The session ‘Tomorrow Now: Envisioning The Next Fifty Years’ was a fun and informative discussion which provided the audience with an amalgam of Science Fiction literature and Futurism. The session was graced by the presence of Bruce Sterling, a science fiction author who played a vital role in defining the genre of cyberpunk and was moderated by Samit Basu, an Indian novelist who has received critical acclaim around the world and has also been a bestseller in India over the last 15 years.
Samit started the discussion by questioning Bruce about where science fiction ends and Futurism starts? Bruce responded by saying that when you’re writing science fiction, you would need to make it entertaining; you would have to add some wonder or sometimes horror into the plot. However, that is not the case with Futurism. In the case of Futurism, you are giving out strategic advice; you’re not trying to make it entertaining. Futurism would give you facts, would come from a lot of field research, and contain the occasional spreadsheet. He says that if you were ever going to sound like a science fiction writer at a convention centred around Futurism, you would definitely be on the receiving end of some hard time.
Further, in the discussion, Samit explains how he has also written a book which was set 10 years into the future and that he understood the difficulty involved in creating a plot in the future. As he asked Bruce which timeline would be the most convenient in this respect, Bruce mentions Stewart Brand who came up with the useful term ‘Pace Layers’. This term explains the concept of how in human affairs, different types of changes occur at different rates and in that respect, fashion would change at a faster rate, cultural changes would take a few decades and final pace layer would be nature and the associated geological changes. So, if someone wanted to write of the future 50 years from now, they would want to write about the cultural changes that would occupy the future.
He also explains the concept of Futurist quadrants, a technique in Futurism. In this technique, the world is divided into 4 quadrants, each of which represents a futuristic possibility for the world with the help of an X and Y axis. The axes would make use of two very influential elements affecting the society. As he explained this, he took Bangalore as an example where you could take wealth and technology on the axes. He said that it’s 4 quadrants and not a different number because 5 would confuse people and in 3 people would align themselves to one or the other category. But when it’s four possibilities, there would be one people agree with, one they like, one they don’t and one really weird one. In the Bangalore scenario, the possible future where there are really rich people who lack technological knowledge would be the one that would be weird.
Samit further enquired him of the things from 80’s or 90’s which Bruce regrets having missed. Bruce is immediate to respond that the regrets are big and says a moment later that it would have to be the recently developed American gun fetishes. He talks of how this has come out of nowhere and is leading to a lot of violence, how his people getting shot down in the middle of the streets and restaurants, and how it has triggered to develop gun happy people. He says that he feels embarrassed about how he didn’t see it coming through.
Bruce points out that these fields would need the writers to look at the passing of time. At some point, you would have to look at the scenario with objectivity and be able to look past your own death and agree upon the fact that the world after death is just as interesting as the world now. He speaks of the spiritual liberation that the writers can achieve when they become capable of looking past their own death.
Ending the session, Samit recognizes a Bollywood fan in Bruce and draws him into a hamper-less rapid fire round inspired by ‘Koffee with Karan’.
About the Author: Bhargavi Komanduri is a final year student at BITS Pilani, Hyderabad. She has profound admiration for writing, reading, theatre, dance, movies, chocolates and chai. Being a seeker of good art in all shapes, and forms; Bhargavi also strives to be on the creators’ side of creation. Her journey has just begun as she unleashes her poems and thoughts every week. Find her foray into this new found creative spirit, on Medium, here – https://medium.com/@bhargavi2497. She currently writes for Bookstalkist.