Some Thoughts on Near vs. Far Future Science Fiction
Two of the interesting subsets of science fiction are near future and far future sci-fi. Near future sci-fi involves stories that take place just a few decades or centuries from now, whereas far future sci-fi typically takes place 10,000 years from now. The idea is that near future stories still employ concepts and themes that resemble our current culture and society, while far future stories explore ideas and societies that are simply way, way beyond us and that seem totally foreign to us. So far on My List I’ve read only one far future novel, Asimov’s Foundation. However, it can be argued that Brave New World is also far future.
Personally, I’d regard far future sci-fi as any story that takes place even 1,000 years from now. That seems pretty darn far away to me! Also, if we think about the changes that have taken place between say 1700 and 2018, a difference of just 318 years, it becomes pretty clear that our cultures and technological societies are worlds apart. Who in 1700 could have predicted electricity, the steam engine, photography, the telephone, cell phones, TV, iPads, social media, cyberbullying, etc.
We’ve come such a long way, technologically speaking, in such a short amount of time, that it’s impossible to predict what life will be like in even just 200 years. Indeed, unpredictable events occur all the time that change the course of history.
Moreover, when trying to predict our technological future, we usually extrapolate from our technological past in a straight line, as discussed in this iO9 article. As the author Charlie Jane Anders writes, it’s hard to imagine a truly innovative concept since we only have the past to go on. We’re limited by what we already know.
I think the advantage of far future science fiction is that you get a lot more imaginative leeway in terms of technology and society, and the disadvantage is that the writer almost has to start from scratch and grapple with decision fatigue when it comes to world-building.
The advantages of near future sci-fi are that we get to explore something possibly more relatable and relevant to us and our current time, but the disadvantage is that the writer must struggle to keep some semblance of realism.
Of course, both subsets are wonderful and necessary, they simply work our imaginations in different ways.
Do you have any favourite near or far future novels that aren’t on My List? Let me know in the comments below!