Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Unintended Consequences

Just last week the Department of Homeland Security invited science-fiction writers to help them forecast the future, to jiggle the portals of imagination using scientific possibilities.

How strange is that? Not very, really. Early sci-fi authors drew fantastic worlds that are now our reality. Jules Verne was scooting around in space and underwater before we sent rockets to the moon or pressurized ourselves against the ocean depths.

So if Greg Bear, who was MC at the DHS conference, imagines a City at the End of Time, who are we to pooh-pooh such far-sighted vision? When I interviewed Bear last year for a newspaper article, he said he is like radar for deep structures of science and society. When we put those two together, he said, we have a story.

Rolf Dietrich, DHS deputy director of research, told the Washington Post that the authors help department managers think more broadly about projects, especially about potential reactions and unintended consequences.

And that got me to thinking that reactions and consequences are what good stories in any genre are about. Any thoughts on this?


Donna said...

I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking of Orwell's "1984" these days . . . Good fiction certainly contains more truth and depth than mere facts, so it makes sense for government researchers to ask sci-fi authors to imagine the future. A story of any kind won't go far if the author doesn't tell us "what happens" and "how the characters react."

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Certainly, Bear's comment on studying society (human nature and culture) as well as science to find the story is key. It is all about how the character reacts outwardly and inwardly.
And those unintended consequences, those what-ifs from the author's imagination, can't just be the fantastic, they must ring true based on what we know of the world -- how it is now and was and could be in the probable future.

Laura Canon said...

Anytime the government is asking writers for help it must be good, right? (As long as they're not spending a huge amount of money to do so.) I'd be interested to see what they come up with. Although we'll probably never know.
It reminds me of the Manhattan Project starting because Einstein wrote a letter to FDR stating that nuclear fission could, in theory, be used to make a weapon.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Well, there are two sides to this coin. While government types will likely keep things underwraps, I'm quite sure the writers will get story ideas even from the questions they are asked. Especially with speculative fiction, it's all about the what-ifs.

Dave said...

That's the second example of real world people pulling in fiction people that I have heard recently. Very interesting!