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Marissa Lingen

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How Not To [Sep. 22nd, 2011|11:53 am]
Marissa Lingen
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I was going to write a How Not To post about worldbuilding and near-future SF, based on the first 60 pages of a book I read, but I ran out of time before leaving for Montreal, like, nowish.

So I thought I'd solicit pet peeves and favorite things about near-future SF worldbuilding from you nice people. I'll start: humans are ridiculous. We know this. But I get frustrated when it feels to me like an extrapolative SF writer is doing a "look at how ridiculous those people over there are" thing, pointing at Young People or Poor People or some other thinly veiled group, rather than recognizing their own ridiculousness as part of the human condition. I mean, sure, some groups are quite mockable. But mockery of Those People is often not as deep or as lasting as extrapolative SF writers hope.

Your turn.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: columbina
2011-09-22 07:02 pm (UTC)
The advancement in technology which is so punctuated as to cause a cognitive disconnect for time travellers (which in this case means the readers) is never going to be in the place you think it will be. Make up something new and prepostrous; your odds are no worse for making a wild strike, and at least it will be striking.

Human nature changes very little. A book that posits we have totally overcome greed or hate or corruption in the near future had better have a hell of a lot of panache, or it will flunk my personal bullshit detector.


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[User Picture]From: stakebait
2011-09-22 07:59 pm (UTC)
I think my biggest pet peeve is worlds with uniform adoption rates and no good reason for it. What I mean is, I know people who've been e-reading since the early 90s on their Palm Pilots and people who still have never touched a Kindle, and that's just in the book loving USian East Coast Middle Class, ages 30-50. Once you start adding in old people and young people, poor people and rich people, people with fetishes and religious convictions and budgets and reviewer gigs, cultures that skip entirely over one technology and get an early start on the next one (like cell phones in places that never really got wired for landlines), well, let's just say there's no way that your Singularity is going to have an orderly roll out.

Along those lines is cultures which combine rapid technological obsolescence with permanent technological body modification. Given how many people don't want to buy the iPad because there will be a better one along in 6 months, I find it hard to swallow that they'll be happy to cut off a perfectly good leg. And even with data sockets, I can't see how anyone who remembers the floppy disk would trust that software upgrades alone would change. The fact is, most people are fairly conservative about body mods that are visible and optional and not replacing things that have already failed on the original model. I know it looks cool, but does it make sense?

Also lots of pop culture references from the near past and real present, but little or no pop culture references from the ostensible present. (I will give Ready Player One a pass because he built it into the origin story.)
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From: diatryma
2011-09-23 11:24 pm (UTC)
Oh, that last. If you're going to bother researching relevant cultural tidbits in our world, you have to make some up for the next decade. Bugs me a lot.
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[User Picture]From: callunav
2011-09-22 08:09 pm (UTC)
I just did a post!

But I will say, I dislike stories which don't explore the diverse (no, really, *diverse*) social responses to developments, technological or otherwise, and even more I dislike stories which purport to do so but then completely fail to demonstrate a working knowledge of any human beings anywhere.

The first kind of book, I can tell quickly isn't for me and just set down again. The second kind will lure me into reading and then wanting to repeatedly throw the book across the room, and my apartment doesn't really have a good place where I can do that.
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From: dsgood
2011-09-22 10:25 pm (UTC)
The human culture is straight out of TV shows set in 1950s America.
In the future, everyone loves the music the author loved as a teenager.
Planets which are exactly the same all over.

That kind of person wouldn't say that! Example: a weather expert saying "It never snows in Hawaii." (It does, at very high altitudes, though not in great amounts.)

People from there don't talk like that! See the "American" speech in just about any John Brunner novel set in the US. I'm sure American writers do at least as badly with English characters, but I don't know enough to notice unless it's really, really bad. But I do notice imitation-Scottish dialect by non-Scots.

Why do engineers write stories with governments which work exactly according to specifications, with no friction?
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2011-09-22 11:04 pm (UTC)
Have a great time at Farthing Party!
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From: greykev
2011-09-22 11:25 pm (UTC)
World governments. I cannot imagine what kind of mind control / massive coercion / fundamental change in human nature would be necessary for A) all countries to submit to a level of authority higher than their own, or B) all country governments to collapse/disband/be absorbed by some greater bureaucracy.

