Why I read science fiction

Imagine you could take your smartphone and go back in time fifty years. The year is 1970. You pass someone on the street and show them the piece of aluminum, plastic and glass in your hand. You proceed to explain to them that this device allows you to call or instantly message anyone in the world. It is connected to vast libraries of information, can provide directions, and provide answers to any questions you or they might have. It has a voice interface that allows you to talk to it and receive spoken answers.

Given the popularity of 2001: A Space Odyssey (the book and the film), which was released 2 years earlier, the person might assume you were showing them a movie prop. They would hardly believe that such a device would ever be possible, even though Stanley Kubrik and Arthur C. Clarke foreshadowed these and many other technical innovations in their breakthrough movie.

And therein lies the main reason science fiction has become one of my primary reading genres.

What I described above is just one example of the amazingly accurate portrayals of future technologies described in books by Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Alduous Huxley, George Orwell, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut and numerous others.

Yes, science fiction stories entertain, but they do more than that. They open the imagination to what is possible. The authors aren’t bound by the technological limits of today. They build upon trends, research, and ideas to come up with future scenarios that can be hard to comprehend when we look at them through the lens of available information today. But this is why I enjoy reading it so much. It encourages you think outside the box. It provides a window to the future.

While I’m not the biggest fan of TED talks, this short TED-ed video is a great summary of the power of science fiction to influence and shape the future.

I have no doubt that the writing of today’s top science fiction authors, which includes the likes of William Hertling, Daniel Suarez, Hugh Howey, Blake Crouch, Eliot Peper, A.G. Riddle, Ramez Naam, and others, will have just as much of an influence on the future as the authors listed above. To keep it balanced, I’ve been trying to keep a good mix of both past and current science fiction writers in my reading list. It’s interesting, fun, and amazing to see the technologies that were foreshadowed in past books. Reading current science fiction really opens my mind up and excites me about the possibilities of the future.

As one of my favorite bloggers, Brad Feld, pointed out a few years ago, it might be possible to figure out the future by reading sci-fi from the past. Likewise, you may be able to see into the future by reading current science fiction. No matter what your preference is, past or future, there is a lot you can learn from both.

In any case, it’s the reason I read science fiction. It’s a window to the future, and one that can be entertaining, interesting, and fun to peer into. I’d encourage you to take a peek.