The Science Fiction of the Gaps

A little while ago, James Nicoll posted about the shifting subject areas of SF:

In fact, a fairly consistent pattern in SF is to retreat away from areas that have come under the light of scientific examination. When probes began to visit the planets, SF retreated to the stars (There are very few novels these days set in the solar system). In fact, Trouble on Titan starts off with an essay by Nourse explaining that the attraction of Titan for him was that so little was known about it that he could set almost anything there and not have to fear contradiction from scientists.

It's the same process we see in religion, the science fiction of the gaps.

Now, very few people are quite as insisent upon scientific rigor in their SF as James is, but it's an interesting point. It also may be useful to me, as the draft Worldcon program has been posted, wherein we find:

Fri 1400 How Much Science Should SF Contain?

Participants: Chad ORZEL, David M SILVER, Gregory BENFORD, Stanley SCHMIDT, Ted CHIANG

Hugo Gernsback created SF to teach science. Should this be a foundational idea for SF or is it a horrible error? Why do we care whether the science is right even when the story is good? Much of SF seems to get along quite nicely with no discernable reality in its science althogh there is the occasional piece accorded masterpiece status *because* of its science content. Is the issue the technical details or is it a general approach to the universe that is important?

(I continue to have "One of these things is not like the other..." reactions to seeing my name on these panels. Here, for example, we have award-winning authors and editors... and some guy with a website.)

The short version of my answer to the panel-title question, for those not willing to trek to Japan to hear the long version, is "Not so much that it buries the story." Hopefully, the fact that I'm listed first doesn't mean that I'm moderating...

My other program item is:

Mon 1000 Blogging and Live Journals in SF

Participants: Adam RAKUNAS, Chad ORZEL, Paul CORNELL, Yoshio KOBAYASHI, Patrick NIELSEN HAYDEN

Blogging (and related activities) are having an impact on the world at large, and the SF community in particular. Blogs tell us more about the people in the field, the way the field works, and who is who -- and at a pace and a distribution that few if any fanzines ever matched. Blogs influence the directions of our community, can impact awards by making works or their creators better known, and perhaps even influence the works being created. Or is the impact overstated, as all things net related seem to be? Can writers use blogs to market themselves? Are blogs a way to engage the community? And is this true worldwide, or is it just an US-centric fad? Or even the English speaking world?

This is a somewhat less intimidating line-up, and an easier topic to cope with in many ways. It's also very nearly the last panel of the convention, so it'll probably be pretty low-key, which is fine by me.

The program notification arrived just in time, really, because we're leaving first thing tomorrow morning, heading first to NYC, and then to JFK on Saturday morning for our flight out. With the exception of one unpleasant meeting, I'll be spending the day packing and doing other trip prep, but if anybody has last-minute suggestions to make, leave 'em in the comments.

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I'm merely going to say how deeply envious I am of you. You are there. I'm not. Dammit.

You WILL have to post on how those panels go, though, right?

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 16 Aug 2007 #permalink

Excellent, Chad! I've done well over a dozen panels with Geg Benford, and have brought Stan Scmidt (with whom I've panelled) to a min-SF con I ran inside the 6th International Conference on Complex Systems, but never had the good luck to panel with the brilliant Ted CHIANG.

You should no more be intimidated by Hugo and Nebula award winners than you are at a Science Conference by Nobel laureates.

I did the equivalent Blogs are Journalism? panel at Westercon a year ago (not the most recent one). The SF was implicitly in the topic by our venue, but the issue was whether real journalism was getting done, beyond the "I'm smiley face listening to this song while worrying about this girlfriend..." diaries. Short answer: yes, absolutely. The issue was then to use our SF chops to extrapolate HOW mainstream media would be perturbed by blagdom and vice versa.

I annoyed Patrick by overposting on Makinglight, 2-4 years ago, for a while with him grumbling and Teresa standing up for me, but I thank them both for teaching me Blog Protocol. And, of course, they are escellent editors of whriters I admire, so I buy their books.

Sounds great, Chad. Do keep us informed.

If you are to be moderator, ask for advice of other moderators, and on this blog... I've moderated about 1/3 of the 250 panels I've done.

You lucky bastard.

You get to meet Ted Chiang. (I feel moderately guilty for not buying his new book. On the other hand, perhaps he could fine a more cost efficient venue for his readers-- his publisher wants how much for how many pages?!)

By John Novak (not verified) on 16 Aug 2007 #permalink

Science Fiction of the Gaps

This is a more general phenomenon than just science fiction. It's much easier to suspend your disbelief when the environment of any story is unfamiliar to you. I wasn't able to finish the Grisham's book "The Firm" because the story took place in my home town and the idea of the events he portrayed taking place here was ludicrous.

By Nathan Parker (not verified) on 16 Aug 2007 #permalink

One of the founding principles of sf fandom, which gets lost all too often today, is that fans, informed readers, have as valid insights and thoughts to offer as people who get paid to write. Don't be intimidated by them however award winning they may be. Their hot water heaters leak, they have crabgrass, and they suffer the indiginities of advancing age just like everyone else.