Also mega-corporations of the shadowrun / cyberpunk variety. They barely agree to provide benefits now, but some time in the near future they'll decide to form arcologies and provide 24/7 services to their employees? Doubtful.

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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-09-23 01:59 am (UTC)
Heh, yes, the arcology thing is really going the other direction, isn't it?
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[User Picture]From: howl_at_the_sun
2011-09-22 11:37 pm (UTC)
Insufficient of exploration of the question, "What could possibly go wrong?"
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From: thoughtdancer
2011-09-23 08:04 am (UTC)
History disappears way too fast. All the buildings are new, or all the gadgets are new (or both). All the fashions are new (in TV shows). And no one remembers/uses/is shaped by history.

Glittering new cities (somehow only 30 years in our future), with gadgets to boot (no one using older models of stuff, no one doing things the old way), and everyone dressed to fit the new gear, new cities.

I was reading an old SF/F novel the other day, and in it I was reading about a character who was reading something on her electronic reader. So futuristic. Of course, I was reading that novel on my kindle. But was I surrounded by glittering city or future furniture? Nope. And I then went and made banana/chocolate chip bread, from scratch.

This washing over of old stuff is part of forgetting the influence of history: it's a metaphor that says "history isn't going to matter here!" Well, history--historical conflicts, culture influenced by history, etc--isn't going to just vanish. And simply saying that this novel is going to ignore history drives me nuts. Especially because the behaviors the author posits as viable usually would not be because we still hold onto that history too hard. (Racism nor sexism aren't going to magically disappear, just as historical conflicts, like in the middle east, aren't going to disappear. But often these supposedly "near future" novels, settings are require history to disappear... and too often they are about the very problems that they are trying to whitewash. Hate that.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-09-23 11:06 am (UTC)
Oh yes, this. I went to a meeting for a writing group I didn't end up joining once--the meeting served its purpose of telling the group and I whether we were suited for each other. And in the story on a distant planet in a future where there were brain implants that were like the voice of famous artists in people's heads, I had a family making a salad while talking over their day, and the writers' group thought I should make this food pills or programming the replicator. People. Salads. Humans have been eating raw greens and assorted other veggies for as long as there have been humans, and I rather believe we will keep doing it. Salads are good for us, and besides that, they're nice. Pointless futurism should not destroy the human salad.
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[User Picture]From: oursin
2011-09-23 12:45 pm (UTC)
I read something by some quite distinguished SF writer of the 50s-60s (could it have been Heinlein in an interview?) who thought that by the end of the C20th everyone would be eating rather nasty processed food, even the wealthy in the Western world, and completely failed to see the rise of the organic/real food/locovore/etc approach to food.

At least Brunner, mentioned above, did have in the 1970s an Evil Corporation selling purportedly organic products which someone in the plot worked out they were selling in quantities that were far in excess of the amount being produced by actual organic farms.

Edited at 2011-09-23 12:45 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-09-23 08:17 pm (UTC)
Well, and a lot of people in the Western world really are eating nasty processed food; I've seen them. It's just that so few things are universal.
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[User Picture]From: oursin
2011-09-23 09:09 pm (UTC)
Yes, but the assumption in the interview (or whatever) was that in the future factory farming would rule (if not hydroponics) and even rich people would not be eating as nice food as their lucky forebears.

I think there may have been Malthusian population panic in there somewhere.
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[User Picture]From: prock
2011-09-23 02:52 pm (UTC)
You might have gotten a better reception if you'd had your characters grilling meat, such are the strange biases in our world. (I say this as a vegetarian.)
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[User Picture]From: columbina
2011-09-23 07:26 pm (UTC)
Speaking as someone who has often wished history wasn't there for the purposes of plotting because IT WOULD MAKE THINGS SO MUCH EASIER if it weren't, I suspect this "let's throw everything out and start shiny!" impulse stems from laziness and/or fear on the part of the author a great deal of the time.
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[User Picture]From: vcmw
2011-09-24 01:39 am (UTC)
You see the same thing in historical novels, quite often, where absolutely everything in the novel that's ever mentioned is from the exact 2-3 year span of the novel's setting. Everyone is reading novels published that year, and wearing that year's fashions, and all of their houses have that year's furniture. I suspect people get exhausted researching all the historical details of their era and just give up once they've gotten the slice they're most interested in.
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