest is that entrants must write a science fiction story featuring a science or technology advance that occurred during the past year. As I learned during some of my alarming “panel” experiences in recent years, it is not exactly de rigueur for science fiction writers to be “up” on current technologies or scientific research. For example, scientists have made significant advances in emulating the behavior of neurons in the brain using “memristors” or nano chips (this was in seeking to emulate the workings of a cat’s brain). Desalinization technology, which is of great interest to water-poor areas of the world, has also recently been advanced to a practical, usable level.
Very briefly, how does one make stories out of such information? We ought to have learned by now that science fiction writers of the past may have been very right about technology and scientific advances, but where they were weakest, in many ways, was in the human response to, and use of such technologies. For example, I cannot think of any early depictions of computing, communications, or entertainment technology where it was not portrayed in a hierarchical manner – i.e. most of these early (and continuing) societies divided the tech between the “haves” and the “have nots” and did not account for the global adoption that we see today – the global penetration of the internet, cell phones, broadcast technologies, etc. What we see today is the technological explosion not bringing a “singularity” (sorry, Kurzweil! Be happy with the $$, OK?), but bringing people separated by physical distance closer together. So far as I know, they are still “people.” As to the availability of data, look at what Hans Rosling was able to do with population and mortality data – a little different from the marching dystopias, is it not?
But again, how to make stories out of such information? Well, first, ask who the science or technology means the most to. Who has the most to gain, or to lose? That is the start of all good stories.