A future less dour

Looking Ahead
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  May 23, 2012

Neal-Stephenson-photo_main
HOPEFUL Stephenson.

Neal Stephenson's novels have been called everything from science fiction to postcyberpunk. Whatever the label, his work is always sharp, smart, and widely read.

On May 26, he'll appear at Brown University's Salomon Center for Teaching, in the DeCiccio Auditorium, at 1 pm to discuss how science fiction writers and the geekery might "drag the future out of its tiresome dystopian funk."

The talk, part of Brown's commencement activities, is free and open to the public. The Phoenix caught up with Stephenson for a Q&A via email.

WHY ARE SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS SO GLOOMY ABOUT THE FUTURE? I think it's just a nasty habit that we picked up. A group dynamics thing, a herd phenomenon. It's quite persistent because it became associated with being hip and cool. That's a powerful force. No one wants to make the move from being hip and cool to being a dork. I've reached the point where I just don't care, so I'm pulling on my white socks and getting on with it.

WILL ANYONE BUY A KINDER, GENTLER SCIENCE FICTION? I never said anything about kinder and gentler. There is plenty of techno-optimistic SF that encodes a pretty harsh worldview. The entire oeuvre of Robert Heinlein comes to mind.

GIVE ME A SCENE FROM THE FUTURE THAT'S MORE HOPEFUL THAN YOUR STANDARD SCI-FI DYSTOPIA, BUT STILL INTERESTING. We stop fucking around with half-measures like the Space Shuttle and build a city in space out of asteroids.

FUTURIST RAY KURZWEIL SAYS WE'LL HAVE NANOBOTS RACING THROUGH OUR BLOODSTREAMS AND FIXING OUR ORGANS IN THE NEXT COUPLE OF DECADES. AGREE OR DISAGREE? For reasons having to do with Reynolds number, I doubt they'll be "racing," just oozing along with the flow. But that's a quibble. I'd be a little surprised if we didn't have something at least broadly equivalent to that. I'd put my money on genetically modified critters rather than nanobots, which seems to imply "de novo autonomous vehicles." I have to tell you that I'm mildly allergic to "nanotech is going to save our butts" thinking, because it suggests that we should all just kick back and wait for the nanotech revolution to come along and solve all of our problems. Maybe it will; but sitting around waiting for it is boring, so let's work on some other cool stuff in the meantime.

  Topics: This Just In , Books, literature, Neal Stephenson,  More more >
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