How SF Prepared Me for THE FUTURE

Catherynne M. Valente • August 1st, 2008 @ 12:06 pm • Culture

I was listening to the radio the other day, and they were very sternly reporting on drug violations at the Olympics, and how the Russian world-record holder in short-distance running might have to return her medal for using performance enhancing drugs.

My reaction? GO TEAM CYBORG!

This is my reaction to a lot of things. As a child of science fiction, hungrily devouring every story about what humans could be, I don’t worry too much about a lot of the things that seem to get the world all het up. I was prepared for the internet long before it showed up in my dad’s house because I read William Gibson and Vernor Vinge and I knew what to do with a Worldnet when I got one: jump into it with love, devotion, and both feet. And, you know, use it to watch porn.

SF raised me, and I think it did a damn fine job. It at least removed a lot of potential sources of anxiety.

I think all athletes should be able to take drugs if they want to, and also have cybernetic enhancements. They should be able to change and use their body however they like, to whatever extreme–let’s mod this fucker and see what it can really do!

I don’t worry too much about bio-proteins grown in vats. Yes, it will taste like crap. Everything in the future tastes like crap! It’s how you know you’re in the future! If it’s not grey and amporphous and vaguely morally alarming, it doesn’t belong in your face.

I don’t worry about stem-cell research. Yes, the government will try to stop it. They will fail. Yes, we will end up a race of mutants who have forgotten what it’s like to be human. It’s gonna be awesome! I’m gonna get a tail, and regenerating limbs, and gills. And all kinds of vibrating attachments so I can finally obey my spam and GIVE HER WHAT SHE WANTS. I can’t wait!

I don’t worry that machines will replace man–they totally will. I for one…you know the drill. We are going to be living down and dirty and close with garage-level AI and it is going to be so fabulous I can’t even tell you. Yes, they will probably imprison us and use us for fuel/fodder/whatever. They’ll get over it. Kids are like that. What did you do in the backyard when no one was looking when you were a kid? You just wait, we’re gonna be playing doctor with the robots in no time.

I don’t worry too much about the growing dystopian fascism, either. Yes, the government does listen to everything. Of course they do! I mean, come on. It’s kind of funny. It’s as if our government read all the dystopian SF ever and said to themselves: “These are fantastic ideas! Who can we get to implement these?” But! I’ve read the same books. Therefore, I know that dystopia is survivable and temporary, especially if run by a repressive religious nut, that there is always an underground, that Shakespeare can save me, that the human soul is essentially untouchable, and that if you can say one thing for oppressive dystopias, it’s that they usually have some pretty bitchin’ drugs.

I don’t worry about drugs. Hack your body, kids. Just learn to recognize malware.

I don’t worry about global warming. Yes, we will probably be forced to live underground and slowly forget that there ever was a surface world. We will be nameless cogs in a post-industrial nightmare. But the point is I’m ready for that. I have an awesome dog, after all. And free love in the bowels of the earth will probably make up lack of vitamin D, and the architecture down there is worth the trip alone. We’ll come out again, we always do.

Because really, what SF taught me was that we will always survive. There is nothing which is not survivable, nothing to which I, 21st century human female, cannot adapt. There is nothing in which I cannot find beauty, joy, rapture. The world will always change. I will always change. It’s ok.

Science fiction will save us.

40 Responses to “How SF Prepared Me for THE FUTURE”

  1. Andrew says:

    I didn’t know that somebody wrote about the Internet before it happened. But SciFi/Fantasy was all I read growing up, too.
    I also don’t worry about global warming… I figure we’ll adapt before it gets too bad.

  2. Catherynne M. Valente says:

    Well, the internet existed when they wrote, but not in any form that the average kid on the ground understood or knew about in 1984. I was not a tech geek growing up, so books were all I knew.

  3. tim says:

    Unless the science fiction you read is by Thomas Disch. Then no matter what we do, no matter how we adapt, some big alien farmer will come along and wipe us out…not on purpose mind you, because we are not that important… but just because his plants grew too big.

  4. Amal says:

    I must not giggle at work. I must not giggle at work. I am a sober and professional civil servant. I must not giggle at work!

    That said, I think the first dystopic novel I read was 1984 when I was a wee thing. Which … Doesn’t have all that much great stuff to say about the pristine untouchability of the human soul. I wonder if all the dystopic fiction since then, in every medium, has been trying to recover from that by saying yes, yes, we will triumph because at core we are good. Kind of the same ballpark as always choosing Kansas over Oz, you know?

  5. The oft absent author reports in… « The Aldersgate Cycle by Natania Barron says:

    [...] is so awesome, you can read another wonderful (and hysterical) article by Catherynne M. Valente on How SF Prepared Me for the FUTURE. I also worked myself last night, after reading her post from yesterday, and tried to see how many [...]

