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

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From: Stephen D. Williams (
Date: Sun Dec 31 2000 - 21:18:56 PST

Lisa Dusseault wrote:
> > 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

Arghh. I just knew I should have tracked down my copy and checked...

> 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

I agree, unless of course your implants get hacked and if your interfaces were
implants, it's a consideration.

> 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.

True. I thought of mentioning Vinge, but haven't read that one (only heard
about it). The rest of his stuff is too far out for this game.

> 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).

True to a large extent, however you eventually need some kind of traversal
navigation as you organize your trees of bookmarks or whatever ontological
system you have. You just can't remember enough complex symbols (URL's) to
cover everything you know or know about.

> - 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.

Judging by the nuclear bombs on trailers behind motorcycles, etc., I wouldn't
think too much past 2000.

> 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?

BBS's I'm pretty sure existed. I used them in 1980.

I definitely like Card, although generally not relevant to this topic, and
forgot the discussion boards. Good point.

Card's science isn't that predictive, being more fantasy than science, but the
sociopolitical points are cool. Soon to be a movie correct? He uses
philotes, etc., like Star Trek uses transporters. The bio-hobbled geniuses
were particularly interesting.

> 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.

Good points. More evolution than revolution.

> 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". :)
> Lisa
> 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).

How about "Wag the Dog"??? Or was that an instructional video? ;-)


Stephen D. Williams         Insta, Inc./Jabber.Com, Inc./CCI
43392 Wayside Cir,Ashburn,VA 20147-4622 703-724-0118W 703-995-0407Fax  Dec2000

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