Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Unpredictable

Time was, science fiction was not only predicting the future, it could be about the idea of predicting the future. The central conceit of Asimov's Foundation trilogy is that through psychohistory, it is possible to predict sociopolitical events with high accuracy.

The 2003 nominees for Hugo Award for Best Novel do a complete turn-around. They are largely set in the future (except Lois McMaster Bujold's fantasy Paladin of Souls), but they are all about the idea that the future -- or something -- is essentially unpredictable. Robert Charles Wilson's Blind Lake has been criticized for a weak ending, but it's the central message that what is going on is unknowable. Charles Stross' Singularity Sky contains it in the very title: this is a work (and a writer) consumed with the idea of the Singularity, the event which by definition cannot be seen past. Dan Simmon's Ilium is full of post-Singularity weirdness, and again, is surrounding a black hole of we-cannot-understandness. (The case for Robert Sawyer's Humans is weaker; I think we need to wait for the third volume of the series to fairly judge it.) I could even make a case for Paladin of Souls, where gods stand in for the Singularity. Describing gods to the mortal world is by nature impossible, and her characters from this series (more clearly in Curse of Chalion) go through such an indescribable experience.

This is a fascinating turn-around from the days of Asimov, and I think it reflects a social change in the belief of predictability as much as it does the scientific progress in the field of complex systems (which has done much to raise the respectability of unpredictability).