RE: Most 200{0,1} prescient SciFi author?

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From: Lisa Dusseault (
Date: Sun Dec 31 2000 - 17:53:39 PST

> William Gibson, for "Neuromancer" (in 1974!), is pretty
> impressive even though
> we don't yet have fully interactive 3D interfaces for
> everyday use. We're
> there for gaming in Quake Arena et al.

Neuromancer was written in 1983 and granted the Hugo in 1985, not 1974,
so you're granting him an extra decade of prescience. Not that I feel
Gibson deserves marks for that; in fact he was pretty poor. The worst
idea was that getting hurt in VR would hurt you IRL. WTF? But even
more damning than that; Gibson wasn't even original in his prescience.
It's pretty common to think that Gibson invented this stuff, but he
didn't. Vinge wrote "True Names" in 1980: this had much better VR
metaphor-for-reality stuff, that predated Gibson by 5 years.

What I will grant Gibson true credit for is originality of tone,
attitude, the gritty punk approach to the technology. As a pure
technology or society predictor though, poor marks for both originality
and correctness.

> Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson have some very telling
> examinations of
> current and near future sociotechnical society, but nothing
> like the lead that
> Gibson had.

Stephenson wrote some pretty great books, I loved Snow Crash (1992) so
much I convinced my boss to buy a copy for everybody on the Web Server
team (in 1995). But I'm about to trash it as original prescience
anyway. The Metaverse is an obvious descendant of previous cyberspace
concepts. He improved it somewhat by making it just a fun place to play
games and interact with other people, rather than a metaphorical
construct, a la Gibson.
 - The concept that it takes time to get from A to B is pretty
non-sensical. Yes I agree there are games like Ultima Online that make
you travel within the Ultima world, but that's different: the rules are
written by one organization which controls the laws your character
abides by. In a real distributed VR system, where different parts of
the "world" are written and hosted by independent organizations, you go
to a new place by typing in the address (e.g. a URL).
 - The title-virus itself is problematic. It made me cringe when I read
about a virus that put people into comas just by displaying a certain
"snow" pattern on (part of!) their screen.
 - I just ran across the most prescient paragraph in Snow Crash (p78):
   "Yo, Y.T. ," Roadkill says, " 'sup?"
   " 'Sup with you?"
   "Surfing the Tura. 'Sup with you?"
   "Maxing the Clink."
Sound like a beer ad you might've heard?

What year is Snow Crash supposed to occur in anyway? I can't find the
supposed 'current year' anywhere.

Other authors who predicted stuff for around 2000 included John Brunner
and Orson Scott Card. John Brunner is much less well known than he
deserves to be. The Shockwave Rider (1975!) and Stand On Zanzibar are
both pessimistic, but more prescient than Gibson. Hey, Shockwave Rider
even predicted an online service called Oracle :)

Brunner's use of computers is pretty good: although they're the size of
desks, not desktops (let alone laptops!) the computers do
word-processing, analysis & aggregration and network commmunication, not
metaphorical VR or AI. "He took a job as a systems rash, didn't he?
That position gave him damn near as much access to the net as I can get,
cheating on G2S's max-nat-ad rating. In fact he moused around so much
it started to interfere with his regular work, so he wrote a program
into the G2S computers to take care of the routine stuff by itself."

Card's "Ender's Game" (1977) doesn't predict space-flight very well, but
the discussion boards that Ender's siblings use to influence public
opinion are awesome! Did the Well exist then (usenet didn't!) or was
Card's concept very original?

One thing that many have gotten wrong was that the US Government didn't
significantly change between 1950 and 2001. It's not substantially more
authoritarian, or more religious, or more computer-run (e.g. run by an
AI) than it was before. It's not substantially more, or less, powerful
or far-reaching or all-knowing.

Heck, most of what near-future predictors get wrong is that not a lot
changes, period. Space flight is improving but slower than anyone
thought it would. Although we've sequenced a genome, we don't do much
with it yet. Wearable computing is nowhere near as radical or
wide-spread as Gibson suggested it would be, and implanted computing is
non-existent. The stuff we eat is pretty much the same, only faster.
We talk on voice-only telephones, only they're smaller and more mobile.
Cars are much the same as they were 50 yrs ago, only a little faster, a
little safer, a little more efficient. TV is substantially the same
only more channels, higher definition. Movies are the same, only they
come in smaller packages (DVDs) with better quality (I mean picture and
sound, not plot and acting!). Books still mostly come on paper. The
most radical shifts are really the subtle ones, such as how much more
efficient agriculture has become so that so few of us need to be farmers
and so many more of us can provide intellectual property, art or
services. Or that we can wage nearly casualty-free wars through
masssive imbalances in arms technology -- but we don't like to because
they're so expensive.

Of course some authors wrote books that predicted the year 2000 but
their "future history" included some cataclysm, such as a meteorite or
nuclear war, that changed the world completely. I guess we don't even
count those as attempting to be prescient, though of course we would if
it happened. It's a great game, better than actually claiming to
predict the future, just say you're writing speculative fiction and this
is what "would happen if". :)


BTW -- what about authors like Tom Clancy? DIdn't he do a better job
than any of these guys extrapolating current trends? Red Storm Rising?
It was only written 10 years ago, but still! Or John Grisham. But to
make the discussion more interesting, we should probably say that the
author must have published their 2000-predicting book before 1985 (which
rules out Stephenson, even assuming Snow Crash is set early 2000's).

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