  6. Jacques Barcia says:

    That reminds me of South African runner Oscar Pistorius, who has two carbon-fiber prosthesis for legs. The guy looks like a satyr! Unfortunately, he didn´t make it to Beijing.

  7. Catherynne M. Valente says:

    Jacques: But! He didn’t make it because he wasn’t fast enough, not because of his robot parts! I call it a victory.

  8. Jessica Reisman says:

    Yes! Thank you. Best thing I’ve read all day.

  9. devvieish says:

    Wow. Yes. For once, something that I never hear said, and it’s *perfect.*

    I must take issue, though, with the original athletes-on-drugs issue. It’s a race to the bottom – if some athletes use drugs, there’s pressure on all athletes to, just to stay competitive. And since many of the performance-enhancing drugs have bad side-effects healthwise…

  10. Catherynne M. Valente says:

    They do have bad side effects. But the assumption that it’s the bottom…I don’t know. I think we should make awesome performance enhancing drugs that don’t have side effects, but that will never happen as long as drugs are considered evil, instead of simply modification.

  11. Amal says:

    About drugs for athletes — I think it’s the modification, not teh evil, that’s the point. I agree with the Olympics being about how to push the bounds of what we can do with ONLY our bodies and our will. If there were to be a separate event, a kind of Mad Scientist Playground, where athletes competed while on all manner of crazy new drugs, where the drug is to the athlete what the horse is to the jockey, and the drug creators were awarded part of the medal, that’d be more interesting.

  12. justbeast says:

    Performance drugs and cyber enhancements:
    I think everybody is missing a simple point. You need to have two categories, unaugmented humans (which still should be tested for drugs and prosthetics), and cyborgs. And let the cyborgs race other cyborgs, and humans other humans. Otherwise, one, it /is/ a race to the bottom, drug-wise. And two, here’s the thing, once you stat augmenting muscles (with drugs, cyber implants), you might as well race motorbikes or cars against humans. But there’s no point to that, since the racers are fundamentally unequal. It’s not really that fun, since the outcome is pretty much a given.

  13. Eric says:

    Awesome entry! It’s nice to see hope for the future in such a dark tone. Also, I’m definitely one for having vibrating parts. That’s one enhancement I could sign up for.

    Keep up the great work!

  14. Ennis Drake says:

    God Damn that was wonderful.

    GO TEAM CYBORG, indeed!

  15. daedalus2u says:

    The best performance enhancing drugs will always have adverse side effects.

    Physiology is a trade-off between instantaneous ATP production for things such as running from a bear and long term maintenance. When you need to run from a bear, you need every molecule of ATP to fire each muscle cell a little bit stronger. You don’t need to worry about healing because if the bear catches you, you are bear food.

    Regulating ATP use between long term maintenance into short term emergency use is a major function of physiology. If you turn off healing, the ATP your body uses for healing can be diverted into running a little bit faster or a little bit longer. But there is a cost.

    Who ever is willing and able to turn off more of their physiology not connected to whatever athletic event they are performing will be able to outperform someone who doesn’t turn as much off.

    You don’t need performance enhancing drugs to do this. Your body has the capacity to do it already. That is why you can run yourself to death. Death from exhaustion balances survival from being able to outrun the bear. Legend has it that the man who ran the first Marathon dropped dead after he finished it.

  16. Jacques Barcia says:

    Cat: actually, he didn’t make it because he wasn’t in his best shape. He had the OK from the regular olmpics commitee in the last minute. He wasn’t training for the competitions.

    That said, he IS fast enough to run side by side with “normal” runners. The guy has three world records in 100m, 200m and 400m!

  17. Sir Tessa says:

    Heheee…you rock.

  18. Cons says:

    Tim, the only Thomas Disch I’ve read is 334, but I think it captures Catherynne’s opinion very well. It was actually the first book to come to mind.

  19. jere7my says:

    Hmm, yeah — I also quibble about the performance-enhancing drugs. While I don’t have a problem with drugs and bodymods per se, I am more interested in being astounded by the limits of the unaugmented human body. We already know we can build a machine that’s faster than any human can run. They’ve already got races.

  20. Bear says:

    Wow! Can I have this post translated in Romanian and spread all over? It’s the best pro-SF propaganda I’ve read. Ever! You’ve definitely made my day!

  21. Michael Phillips says:

    Spectacular post!

  22. Anne S says:

    Ha Ha! Just my thoughts exactly! Can’t wait for nanotechnology too.

