Living in a Science Fiction World
Every generation must think they're living in the weirdest time in history.
My grandfather was born in the 1800s and lived for over 100 years. Think about that. He went from horse and buggy to new-fangled things called “automobiles.” He saw telegraphs turn into telephones. Vaudeville shows became movie theaters. An amazing new device called a “radio” brought the world into the house, and then television. He lived through two world wars. He saw humans land on the moon and was around for the early days of the Internet.
Heck, he saw the invention and proliferation of the airplane.
My father was born in 1920 and nearly lived into his 90s, so he went through a good amount of that as well, and was able to participate in the Internet revolution.
I was born in 1960, saw the moon landings, surfed the Internet, saw the death (and weird rebirth) of the vinyl record. I watched the cold war end, and then begin again. My house is filling up with AI-powered devices, and we’re seeing them beginning to become artists, poets, and even lawyers. And now the government admits that there are UFOs flying around, and have even begun shooting them down.
Writing science fiction has been hard, and getting harder still, because the moment you dream up something you think will happen in the future, it actually happens a week later. That’s why I spent a decade or so writing fantasy (actually, "magical realism”) and set the stories in the past so that they can’t be outdated. However, in the midst of the pandemic, I managed to accomplish something I had abandoned years ago — a science fiction book that I intentionally crafted to resist becoming outdated. That was Seeds from Ancient Earth.
The key to writing a science fiction story that stands the test of time is to set it in the distant future, beyond a significant turning point that fundamentally alters expectations. By incorporating story mechanisms that plausibly account for why future characters and civilizations remain relatable to contemporary audiences, the work can endure. I employed this technique in my latest work in progress, a far-future adventure tale that centers on the exploration of alien worlds - perfect for fans of classic science fiction.
I actually stole the story idea from myself. It’s based on the premise of one of my short stories published back in the 1990s, though the characters, setting, and just about everything else is brand new. I’m also using some real-life science fiction tools to help me write: Midjourney AI to generate images of the characters, settings, and alien creatures I’m writing about — they give me solid images for reference when I’m writing descriptions. And also, I’m using the ChatGPT AI as a research assistant so that planetary details are at least close to realistic — gravity, atmosphere density, stellar distances, and other details are right at my fingertips.
For example, here’s some of the imagery I’m using for reference:
It's an unusual and self-referential experience to utilize actual AI tools, which were once the stuff of science fiction, while writing my own science fiction. However, now that I’m used to using them, I find it difficult to imagine working without them. It would be akin to reverting to a typewriter after using a word processor, or returning to film photography after having experienced the freedom of shooting with digital.
Ultimately, using AI tools represents just another step forward in the evolution of writing. While I recognize the potential downsides of this technology, such as the prospect of AI replacing writers, for the time being I will continue to create, and you can continue to read. Perhaps in the future, writer AIs will pen stories for markets controlled by AIs, which will in turn be consumed by other AIs that provide brief summaries to the humans sunning themselves on the beach with nothing else to do.
Until that day comes, let's keep reading and writing!
Take care, my friends.
Until next time,