Nearly future

James Bridle has an interesting post about “Network Realism” and William Gibson’s Zero History. Comments are closed there so I’ll do the right webby thing and post my hasty thoughts here.

First, I haven’t yet read Zero History yet but it feels as though I have. Well, it doesn’t — I have no idea what the plot is, as I haven’t even read a review — but I’ve seen Gibson talk about it, I’ve seen many tweets about it, I’ve started following Gibson on Twitter again, and I’ve witnessed friends who have read the book discussing it. So although I know little about the narrative, I’m aware of the book as an event, as a pulse in my part of the network. Much more so than I was with the previous books in the trilogy, Spook Country, which I also haven’t read, and Pattern Recognition, which I have.

Second, I’m wary about people (OK, Russell and those who have followed him) saying that science fiction isn’t about the future any more. I haven’t yet read any examples of this other than Zero History. Is it really a genre-wide phenomenon — I don’t read nearly enough science fiction to know — or is it just the trend of one writer who, despite saying he never writes about the future, appears to have been reducing his fiction’s temporal horizon as we approached 2010? I’d love to read confirmations or refutations from people who read a lot of contemporary science fiction. Are we colouring our view of a genre by our apparent disappointment in what we expect of a single writer?

Third, I wanted to mention Kurt Anderson’s Turn of the Century (Amazon UK, US). This came out in 1999 and was set in 2000. I remember at the time thinking about exactly the publishers’ lead-times which James refers to, as adding to the difficulty of being just-so far ahead. Reading it then I very much enjoyed it and remember that feeling of it being a window into a not-quite-here world. Almost, but not quite.

It would be interesting to see how Turn of the Century reads ten years on, whether what seemed slightly future in 1999 now merges into history. Whether, that far in the past, the one year gap is no longer apparent. Whether it reads like it was about exactly the time in which it was written, rather than the slightly future.

I’m not sure if Turn of the Century qualifies as Network Realism — I’m sure there’s more to this idea, and I don’t quite grasp the nebulous criteria, but either way I don’t recall anyone in 1999 complaining that the book wasn’t future enough.


  • Well, I do read quite a lot of contemporary science fiction and mostly, in these terms, I'm wrong. It's mostly set in the future. The years in which the stories happen have higher numbers than the years we're in now.

    But I'm not sure I was quite getting at that. What I was thinking about was the way that my favourite scifi authors (Gibson, Sterling, Doctorow) have recently been saying that they're not writing about the future, they're writing about now, using the future as a way of illuminating the present. Which is fine. I get that. But I wish they weren't, because I think some great writing explicitly about the future would be great and useful. And they've done it really well before.

    (And, also, it was probably just the Gibson quote that set me off talking about scifi when I was more concerned about the absence of futuriness from other bits of culture. Cafes. Clothes etc. Those other bits don't seem to have been blogged about so much.)

    Ah well.

    And, actually, thinking about it, I'm also wrong in straight-forward terms too. Mr Doctorow's latest (Makers) gave me a sense of a possible future that was properly futurey and which really inspired me and Mr Sterling's was straight up funky weird future stuff. And also brilliant.

    You're right about Turn Of The Century too. A splendid book.


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25 Oct 2010 in Links