One of the great things about Chicon was a chance to meet a lot of new and interesting people, and one of my favourite moments was getting to catch up with Brenda Cooper. Not only an extremely talented writer, Brenda is also a futurist, something I found absolutely fascinating. That’s why I’ve invited her here today to tell you about what that means..
Hi! Thanks for inviting me to post on Wednesday Writers. Every writer has something unique that drives him or her to the keyboard. For me, that’s a need to discuss the future.
I’m a technology professional, a futurist, and a published science fiction writer. Most people understand what it means to write fiction or to work in technology, although really both of those are pretty wide fields. Someone with a futurist title might work in a very specific industry and use rigorous mathematical modeling to understand how various scenarios might play out. Others hang out their own consulting or talking shingle and work in a wide field like energy or medicine. I’m more of a generalist, which is also common. That means that I read widely and talk and write about the implications of what I learn on the future. This is not the same as predicting the future. The past is littered with attempts to predict, many of which were just plain wrong. Today we still don’t have flying cars, or jetpacks, or live in bubble cities under the sea. Although flying care and bubble cities have both made it into my fiction. The jetpacks? Not yet.
Often the futurist hat I wear intersects with the writer hat as an idea generator. For example, my story, “The Robot’s Girl,” was inspired by an article about robots acting as nanny’s in Japan. The article was maybe a hundred and fifty words, and the story it inspired was thousands of words long (it first appeared in Analog Magazine). A long keynote talk that I listened to in my technology career drove me home to write a 900 word story, “My Grandfather’s River,” that came out in Nature Magazine, and has since been re-printed and podcast.
As a writer, I read a lot of fiction. Sometimes that inspires things I want to look into. A specific example there is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars work and his climate change series. Both drove me to do some research that eventually supported stories. Fiction about 3D printing drove me to research it, and then to integrate it into talks about five years ago (before it was a widely-understood process). In fact, I once gave a talk to a group of people who run trade shows, and they assured me that nothing could ever possibly come of 3D printing.
Right now, I’m writing a series of non-fiction blog posts that may some day turn into a non-fiction book. This started because The Futurist magazine asked me to write a short article about the year 2100, and then they asked me to talk about that at their annual conference. So a super-short article has turned into a series of 500 to 1000 word blog posts – or really, small essays – that is helping me do all of the background thinking for the talk. I’m pretty excited about that work and the research that goes with it.
The point of both my non-fiction and much of my fiction is that conversations about the future are really important. I believe we create the future through our choices and actions today: both what we actively do, and what we choose to ignore.
Brenda Cooper is a writer, technology expert, and futurist living and working on the Pacific Northwest. Her “Backing into Eden” blog posts can be found at her website www.brenda-cooper.com, and her latest fiction novel is The Creative Fire, which came out from Pyr in November of 2012. Her next novel, The Diamond Deep, will be out in 2013, also from Pyr.