Re: Social Science Fiction?

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Sun, 14 Mar 1999 19:14:13 -0600

Vernor Vinge: A Deepness in the Sky. Walter John Williams: Aristoi.

Eric Drexler:          Engines of Creation.
Linda Nagata:          Tech Heaven.
Greg Egan:             Distress.
Jack Vance:            Anything.

The Baileys wrote:
> While I've been impressed by the host of authors that have attempted to
> extrapolate current trends in science in technology to write books couched
> in science fiction, I've noticed a paucity of books that attempt to
> extrapolate on social systems.

Why? Because social systems are the product of human emotions, and you have to understand something to alter it properly. The only SF author I know of who's displayed even the beginning of that understanding is Greg Egan... and his only flirtation with true altered emotions (that I've read) was in _Quarantine_. I suppose you could call the "true Ensemble" a novel social system, which it is, but it's displayed only in passing.

> Many great "hard" science fiction novels
> appear to be set in a far future with social systems that are essentially
> the same as the ones we see today or have seen in the past. I suspect this
> is a product of most good "hard" science fiction writers not being extremely
> versed in sociology, economics, and political science.

Wouldn't help if they were. All three disciplines, like psychology, are "soft" sciences, and you can't build a book around them. You'd need a grounding in game theory, evolutionary psychology, neurology (especially brain-damage cases) and cognitive science.

> Anyone know of
> examples of writing that attempt to extrapolate both the science and the
> technology along with their effects on society to produce novel and
> innovative social systems?

Problem is, there hasn't been a really innovative social system that I know of in the entire twentieth century; people still fall into the same old patterns, creating hierarchies and pecking orders. The only thing that will really alter that is neurohacking or intelligence enhancement of one kind or another; *maybe* collaborative filtering (or similar computational coordination) would do it.

Most of the pieces listed above show the culture only in passing. Only _Deepness_ and _Aristoi_ show deliberately created, fully visualized, and wholly new and different cultures intrinsically based on advanced technology.

--          Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.