Science Fiction’s Wonderful Mistakes

“From the mid-1920s, when Hugo Gernsback coined the term ‘science fiction,’ several fallacies became associated with the increasingly vigorous commercial genre and never entirely went away. The first was the ‘Taught Me Science Fallacy,’ which goes something like this: Isaac Asimov writes about science and particle physics, so if I read the Foundation trilogy, I might learn what a neutrino is. … But while it is theoretically possible for someone to learn science from a science fiction novel, it would probably be foolish to read the entire Foundation trilogy—concerning a secret tribe of ‘psycho-historians’ who design millions of years of future history before it happens—to learn something. … Second, and more annoying, is the ‘Predictive Fallacy.’ This suggests that science fiction might accurately describe what the world will be like 100 years after we’re dead. This argument usually runs along the line of: ‘Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, and guess what? A few years later we went to the moon!’ Or it cites the various occasions when some story described television sets, microwaves, escalators, and two-way video phone calls and then, voilà, they happened. But of course, sci-fi novels—both good and bad—are littered with gadgets that happened and didn’t happen; what they never foresaw was how (and usually how poorly) those inventions would be implemented. … Finally, there’s the ‘Cautionary Fallacy,’ which suggests that science fiction provides urgent warnings about our collective need to prepare for world-hammering comets, nuclear war, climate catastrophe, totalitarian mind-control, and so forth. In support of this fallacy, people say things like: ‘George Orwell warned us about the Thought Police, and now we’ve got Nancy Pelosi!’ … The science fiction novels of the 1960s—as this two-volume collection of eight very different sci-fi novels testifies—remain enjoyable because they got everything wrong. They didn’t accurately predict the future of space travel, or what a postnuclear landscape would look like, or how to end intergalactic fascism. They didn’t warn us against the roads we shouldn’t travel, since they probably suspected we were going to take those roads anyway. And they definitely didn’t teach us what a neutrino is. …”
New Republic
LOA – American Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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