The recent floods in my part of the UK have prompted several people who’ve read my book, High Tide in the City, to comment on the uncanny accuracy of its grim prediction – that in 50 years or so, half the UK will be almost permanently under water.
While I find this flattering, of course, it wasn’t really a prediction. It was what most science fiction is – an extrapolation of current understanding translated to a future setting. Climate change is happening. The world is warming up. The sun is stronger over the equator, prohibiting precipitation in those regions. The overheated air circulates to the north and south, dumping rain meant for hotter areas onto more temperate regions. That means Africa gets drier while places like the UK get wetter. Whether this is a global glitch or down to human activity only time will tell, but the upshot is, we get flooded. Regularly. I knew it was going to happen, not because I’m some kind of modern-day seer, but because I checked the weather trends.
There are many instances of science fiction stories bearing the future in their pages. Real predictions. I even had a minor one myself, again based on extrapolation. The ‘bracer’ in High Tide in the City, was my vision of a smartphone, which I imagined back in 2000 and decided to include in that novel. Even when I started writing High Tide, the smart phone was just a gleam in a developer’s eye. They obviously developed quicker than I could write, though, because the smartphone is now with us, even if we haven’t yet strapped it to our wrist and opted for implants to hear and talk to it. That’s coming though 😉 That’s my prediction for the next decade. (Watch this space)
So how many science fiction ideas have now become science fact? And is it a chicken and egg situation? Is it co-incidence that Captain Kirk’s communicator became a flip-phone in the noughties? Or would we have gone that way anyway? Did Verne’s Rocket to the Moon inspire the space race? Did Flash Gordon herald the laser? While some science fantasy (more ‘out there’ than science fiction) explores ideas that will probably never materialise, a lot of sci fi introduces achievable concepts that are already affecting most of us in our every day life. Just look what you’re reading now and tell me the concept of a personal computer wasn’t first imagined in print.
Prosthetic limbs are becoming cybernetic. There are brain implants to control epilepsy. We can clone things, genetically modify things, replace body parts. We have retinal scans, DNA scans, MRIs. We are watched from space by remote-controlled cameras. There are walking combat vehicles like the Star Wars ATAT. We have 3D printers that look a lot like the replicators in Star Trek NG. Glasses that feed information directly to our eyes. Our cars have computers, are switched on by tapping in a code, can tell you if you’re too close to an object, can detect when it’s raining.
All these things have been predicted and created not by scientists but writers. Science fiction has always opened the door to possibilities and innovations. True, a writer is unlikely to ever give their creation physical form. That is down to the designers, engineers and scientists who are inspired by them. But writers – science fiction writers – are the dreamers, the potential, the seers of a future as yet undiscovered.