Podcast No. 9: Fiction that Shapes Science

For my ninth podcast as host of New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy, I chatted with Kathryn Cramer, co-editor of the anthology Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future.

Cramer and collaborators Ed Finn and Neal Stephenson invited writers to contribute science fiction to the collection that “actually addresses problems and tries to solve them,” Cramer says.

In other words, the anthology aspires to maximize one of science fiction’s abiding strengths: its ability to test concepts, both technological and social, without spending vast sums on research and development.

In tooling around the internet, I found a bunch of examples of old fiction that appeared to foresee future technology. For instance, Jules Verne’s novel From the Earth to the Moon appears to foresee Apollo 11 and Mark Twain’s short story From the ‘London Times’ of 1904 describes something akin to television or maybe even the internet.

The editors and writers behind Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future think many science fiction writers in recent years have lost their way. As evidence, they point to the proliferation of what Cramer calls “tired dystopias.” Rather than provide “cautionary tales that show us what to avoid,” she explains in the New Books interview, these novels use “dystopias as furniture”—backdrops for a plot centered on a central character’s adventures.

Cramer used the term “neo-Gernsbackian” and thereby introduced me to a historical figure I feel I should have known: Hugo Gernsback, who published the first science fiction magazine.

For more about the ideas behind Hieroglyph, check out the Project Hieroglyph website and listen to Cramer and collaborators in this Google Talk.

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