Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Ubik and Alternative History

Just finished reading Ubik which was even better than expected. Definitely one of Philip K Dick's best and I reckon they should get the 'Scanner Darkly' production team and the guys who made 'Inception' to collaborate on a film version.

It also got me thinking about the difference between alternate history and science fiction. Alternate history is obviously a branch of sci fi but people usually distinguish between it and speculative science fiction that imagines a plausible or possible future scenario.

This distinction would usually be fine but in the case of many works originally conceived as future science fiction the imagined future date has been reached and passed - 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1984 and Ubik (which was set in 1992).

So does the classification depend on the perspective of the reader or that of the writer? The perspective of Philip K Dick sets Ubik in the fairly distant future but from our perspective it could be seen as an alternative timeline where space travel and cryogenics advanced faster than in our real history.

It may seem an arbitrary and pedantic issue but I know that I have different expectations when reading alternate histories and speculative science fiction. Iain Bank's Culture is envisaged in the far future (or possibly in a different galaxy depending which books you read) so I don't really try to compare it on an equal footing with the democracies of today. On the other hand 1984 seems to openly invite the reader to compare it with the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century and the directions in which technology allows politics to develop. Maybe it would just be more sensible for writers to refrain from putting what seems like a 'futuristic' date on the front of their new novel since chances are we'll get there eventually and people may still be reading their books.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Entropy and Anthropocentrism

Short one today as I'm still in a bit of a manic state after my trip home for New Years. I'm reading 'The Science of Discworld' which is good fun (although the Discworld bits are more engaging than than the pop science).

This got me thinking - isn't it amazing that evolution has put together an organism so self centred and far sighted that it finds itself sharing a galaxy with naturally occurring fusion generators hundreds of kilometers across and yet still starts worrying about the fact that in an inconceivable amount of time the galaxy will be too cold for humans.