Geek 501 – Science Fiction Today

Today, I’d like to turn one of our recurring features – Geek 501, where we introduce or explore a topic – on one of our other recurring features – Science Fiction Today. In our Science Fiction Today posts, we take a current issue from the world today, and think about what it could look like in the future, at what the science fiction solution to the problem might be.

We like Science Fiction Today because there are so many hard problems today – maybe in all days and times – but that they then get lost in politics, become almost impossible to discuss rationally, and then what can be done about them? This is maybe especially the world of American politics, where everything seems to always be reduced down to a dichotomy, every issue gets claimed by one of the two parties.

I found a theoretical term recently to consider these sorts of issues, and then today there were a couple of SourceFed stories that really pointed to need for people to be thinking and dreaming of what to do in the future – to be building Science Fiction Today. So let me explore, briefly, why I think these posts matter.

Wicked Problems

I was reading an article recently about gun control on college campuses – an issue right now in my state and many other states, it seems – and came across the term “wicked problem.” They explained it some, but I ran to the all-powerful Wikipedia:

Effectively, a wicked problem is a problem which is a large societal problem, with no simple, easily discerned answer. Because of that, and other elements, it ends up becoming lost in ideology, and politicized. And because there’s no way of knowing which strategy, approach, or plan will work best, politics may be the best way to approach the problems. Or maybe it’s not, if we just fight back and forth on things…

For instance, guns on campus. The fights seem to be a question of whether more guns on campus will make campus safer, with potential shooters thinking twice because there are people armed and ready for them. Or, is banning guns going to do the trick? Harder to get a weapon onto campus if they aren’t allowed – and you know anyone who has one is trouble, then, right?

The answer seems to be there is no answer. For one thing, what might be true for one campus or state might not be for another. Or for one possible shooter. And while research or time might give us the actual answer, to conduct this sort of research, you have to pick one of these options, and give it time. A lot of time. And that’s people’s lives on the line.

This is the sort of problem that we look at with Science Fiction Today. Wicked problems. For instance, the future of a problem like this might be in fancy non-lethal, science fiction weapons. Like the sorts you see in a movie like Minority Report – the Sick Sticks and the sonic shotgun type weapons. Have people on campus walking around with those? Might just do the trick and save lives.

Unfortunately, what our Science Fiction Today posts lack are an answer for what to do today. However, what I hope they do point to is the thought that in Science Fiction – and other sorts of Speculative Fiction – creative people are working on thinking of answers and solutions to these sorts of problems, if we just look at them. And as I’ve written before, I believe in the importance of Speculative sorts of fiction.

End of Civilization and Space Colonization – in the news on the same day

Well, that’s a large heading, sorry. However, that’s what happened in the news over on SourceFed today – an article about a study saying that civilization might collapse within 50 years, and another saying that we’ll probably have a colony on the moon within 50 years. Here they are:

Their listed source:

Their listed source:

The second piece is perhaps the hopeful thinking, but it’s the sort of thinking that I might call Science Fiction Today. Things aren’t looking good here on Earth; let’s head to space. I’ve written that before in fact. It’s the seeming solution to our wicked problem from the first story.

The first piece is looking first at a study which has some good historical roots to it. Looking at past civilization collapse, and projecting it into our future. This is our wicked problem. This is part of the political conversation of the world already: the elites and the whole “1%” idea, overconsumption, overpopulation, climate change, the works. All coming to a head.

The article, if you read it, ends with some unsubstantiated claims about how we might fix it: there’s no reference to civilizations being able to pull it off, to redistribute and save their future. It’s conjecture. It might work. But it’s a wicked problem – we won’t know until we do it, and it works or doesn’t. Dangerous path to go on.

So we’ll continue to see this politicized, and for me, I don’t know that I like the dichotomy that is formed between one-or-another solutions. And with politics, we also get lost in discussion of who’s fault it is, and we could fight those sorts of fights right up until it’s too late. Or not too late. I’m not making up my mind on a wicked problem if I can help it!

So I like the thought of an escape, of space exploration and colonization. It’s a different sort of solution than the sorts of fights we have in the political sphere. So we need people out there writing the science fiction: thinking through the implications, thinking through the future of the wicked problems. Because we can’t know the answers for sure, but we can speculate on what the possibilities would look like. And that can help you make a decision on the topic that’s based on more than ideology.


16 responses to “Geek 501 – Science Fiction Today

  1. Reblogged this on Sourcerer and commented:
    Here’s a perfect example of why I read Comparative Geeks. They always make me think. I think David has a point here about problems being reduced to dichotomies in American politics. I’ve seen that for a long time. In my experience, there are almost never only two solutions to a problem. I’ll take it a step further and say that having only two parties is a structural weakness, but I have no idea what to do about that. This article also includes a couple of cool videos, and the fact that they’re juxtaposed here makes them either cooler.


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