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Comic-Con 2009: How to Create Tomorrow Based on the Tech of Today

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The ubiquity and rapid evolution of technology has made science fiction one of the hardest genres to master. In Friday’s Comic-Con panel "Building Tomorrow’s Technology," moderator Steve Saffel, a New York editor and publishing consultant, and four sci-fi novelists explored how present technology and availability of natural resources affects how we imagine the future. “There was a day and time when authors didn’t worry about making technology work. You just had to have the spaceship work,” said Staffel. “These days, technology is changing at such a rapid rate, that the science-fiction writer has to compete with reality in a way they didn’t before. People also understand technology more so than in the past, so if it isn’t right, the reader will spot it.” The panelists—Greg Bear (City at the End of Time), David Williams (Burning Skies), Dani and Eytan Kollin (The Unincorporated Man) and Kirsten Imani Kasai (Ice Song)—cited alternative energy sources, environmental decay, eventual development of quantum computing, and man/machine interfaces in military and biotech arenas as technologies with the most impact on society. “Biotech is transforming everything,” said Bear. “It has resulted in the removal of the middleman between audience and creator. But removing teachers and experts from the throne is not always such a good thing.” Williams mines the weaponization of outer space and cyberspace, and military application of civilian technology for ideas. “The only thing that’s cooler than 'x' is blowing 'x' up,” he laughed. He also noted the acceleration of technology will redefine our lives and ourselves. “In the next few decades, the focus will be less on what kind of energy we have and more on how we use it, what we define as human, and huge segments of the population retreating into religious denial, because technology is coming at them so rapidly.” In The Unincorporated Man, the Kollins brothers explore the economic implications of technology and true nature of freedom. That story chronicles the last unowned man in a world where humans have become incorporated and no longer own a majority of themselves. “Economics is the study of how masses of humans behave with a series of rules and using it to predict behavior,” said Eytan. “What happens when you really understand this and can manipulate the human mind?” “We simultaneously want to be freed by technology, but we are also terrified by it,” added Dani. “And we should be terrified. Technology offers better ways to live and quicker ways to kill. Even if we used technology to create the perfect world, we’d probably screw it up, because that’s the nature of the human condition. It’s in that middle ground that we get to write our stories.” For research, the novelists relied on science journals, Google searches, and getting the appropriate scientist to vet their writing for accuracy. “A scientist writing science-fiction is still only a specialist in one area,” says Williams. Even when the science is stretched, it still must adhere to the universe imagined in the story. “Even if it’s excellent research, you only need a nugget of it, because it’s fiction,” says Kasai. “You can create a separate new reality as long as you operate according to the rules of that new reality.” —Guest-blogger Susan Karlin

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