  23. A FC e o Medo do Futuro « Rascunhos says:

    [...] A autora do texto era, até há pouco tempo, uma total desconhecida. Nomeada para World Fantasy Best Novel, tem escrito no blog do Jeff Vandermeer. Sem dúvida, captou a minha atenção. Deixou-vos o link para o texto. [...]

  24. Egypt Urnash says:

    <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

    Where’s my inhuman robot body and my backups? I’m ready for a strange, surprising future!

  25. ~ says:

    I agree!
    Perfomance enhancing steroids/cyberwarze/reptilian body grafts, should be mandatory at the olympic level.

    However I do think we owe it to the cockroaches, as one species to another to commit seppuku.
    They’ve waited quite patiently. Its about time they had a turn being at the top of the food chain, and who knows they might learn from our mistakes.

    Arming the Truth-Cats from 4chan with bacterial/vir@l agents (the experimental kind which produce zombies and mutant insectoids.) Nukes and armoured hovercraft. 4 their Holy War against Scientology, Web 2.0, Walt Disney’s head, EMO, My Chemical Romance, The daily Telegraph and its entire readership base, would be a good start.

  26. Pete Tzinski says:

    I tend to agree on most of those points, since I grew up with SF too. I guess where my concerns come from, when I have them, is the concern that there’s lots of people out there who DON’T Read SF. What are they going to do?

    Actually, we’re probably all buggered. Our fates are in the hands of some serious, serious high-fantasy Tolkien nuts. They’ll wind up being the only ones who can recognize what plants we can eat, and know how to make a fire. *I* will know how to make a fire if given a small tinderbox of futuristic origins. But two sticks? Errr…

    So! Go read the SF for when the internet wakes up and says “Hang on…” but then go read the Fantasy for when the world goes boom and we have to eke out existences amidst city-rubble. And. Er. Go read romance so you’ll know how to repopulate the species? Okay, there goes my theme for this paragraph…

  27. LCC says:

    Thank you. That be everything a thing can be.

  28. Will Humphreys says:

    What a great post!

  29. Matt’s Bookosphere 8/2/08 « Enter the Octopus says:

    [...] How science fiction has prepared Catherynne M. Valente for the future [...]

  30. greydoorbooks says:

    Also being a child of science fiction I completely agree that we are (and need to be) prepared for anything. You have to marvel that the imagination of one gifted author can open the eyes of someone who will become a gifted scientist (or inventor) and bring that imagination to reality! Not being a gifted scientist or inventor I had to give back, so instead of creating I pedal the same stuff that helped me open my eyes to unlimited possibilities – http://www.greydoorbooks.com!

  31. Vandana Singh says:

    Catherynne, I enjoyed reading this post and the previous one, but I have to disagree with this one! I’m catching up on my blog reading so I only just read your posts. Maybe it is too late to post anything but I’d like to add a comment or two.

    I like the positive tone of your post. I have nothing against hope — in fact hope is an act of rebellion in itself. But I’d like to add a qualifier: by itself it is not enough. If hope becomes complacency then we are in real trouble. I’d like to point to global warming as an example. Here is an environmental catastrophe that could, really, end life on Earth as we know it. We didn’t sign an immortality contract with the universe. If we want to reverse GW before the point of no return, we have to act. We have to change things in ways that we never imagined before. I’d like to see more SF stories imagining a world saved from global warming. What would we have to change to ensure that?

    There are many people who assume that technological solutions will fix the GW issue. But the problem is too big for a band-aid, quick-fix solution. I happen to be a physics professor at a small state college. My college did a massive cross-disciplinary student teach-in of GW across 15 disciplines. My own students dug up the data on carbon dioxide and the whys and hows of greenhouse gases, and looked at mitigation issues. But our analysis was only a small part of the whole. From sociology and psychology we learned about how societies react to change, and what obstacles stand in the way of people changing their behaviors — and from the art students we learned about how art connected us to nature. And so on. I’d like to see SF that proposes complex answers to complex problems. Technology is an essential element but it is only a part of the solution.

    Lastly my own reading of SF has been mixed. Especially the reading I did as a kid made me realize that much of SF at that time was not written for women and people of color, let alone people from other nations. I could identify much more easily with the conquered aliens than the conquering, usually white, male heroes. So while I got intellectual thrills from SF at the time, I also felt excluded and certainly not optimistic about the future. Not until I read Le Guin and others later in life. (At the same time I was quite determined to write the stuff).

    I think there is still a strong current of that in spec fic, which means I still have a fairly mixed reaction to it today. But also there is reason for hope, because there are writers taking all kinds of interesting, mind-bending risks (including you, Catherynne and Jeff) and that is the sort of spec fic I celebrate.

    Vandana

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