Indie News Beat: Future Shock

Indie Publishing NewsOne of the fun things about being a Science Fiction fan is seeing how previously predicted futures pan out as time passes. But the truth is, very few writers from the past managed to get anything right. Even the grandfather of the genre, H.G. Wells, was invariably off the mark when he tied himself down with certain events happening by certain dates. Probably his most accurate forecast was in The Last War, written in 1914, in which he predicted the atomic bomb, although his bomb kept exploding continuously.

Arthur C. Clarke deserves much kudos for predicting in the 1950s that the Earth would be ringed by satellites to aid communication, but as we get closer to today, much of what has been invented over the last generation cannot be found predicted in books written thirty or more years ago. And a lot of what was predicted has not come to pass.

Science Fiction authors often complain that the genre is not taken seriously enough as a form of literature. Recently we’ve even seen a relabeling to “Speculative Fiction”, in an attempt to raise the genre’s perceived legitimacy. However, I believe one of the key reasons for Science Fiction’s lack of stature in the wider literary world is the extremes to which authors go: either too optimistic (unreasonably rapid technological advancement), or too pessimistic (the endless dystopias). While many writers will set a story in the future to act as a warning to their own present (dystopia), many attempts at predicative fiction tend to anticipate much faster technological development than we’ve seen. It is a fact that a lot of Science Fiction has made wildly optimistic predictions for all the really cool things we were supposed to have by now. And we’re still waiting.

Thus, when one of those potentially cool Science Fiction inventions does come along, it’s worth taking a look. So it’s time to introduce Sensory Fiction, the wearable book, which lets readers feel the fiction. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, as the protagonist in the prototype story “experiences a range of emotions and sensations — deep love and profound despair, the warmth of sunshine and the constriction and coldness of a dark damp cellar,” a contraption with a passing resemblance to a medieval torture device will change your skin temperature, make vibrations to change your heart rate, and convey tightness or loosening through its compressed airbags.

ShockWhile there’s no doubt the developers’ intentions are sincere, it is actually quite difficult to keep a straight face. First, there are the practical applications – ladies, would you wear one of these over your favourite blouse on your daily commute to the office? If you watch the video at the end of the article, you’ll notice the Central Control Unit, a chocolate box-sized device which is strapped to the upper part of your spine, so no lying down to enjoy any other sensory enhancements if the book you’re reading happens to be of a more mature nature (ahem).

As with so many other inventions, if Sensory Fiction is to be a success, the market for it will have to be created, the price will have to be low, and the device itself will have to shrink. The best thing going for it right now is that nicely alliterative strap-line, “Feel the fiction”, which is kind of warm and fuzzy, and works much better than the probably more accurate “Get disturbed while trying to read a book as a lumpy bra keeps tickling your skin and jolting your heart to make it palpitate”.

However, it’s easy to mock, so as a predicative Science Fiction author myself, I’ll make this prediction: Sensory Fiction will sink without a trace. No one will ever hear of it again. And, to put my money where my mouth is, if in one year’s time a commercially available version of this device will have sold more than, say, ten thousand units, I will happily perform any forfeit the readers of Indies Unlimited care to suggest in the comments below. Who said Science Fiction can’t be fun?

Author: Chris James

Chris James is an English author who lives in Warsaw, Poland, with his wife and three children. He has published three full-length science fiction novels and is currently writing a series of short story volumes inspired by characters in songs from the rock band Genesis. For more information, please visit his website or Amazon author page.

17 thoughts on “Indie News Beat: Future Shock”

  1. I read about this and my reaction was “Ugh!”. I read to escape into a world where I can relate using my personal experiences and my imagination. Having another, a machine yet, interpret for me what my feelings or reactions ought to be is, to be blunt, disgusting. No thanks. I’m with you. This is a dud.

    1. Thanks, Yvonne, exactly my thoughts (feelings?) – I just can’t see how they can make so intuitive so it actually works precisely as they intend.

  2. Sounds creepy, Chris.

    I think, if you’re wrong, you should be required to read one of your short stories while wearing the device, and post the result on YouTube. 😀 Pretty sure you’re safe, though.

