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2015-03-20    来源:yeeyan.org    【      美国外教 在线口语培训

How America's Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future


The literary genre isn’t meant to predict the future, but implausible ideas that fire inventors’ imaginations often, amazingly, come true.

Stories set in the future are often judged, as time passes, on whether they come true or not. "Where are our flying cars?" became a plaintive cry of disappointment as the millennium arrived, reflecting the prevailing mood that science and technology had failed to live up to the most fanciful promises of early 20th-century science fiction.

But the task of science fiction is not to predict the future. Rather, it contemplates possible futures. Writers may find the future appealing precisely because it can’t be known, a black box where “anything at all can be said to happen without fear of contradiction from a native,” says the renowned novelist and poet Ursula K. Le Guin. " The future is a safe, sterile laboratory for trying out ideas in,” she tells Smithsonian, “a means of thinking about reality, a method."

Some authors who enter that laboratory experiment with plausible futures—envisioning where contemporary social trends and recent breakthroughs in science and technology might lead us. William Gibson (who coined the term "cyberspace" and will never be allowed to forget it) is well known for his startling and influential stories, published in the 1980s, depicting visions of a hyper-connected global society where black-hat hackers, cyberwar and violent reality shows are part of daily life. For other authors, the future serves primarily as a metaphor. Le Guin’s award-winning 1969 novel, The Left Hand of Darkness—set on a distant world populated by genetically modified hermaphrodites—is a thought experiment about how society would be different if it were genderless.

Because science fiction spans the spectrum from the plausible to the fanciful, its relationship with science has been both nurturing and contentious. For every author who meticulously examines the latest developments in physics or computing, there are other authors who invent "impossible" technology to serve as a plot device (like Le Guin’s faster-than-light communicator, the ansible) or to enable social commentary, the way H. G. Wells uses his time machine to take the reader to the far future to witness the calamitous destiny of the human race.
科幻作品的广度跨越了幻想与现实,它与科学之间既有互惠的关系也有矛盾的地方。有些写手会在动笔之前严谨地查阅物理、计算机方面的最新进展,而也有些人为了服务情节,会自行发明出一些“不可能”的科技(例如勒奎恩的超光速通讯器"安赛波")。还有的则像H. G.威尔士那样,用时间机器将读者带到未来亲眼见证人类的毁灭,然后引发出一场社会舆论。

Sometimes it’s the seemingly weird ideas that come true—thanks, in part, to science fiction’s capacity to spark an imaginative fire in readers who have the technical knowledge to help realize its visions. Jules Verne proposed the idea of light-propelled spaceships in his 1865 novel, From the Earth to the Moon. Today, technologists all over the world are actively working on solar sails.

Jordin Kare, an astrophysicist at the Seattle-based tech company LaserMotive, who has done important practical and theoretical work on lasers, space elevators and light-sail propulsion, cheerfully acknowledges the effect science fiction has had on his life and career. "I went into astrophysics because I was interested in the large-scale functions of the universe," he says, "but I went to MIT because the hero of Robert Heinlein’s novel Have Spacesuit, Will Travel went to MIT." Kare himself is very active in science fiction fandom. "Some of the people who are doing the most exploratory thinking in science have a connection to the science-fiction world."
Jordin Kare是为一位天体物理学家,供职于位于西雅图的LaserMotive科技公司,他在激光的理论与实践、太空电梯以及光能推进器等方面都取得了重要成果。他在采访时说自己很感激科幻作品带给他的人生与事业方面的影响。“我从事天体物理学的研究是因为我对宏观尺度的宇宙很感兴趣,但我报考MIT,却是因为罗伯特.海因莱因的小说。他那本《穿上航天服去旅行》的主角正是MIT的学生。”Kare承认自己是一个活跃的科幻小说迷,他说:“在科学领域,最富探索精神的人总是会跟科幻界保持联系。”

Microsoft, Google, Apple and other firms have sponsored lecture series in which science fiction writers give talks to employees and then meet privately with developers and research departments. Perhaps nothing better demonstrates the close tie between science fiction and technology today than what is called "design fiction"—imaginative works commissioned by tech companies to model new ideas. Some corporations hire authors to create what-if stories about potentially marketable products.
微软、谷歌、苹果以及其他公司常常会邀请一些科幻作家为旗下的员工举办讲座,然后安排他们跟研究部门的开发人员私下会见。“设想(design fiction)”——即技术公司为搜罗新点子而向外界发起征文的过程——正是当今社会科幻与科技之间密切关系的完美体现。有些机构还会雇用作家专门创作“What-if”类型的故事,用以探索具有潜在市场的产品。

"I really like design fiction or prototyping fiction,” says novelist Cory Doctorow, whose clients have included Disney and Tesco. “There is nothing weird about a company doing this—commissioning a story about people using a technology to decide if the technology is worth following through on. It’s like an architect creating a virtual fly-through of a building.” Doctorow, who worked in the software industry, has seen both sides of the development process. “I’ve been in engineering discussions in which the argument turned on what it would be like to use the product, and fiction can be a way of getting at that experience."

