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September 19, 2012 / arcee

On Predicting the Future

ImageI was hunting around for more information on a book I read ages ago called Limbo by Bernard Wolfe. The novel is about a post-apocalyptic America that exalts voluntary amputation, and it’s not a novel I’d recommend (even at 16, when I had a high tolerance for bad sci-fi, it stretched my patience). But I did find this A.V. Club review (55 years after publication) that excerpts an author’s note that seemed relevant to the whole “function/promise of sci fi” question:

Anybody who “paints a picture” of some coming year is kidding–he’s only fancying up something in the present or past, not blueprinting the future. All such writing is essentially satiric (today-centered), not utopic (tomorrow-centered). This book, then, is a rather bilious rib on 1950–on what 1950 might have been like if it had been allowed to fulfill itself, if it had gone on being 1950, only more and more so, for four more decades. But no year ever fulfills itself: The cowpath of History is littered with the corpses of years, their throats slit from ear to ear by the improbable.

Can we write anything but extrapolations? Can we honestly expect them to hold up?

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