Eight Science Fiction Writers Consider The Next Decade—online And Otherwise

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There is one sure way to make great science fiction writers blow a gasket, one way to turn them from slightly off-center scribes to Darth Maul on a bad-hair day: Ask them to predict the future.

They hate the idea that they are prophets, augurs, crystal ball-toting literati saddled with the burden of predicting the Next Big Thing. The very suggestion makes them very, very testy.

We organized an e-mail roundtable with eight great writers of the late 20th century who happen to toil in the science fiction genre: Harlan Ellison (I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream), Bruce Sterling (A Good Old-Fashioned Future), Nancy Kress (Stinger), Connie Willis (To Say Nothing of the Dog), Gwyneth Jones (Phoenix Cafe), Kim Stanley Robinson (The Martians), Dan Simmons (The Crook Factory), and Vernor Vinge (A Deepness in the Sky).

Collectively, these writers reflect on the millennium past and the Age of Technology. They comment on the light-speed pace of change. They explore the fortunes of Bill Gates and contemplate his fate. They speculate on their own fate and that of science fiction, and examine the likelihood they will be replaced by science fiction-writing robots.

And, of course, they debate the Internet revolution. They consider the role of the Net in the next century. They wonder how humans will adapt to it, and which skills it will engender in humans. They credit it with eventually helping to keep governments honest. They blame it for eventually helping corporations to destroy privacy. They praise it as revolutionary. They mock it as an overhyped force soon to be exposed.

In short, they predict the future.

And so, with deep thanks to our panelists for playing along (and for keeping the teeth-gnashing to a minimum), we present their thoughts on the dawn of a new millennium.