In the early part of the 20th century, American science fiction tended to present a positive image of a future in which scientific progress had made the world a better place. By mid-century, after several horrific wars and the invention of the atomic bomb, the mood of science fiction had changed. The stories grew dark, and science was no longer necessarily the hero.

The tilt toward dystopian futures became even more pronounced in recent decades, partly because of a belief that most of society has not yet reaped the benefits of technological progress. Smithsonian spoke with the eminent critic John Clute, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, who quotes Bertrand Russell’s prophetic words from 1924: "I am compelled to fear that science will be used to promote the power of dominant groups, rather than to make men happy.’ The real fear today," Clute continues, "is that the world we now live in was intended by those who profit from it."
而近些年来,反乌托邦主题也变得越来越突出了。部分原因可能是因为社会中大部分人并没有感受到科技发展的好处。杂志采访了知名评论家、《科幻百科全书》编辑者之一的John Clute, 他引用了勃兰特.罗素在1924年发表的谶言:“罗素曾说‘我担心科学终会被统治者们利用,而非造福人类’。而我们今天要的担心是,这个世界是不是已经被利益既得者占据了统领地位。”

Kim Stanley Robinson—the best-selling author of the Mars trilogy, 2312 and Shaman—shares this fear, and sees it manifested in the popularity of Suzanne Collins’ novel The Hunger Games, in which a wealthy governing class uses ruthless gladiatorial games to sow fear and helplessness among the potentially rebellious, impoverished citizens. "Science fiction represents how people in the present feel about the future," Robinson says. "That’s why ‘big ideas’ were prevalent in the 1930s, '40s and partly in the '50s. People felt the future would be better, one way or another. Now it doesn’t feel that way. Rich people take nine-tenths of everything and force the rest of us to fight over the remaining tenth, and if we object to that, we are told we are espousing class warfare and are crushed. They toy with us for their entertainment, and they live in ridiculous luxury while we starve and fight each other. This is what The Hunger Games embodies in a narrative, and so the response to it has been tremendous, as it should be."
畅销书作者金.斯坦利.罗宾森(代表作《火星三部曲》, 《2312》,《萨满》)亦表达了同样的担忧。他说苏珊.柯林斯的《饥饿游戏》展现的正是这种状况——富有的统治阶层利用无情的角斗游戏,在人群中散布恐惧和无助情绪,压制穷人们的反抗念头。“科幻作品反映了当下的人们对未来的予感,”罗宾森说道,“这就是为何30年代、40年代以及50年代的作品都很有‘抱负’。人们曾以为未来不论如何都会比当下更美好,但现在他们不这样想了。富人占据了十分之九的资源,剩下十分之一给我们争食。如果我们反抗,他们就以阶级斗争捣乱者的名义镇压我们。他们过着无比奢华的生活,玩弄我们,而我们只能忍受饥饿,自己打自己人——这就是《饥饿游戏》的画外音。这部作品能够在市面上造成轰动反响是理所当然的。”

For his part, William Gibson believes that to divide science fiction into dystopian and utopian camps is to create a "pointless dichotomy." Although his seminal 1984 cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer, depicts a gritty, scarcity-driven future, he does not consider his work pessimistic. “I’ve only ever wanted to be naturalistic," he says. " I assumed I was being less than dystopian in the 1980s, because I was writing about a world that had gotten out of the cold war intact. That actually seemed unrealistic to many intelligent people at the time."

The distinction between dystopian and utopian may often seem to hinge on whether the author personally has hope for a better future. Robinson, for instance, consistently has taken on big, serious, potentially dystopian topics, such as nuclear war, ecological disaster and climate change. He does not, however, succumb to despair, and he works out his solutions in complex, realistic, well-researched scientific detail. Of his own work, he says, "Sure, use the word utopian."

【原文来源:smithsonianmag.com  作者:Eileen Gunn 翻译来源:yeeyan.org 译者:YIHE陳】

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