When science fiction gets it wrong

I’m currently reading Ben Bova*’s novel Colony. Written in 1979, it’s set in the far-flung future of 2008, and features such developments as a permanent moon base, city-sized orbiting colony and a World Government. For the first 150 pages I was surprised at how little of the book seemed dated, considering the fact that it’s over 30 years old and set four years in the past.

And then I came across this:

“Home-sized computers and picture-telephones killed New York. With them, you could live wherever you wanted to and still communicate instantly with anyone, anywhere in the nation. Commuting died. Communications killed the big cities.”

Now it’s easy to sit here with the benefit of experience and hindsight and laugh at how inaccurate predictions in old SF novels turn out to be, but this, in an otherwise convincing story, struck me as a particularly poorly thought-out idea, as if the only reason people live in close proximity to one another is to facilitate business dealings. It’s common to over-estimate the societal changes technological progress can bring, and it seems amusingly naive to think that, while the invention of the telephone didn’t stop travelling, the invention of the “picture-telephone” would stop people wanting to live in cities.


*I bet he gives thanks every day that his surname begins with a ‘B’ and not a ‘D’.


4 thoughts on “When science fiction gets it wrong

  1. Erik R. March 20, 2012 / 2:41 pm

    Well duh…the “picture telephone” hasn’t stopped cities because it’s in two dimensions. It’s the “hologram telephone” that will remove the need for any photons hitting our retinas to have actually bounced off another human! That’ll do it for sure!!


  2. londonchoirgirl March 20, 2012 / 2:49 pm

    Wow, computers the size of houses… and people say my old laptop is clunky!

    Having never been much of a sci-fi head, I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for A Year of Reading the World. Not set in a the future – it’s more of a parallel reality – but boy is it good…


    • simonlitton March 20, 2012 / 2:59 pm

      Hi. Love the idea for your blog. Added to my feed reader.


      • londonchoirgirl March 20, 2012 / 3:05 pm

        Thanks very much – if you have any suggestions for books, let me know.


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