Saturday, 6 November 2010


The second panel discussion was a two-header (Tony Ballantyne and Peter F. Hamilton) who were lumbered with the subject 'Science-Fiction Discussion and Q&A' which I think was designed by TOR to give their authors as much latitude to puff their books as possible. But...

Panel Discussion 2
It was all pretty anodyne stuff until Peter Hamilton began to talk regarding the importance of getting the technology right in SF and to make it future resistant in order to give the books longevity. This it seems is done by making the technology described in SF stories persuasively vague: for example a Faster-Than-Light-Drive is merely created by a box involving 'solid-state circuitry' rather than an effort made to scientifically rationalise it.

But then he went further saying that 'classic SF is not readable today' and the reason he gave for this contention is that classic writers (Asimov was heavily cited here) got their technology wrong and hence all classic SF has to come with the warning 'only to be read in context'. Peter Hamilton's proposition was that classic SF writers - he called them writers of 'retro-SF' - were not as fact-driven as today's crop of writers and failed to get their technology/physics/engineering right.

Now my feeling is that technology in a SF story should be sufficient - and no more - to have the reader suspend disbelief and hence is simply a platform from which the writer can launch himself into an examination of more important issues...namely the sociopolitical consequences of change. And I think this is the attitude adopted by many of the earlier SF writers.

Did H.G.Wells concoct a persuasive technological argument for time travel? No, and it didn't detract from his book one jot.

Did Asimov explore the probability theory underpinning psychohistory? No, and the wonderful Foundation books were (and are) no lesser works because of it.

Does the lack of awareness of smart technology diminish the power of Orwell's '1984'? Of course not.

Sure at a distance of fifty or sixty years it's easy to pick holes in these and similar works of genius but the simple truth is that they (and 'Cat's Cradle' and 'Man in a High Castle' and 'A Clockwork Orange' and 'Flowers for Algernon' etc. etc.) are great books that deserve to be read over and over again because they were so original. These writers shaped SF and the wider world around them and ALL SF writers have been standing on their broad shoulders ever since. As a writer I'd love to be remembered for having created the Three Laws of Robotics or an argot as refined and original as Nadsat and that is why the classic writers deserve to be read and re-read...because they inspire us to be original.

Sorry, Peter, on this issue, I can't agree with you.

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