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Dan Goodman's prediction and politics journal.

Monday, June 07, 2004

On Writing the Future

In 1999, someone asked on the Writers list why sf writers weren't busy with stories about the year 2000.

I explained about magazine and book lead times. A story written in 1999 would likely appear in 2000 at the earliest.

To me, it seemed obvious that creating fictional futures likely to be proven wrong by the time they appeared in print was a bad idea. But some writers and publishers don't see it that way.

Consider this, by Norman Spinrad: "_Russian Spring (Bantam Spectra 0-553-29869-0, Oct ’92 [Sep ’92], $5.99, 643pp, pb, cover by Bruce Jensen) Reprint (Bantam 1991) near-future sf novel set in a world where America is declining and the success of perestroika has made Russia the world’s strongest power."
http://www.locusmag.com/index/b447.htm The Locus Index to Science Fiction (1984-1998)
by Charles N. Brown & William G. Contento

This book was first published in October 1991, when it should have been obvious that the Soviet Union wasn't likely to become the world's strongest power. Russia seceded from the Soviet Union on December 12, 1991. The book was reprinted in October 1992.

Apparently, neither author nor publisher was bothered by the failed predictions.

And then there's the 2001 Baen edition of Andre Norton's The Time Traders. In the late 1950s, when Norton wrote this novel, the Soviet Union was a plausible set of villains. But by the turn of the millenium, there were two choices. It could be published as done originally, and readers would have to accept the 1950s flavor. Or it could be updated.

Baen likes to update the old novels it reprints. It's done with the consent of the authors (or of their heirs); but the newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written has had some unkind comments about this policy. (Some of them from a writer whose first book has now been published by Baen.)

The story time was changed from present to nearish future. The Soviet Union was replaced by a Russia which had reacquired 1) Soviet habits and 2) Soviet scientific and military power.

I would say that the chances of Russia becoming a superpower again in this century are only a bit higher than the chances of Saudi Arabia turning Lutheran early next week.
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