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View Poll Results: Do you like science fiction?
Yes 16 76.19%
No 5 23.81%
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Unread 04-27-2004, 11:59 PM
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The literary counterpart of FIRST

We have all experienced firsthand how FIRST changes society, preparing it for a future that necessarily has a constantly shifting landscape of science and technology. Although FIRST does much to attempt to shift society’s priorities towards these “more important” things, that alone will not be enough.
Historical trends have shown that not only is the progress of science and technology increasing at a very rapid rate, that rate is also increasing noticeably. The times where one person could reasonably expect to pass on to his children everything there was to know about his own craft and expect them to carry it on have been replaced with one where new scientific discoveries come almost constantly. However, I feel that FIRST is not doing enough to address this, even indirectly.
In the 50’s, a new engineer who was skilled with vacuum tubes would expect to have a high-paying job that would provide him with a secure future. However, if he had just started college at that time, only a few short years after graduation, he would have found that his field of expertise had become practically obsolete. This problem has only been exacerbated by today’s even more rapid rate of development of new technology.
It’s all well and good to encourage youth to become scientists and engineers, but I for one have not seen any meaningful response to this dilemma. In a constantly changing world, learning more about science and technology to develop one’s own field of expertise may not be enough. Flexibility should be what is most valued, even above pure technical competence. All the inspiration in the world won’t help if it inspires kids to take on jobs that go obsolete in a decade.

Oddly enough, I see a connection here to another social “problem.” Although recent events are doing a lot to change this, for the most part, science fiction is still not mainstream. The success of LotR-style fantasy, which once carried the same social stigma being a “trekkie” did, leaves a lot of hope. Unfortunately, that opportunity is not being capitalized upon. A slew of new movies are coming out based on comic books. These may pretend to be science fiction, but what they really are is a collection of special effects and captivating characters that merely uses the science (which is invariably inaccurate) as a gimmick.
Now, I recognize that these are a necessary part of society the same way athletes and entertainers, the longtime “rivals” of FIRST are. In my eyes, the problem is the lack of a “useful” alternative. These films are distributing the impression that science is something that can be safely ignored; taken for granted while the true focus lies elsewhere. What we need is real science fiction.
Although it may sometimes make on incredulous reading science fiction of the past, with their seemingly absurd predictions for a future that does not look quite like anything past writers have imagined, it is still intriguing. At that time, there still seemed to be an honest concern with actually getting the principles right, even if some of the extensions were a little bit exaggerated. And indeed, many of those predictions, even the more far-fetched ones such as malicious, self-replicating, computer programs, have come true. What that high-quality science fiction did was open people’s minds to new possibilities. It provided the foundations for the flexibility that is so much more necessary today.
It is certainly true that the same quality of writing still does exist today, but now there is so much commercialized “fake science” that it becomes hard to identify the “useful kind.” As the population of readers dwindles to those few that thought in that way to begin with, the effect becomes all but negligible. Sounds a lot like the kind of situation FIRST was created to remedy, doesn’t it?

Now, I’m not saying that an organization like FIRST is what is needed here. In fact, I don’t think taking the same approach is even possible. Unfortunately, I don’t know what the solution is. All I can see is that there is a problem, and that the FIRST community, who already has experience with the many challenges of inspiring youth and changing society, is most likely the best equipped to solve it.
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Unread 04-28-2004, 09:13 AM
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Re: The literary counterpart of FIRST

There are plenty of SciFi books out there that have made a big impresion on mainstream culture--War of the Worlds, the Time Machine, etc. I think the problem is, though, that these books are classics, and there just aren't enough writers these days who will step up to the challenge of writing on a new, original subject.

If we can bring Fantasy books into the matter though, there is one writer who more than takes the challenge. His name is Garth Nix, and he wrote my favorite trilogy of books, the Sabriel series. Sabriel is a necromancer who has to help *gasp* save the world from hoardes of undead sent at her from a bad necromancer. Now, aside from it being about a necromancer, no one would cal that a very interesting plot, but I think that the way this is displayed and the way that Nix writes is different from every other writer I have read from.

Someone needs to learn to write like Nix, someone who can get their idea out and get it to the masses. If we can find someone who can do that, who can write a bestseller, who can kick Harry Potter off the stool he's standing on...THEN we will have someone who can spread the word of SciFi, and technology as a whole, to the world.

PS...
Sabriel Series can be found here: http://www.garthnix.co.uk/ in the Old Kingdom Section.
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Unread 04-28-2004, 11:42 AM
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Re: The literary counterpart of FIRST

Good science fiction is NOT about science nor is it about the future. Its about people - their wants, questions, problems, growth... just like all good fiction is - "fantasy" included.

If the fiction becomes ABOUT the technology, then it is merely speculative essay.

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