Sci-fi writers discuss changes in their genre

The science fiction of the past made bold predictions for the future of society – but what does the science fiction of the present hold in store for society and the science-fiction novel?

On Monday afternoon, three award-winning science-fiction writers gathered inside the Alumni Center for a panel discussion, titled “Past/Present/Future,” on the changes in science-fiction novel writing in the past 50 years.

A group of approximately 40 came together to listen to the discussion moderated by journalism professor and writer Rick Wilber.

Before the panel began, fantasy author Elizabeth Hand performed a reading of passages from her latest novel, Mortal Love.

Mortal Love is a dark fantasy novel about a young man who goes to London and is asked to work inside an insane asylum. According to Hand, her work tackles a variety of themes, such as the environmental issue of global warming, that society may have trouble resolving.

“I think a lot of what science-fiction writers are doing for ourselves and other people is to provide a template for how we learn to live with the messes we make,” Hand said. “This is the message that we are trying to send. We may not be able to clean it up, but here are some scenarios to learn how to live with it.”

Science-fiction critic and author John Clute said science-fiction themes have changed since 1945, when most novels concentrated on world domination. But according to Clute, events such as Sept. 11 and the 2004 tsunami have made the task of trying to change the world more difficult.

Clute said science fiction is not about one hero shaping or changing the world, but rather about people realizing how to cope with changes in the world.

Writer Kathleen Goonan discussed her concerns for the future of the genre.

“To me, written literature is a very important development in human history,” Goonan said. “A lot of kids don’t learn to read for pleasure.”

According to Wilber, many of his former students were unable to define the difference between a novel and a short story.

Hand said there may be a paradigm shift from a literary society to a post-literary society in the future. However, this may not be a negative thing for the novel. According to Hand, the novels of the future may become more interactive and allow people to use all of their senses.

“I think that the experience of storytelling is going to change in the future,” Hand said. “Storytellers will be creating new technologies that can bring people into the story, and people may be able to take a pill in the future that allows them to get inside the story.”