Science Fiction as Collective Anxiety

Convention panel discussions often raise the question of how accurately science fiction predicts the future. I gave the following answer on a panel at BristolCon in October 2021:

I disagree with the premise of the question, in so far as I don’t believe it is science fiction’s job to predict the future. Rather, we use the genre to project ourselves into realms of possibility rather than predicting what it will be like with any kind of accuracy. It’s more a kind of collective anxiety than it is a planning tool, in that we are freewheeling through all these terrible things that might happen and how it will feel and what will go on, instead of having a rational discussion. A completely rational prediction of the future would probably be boring as fuck, because there comes a point where the future would have no understandable relevance for us and it would be very, very difficult to establish an interesting character or coherent story within that. If we look at the Singularity for example, the very fact it is a singularity means we cannot predict what the world will be like after with any sense of confidence. It would be hard to create a story. And what we’re doing is telling stories; telling stories about ourselves and what might happen to us. Because the three main questions of life are: Who are We? What do we do while we’re here? And, where are we going when we die? And science fiction messes around with all three of those quite nicely… We’re humanity’s equivalent of that voice that whispers in your ear at 4am and says, ‘What happens if this goes on?’

Author: Gareth L Powell