My fellow writers Damien G Walter and Mark Charan Newton recently published excellent posts on a topic that has been swirling around my own head for some weeks: the future for science fiction. As both point out, China is now the largest market for science fiction writing. The reason for this is quite astounding. According to Damien:
“China is the world’s manufacturing powerhouse. But it doesn’t invent or design the things it manufactures… China wants to capture the creativity and imagination of the culture that has produced companies like Google and Apple. So researchers talked to people involved with those and other companies to see what factors they had in common. Guess what the answer was? They all read Science Fiction.”
The Chinese Government started actively encouraging its citizens to read Science Fiction, and the rest is history. Mark Charan Newton calls this the “Cult of Science Fiction – that is, the faith in dreaming up Big Ideas”.
Both posts struck a chord with me for two reasons.
Firstly, I was still reeling from remarks made by Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, a company that China is hoping its citizens will emulate. In the MacTaggart lecture at the 2011 Edinburgh TV festival on 26 August, he stated that the English fail to capitalise on inventiveness. He then went on to argue that while we had invented photography, TVs and computers, “none of the world’s leading exponents in these fields are from the UK”.
I felt that his verdict was tinged with some irony, given that Hewlett-Packard had just agreed to a deal to buy UK-based Autonomy for a whopping $10.2 billion. That’s a pretty good return on investment by anyone’s measure, even if it did sell to a US company. This clearly demonstrates to me that we Brits punch well above our weight on the global stage, even in industries where we invent things. Think of companies such as BAE, Rolls Royce, Vodafone, AstraZeneca and Sage, to name but a few.
Secondly, Eric Schmidt had some advice to help us to “capitalise on inventiveness”. He wants to bring art and science back together, and I agree with him. He urged us to “think back to the glory days of the Victorian era. It was a time when the same people wrote poetry and built bridges. Lewis Carroll didn’t just write one of the classic fairytales of all time, he was also a mathematics tutor at Oxford. James Clerk Maxwell was described by Einstein as among the best physicists since Newton – but was also a published poet. Over the past century the UK has stopped nurturing its polymaths. There’s been a drift to the humanities – engineering and science aren’t championed.”
So perhaps the Chinese are on to something with their focus on science fiction: a genre that weds the scientific to the artistic. As for me: I’m something of a dreamer, with my feet firmly planted in the humanities camp (sorry Eric). While I can never invent something, I can at least lay the foundations for the inventors in my writing.
Take my book The Human Race, the entire premise of which is built around the invention of new technology and a device that can solve global warming. It’s a classic tale of demand and supply, of pain and cure. Global warming is the biggest challenge we have encountered during our relatively short stay on this planet, and technology will certainly play its part in providing a cure.
So there you have it. Now it’s the turn of the Chinese scientists, to pick up where fiction writers like me have left off. Turn science fiction into science reality: go out and invent something that will cure global warming!