    1. Thanks, Lynne, and for the forfeit 🙂 I’ll happily do that if I am wrong, but what does convince me is, looking at the device, I don’t see how they could get the price down low enough to make it commercially viable, or “convert” enough books to work on it so enough readers would want to give it a try.

  3. -giggles- That ‘ahem’ made me snort my coffee! And I think you’re pretty safe with that prediction. However…. C.J. Cherryh wrote Cyteen in 1988, and Dolly the Sheep wasn’t born until 1996. Now I know eight years is a very short period for predicting the future, but she did get the cloning concept right. And while George Orwell missed the mark with 1984, 30 years past his prediction we do have some of the technology he foresaw. So, sometimes we get it right, or at least come close. 😀

    1. Very good point re the cloning, AC, although this is what I enjoy the most about discussing past predictions: how “close” the author got to getting the future right. Also, with Orwell, he was making a warning about rampant communism in the 1940s, whereas today his predictions more apply to rampant capitalism.

      1. lol – yes, I think that’s the beauty of being an oracle – even if you get something more or less right, you’re bound to get everything else completely wrong!

    1. Hehe, thanks Timothy. I like some of Heinlein’s work a lot – he wrote some very good stories (Time Enough For Love is one of my favourites), but as time goes on and we hit more and more snags in developing tech, it can make some of those older books look wonderfully quaint 🙂

    1. Thanks, Maria. I was playing devil’s advocate a bit with my post to see if I could get such a reaction 🙂
      It’s not so much as what was predicted (prediction is really only extrapolating what will happen from what we already know) as how it was predicted. This is why classic (old) sci-fi can be such a joy to read: how writers 100 years ago foresaw us getting around the technological issues of their day

  4. In some respects you’re right, Chris, certainly timelines are pretty difficult to predict. I’m a bit older than you and while some of the space explorations predicted by science fiction, especially considering the actual outer space activities of the 1950s and 60s, have kinda fallen flat. Some other stuff that at the time wasn’t even on the drawing board (as far as the general public were concerned anyway) like some of the mobile phones of the 1990s, flicking open like the communicators of the early Star Trek series (1966) and their prediction for the 23rd century, which are far surpassed by the most current Smartphones and what they are capable of!

    Great post, Chris.

    1. Thank you, TD. Star Trek is of course one of the most interesting subjects to discuss, not least because so many people are familiar with it. There’s no doubt Roddenberry was very switched on in what he was aiming for, but the tech in ST is very much based on extrapolating from 1960s scientific understanding, a lot of which has been thrown into doubt since then. The problem for Trek, of course, is that they have to keep to the tech that’s always been there. For example, there is absolutely no way anyone is going to be “beaming” anywhere soon, if at all. The scientific problems of realising matter transportation are vast indeed, and in the Trek universe, the matter transport tech is not used to its full capacity. For example, why do they have beds in sick bay for when people are injured or ill? Why don’t they just run their bodies through the transport beam and repair the injury? It also goes without saying that everyone in the Trek universe should also be immortal, because the transport beam would repair any injury and regenerate any organ in the body. This sort of thing happens too often in sci-fi: the writer comes up with new tech, but then fails completely to realise all of the applications of it on society as a whole, and just invents and uses the new tech to solve a plot problem. Really, just don’t get me started… *huff*

  5. It’s interesting to think about how to program such a device to represent some sci-fi and fantasy experiences. I realize my examples are movies as well as books, but the problems are related, and this technology might migrate. Remember Sensurround?

    How would one generate believable sensations for experiencing time travel in The Time Machine? What does it feel like to enter the Star Gate? When two light sabers come in contact, do they vibrate like broadswords? How to program what it feels like to be teleported? (Is there a difference between the Enterprise transporter and being teleported by Dr. Manhattan or Q?) And, would this device set your clothes on fire if you got too close to Smaug?

    Authors who describe sensations such as “feeling like a thousand needles” or “ants crawling over my skin” are sure to lose sales.

    And then there’s the final scene in Silent Running…

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Will. I think most sci-fi stories would be off the scale for this kind of device. People are always looking for ways to enhance the entertainment experience, but it seems to me a little like trying to reach the speed of light: it takes more and more energy to get closer to the target – given how much pleasure a good story or film can give as it is, it’s just too much effort/expense to enhance that experience by not very much.

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