Foretelling the future through science fiction

Tuesday, April 6, saw insightful and thought-provoking conversation regarding science fiction and its ability to be used as a tool to foresee the future. The theme for the night was science fiction and the climate crisis and the talk was a part of the first free lecture series hosted by UCR Palm Desert, this event was meant to tie science fiction into different topics and create discourse. 

This event was sponsored by the Center for Ideas and Society, the Palm Desert Center, the Speculative Fictions and Cultures of Science Program at UCR and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UCR. Sherryl Vint, director of the Speculative Fictions and Cultures of Science Program at UCR, facilitated a discussion between author Kim Stanley Robinson and Gerry Canavan, associate professor of English at Marquette University, regarding the night’s theme. Throughout the night, Stanley Robinson discussed his novel, “Ministry for the Future,” which alluded to the COVID-19 pandemic among his other novels which encompassed the climate crisis theme. 

In addition to being a professor, Canavan is the managing editor for the Science Fiction Film and Television journal that is published three times a year. His knowledge of the science fiction genre within literature led to a great discussion with Stanley Robinson as they discussed Robinson’s novels and the thought process behind writing them. 

When explaining the theme of the night, Vint discussed Robinson’s novel, “Ministry for the Future,” which was released in October 2020. The novel discusses in-depth the problem with climate change. In this world created by Robinson, if nothing is done, the future of the world is compromised to the point of no return. Despite Robinson’s novel being a work of science fiction, it is also a way of creating discourse regarding the topics discussed as described by Caravan. In this instance, it would be the climate crisis that grows day by day. 

Robinson explained that science fiction is doing two things at once. “The first is an honest attempt to engage in prophecy and the second is a metaphor for what’s going on in the world,” he stated. He later elaborated that everyone is metaphorically co-writing a science fiction novel as of a result of our relationship with the planet. The topic afterwards shifted to the global COVID-19 pandemic that has left the world and its inhabitants secluded and socially isolated. 

Caravan pointed out that in addition to the climate change threat in Robinson’s book, there also appeared to be traces of the pandemic in certain parts of the novel. Robinson explained that due to the timing of the book’s release, he was able to fit in some information and testimonies from the real world pandemic to this made-up world, which made this book appear like a bible to some, according to Caravan. 

Vint then moved on to the Q&A portion of the night where attendees were able to get their questions answered by both Robinson and Caravan. Robert Heath asked Robinson what he thought his best writing for the future would be for nonfans of sci-fi. Robinson replied that it would be his novel “Ministry for the Future,” while Caravan chose Robinson’s novel “New York 2140.” 

Overall, the night was very insightful and allowed for an atmosphere where attendees and panelists could discuss the beauty of the science fiction genre as a whole and the ability of utilizing science fiction to create important discourse regarding the world we live in. If you wish to read more on this topic feel free to check out some of Robinson’s other novels as well and keep an eye out for future events on their Facebook page @ucrpalmdesert

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