Tue
Oct 14 2008 3:09pm

When the S in SF Begins with an E

Hello all. You’re probably wondering who I am and why I’m blogging on Tor.com. A couple of years ago, I finished the first draft of a book that had as its backdrop the economic collapse of the United States. That book—Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six after the Collapse of the United States of America—just happens to be coming out (from Tor) today, and its eerie convergence with current events led the folks at Tor.com to ask me if I’d be interested in doing some blogging about politics, economics, and science fiction, and the connections among them. Even though I said on my website that I’d be a horrendous blogger, I decided to give it a shot. Here goes.

As Patrick Nielsen Hayden pointed out , new Nobel laureate Paul Krugman has said that economics is as close to Asimov’s psychohistory as you can get. I’m not as well-versed in either economics or science fiction as I should be—see my standing here—but from where I stand, knee-deep in both fields, the mindsets that practice economics and create science fiction appear to be startlingly similar. (We’ll leave aside for now the question of whether economics is really a science.) In many instances of both, a model of a world is constructed and tested, its implications teased out, its contradictions probed. Both resemble the real world in important ways, but diverge from them in other important ways; both can be understood as exercises in alternate realities that inform the reality that we believe we live in.

Please excuse the ridiculous pomposity, gross simplification, and sweeping generalities in that last sentence.

The best way that I understand investors—and really, anyone who puts their money on something with the hopes of getting more back later, be it a horse race, a plot of land, or a Treasury bill—is to think of them as engaging in a bit of science fiction. They call it speculation for a reason: How you put your money down tells you and everyone else something about what you believe the world is going to be like, five months, five years, maybe fifty years from now.

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen a lot of people, all at once, consider a few alternate-reality scenarios that they didn’t like. Krugman lays out very nicely in the fifth paragraph of how we got to where we are. But there’s also the fact (which I’m sure Krugman understands much better than I do) that people totally freaked out about it. The stock market slid so far so fast because suddenly people didn’t have much faith in the stock market itself—and it's going much further than that. Did you see the latest covers of The Economist? This is a magazine famous for being cool under pressure; its editors tend to view world affairs with an air of detachment (though it has a wonderful knack for outrage over human rights abuses). Last week, the headline on its cover was “World On the Edge.” This week: “Saving the System.” As chapter titles, they would be right at home in a science fiction novel, but the editors were dead serious.

If George Carlin was right that , maybe the global turbulence of the last few weeks is a sign that we’re all starting to wake up.

Or maybe I’m just full of it. (Honestly? I kind of hope I am.)

6 comments
Liza .
1. aedifica
When the S in SF begins with an E, you have EF--my initials!
Sandi Kallas
2. Sandikal
Aren't you the guy who wrote "Spaceman Blues"? (I hope I got that title right.) I read it last summer. It was one of the weirdest books I've ever read and that says a lot. It still hasn't vacated my brain.

I will keep my eyes open for your new book.
Pablo Defendini
3. pablodefendini
@ Sandikal #2

Yes, he is. Spaceman Blues is full of win, and Liberation, imho, is even better.
Sandi Kallas
4. Sandikal
Thanks, Pablo. (Do you mind if I call you Pablo?) "Spaceman Blues" is one of those books that I may have to re-read in a few years. It was very avant-garde and I'm pretty sure I missed a lot. I had the same experience with "American Gods" and "Snow Crash".
nfonseca
5. nfonseca
Economics is science fiction for the money-crowd, as philosophy is high fantasy for the the hegel-crowd. On the side, you could also say that statistics...well, that's a clear case of suspension of disbelief, if I ever saw one.

lol
R O T
6. rogerothornhill
Norman Mailer was once invited to a French conference meant to bring economists and novelists together for a series of joint sessions. At first, he wasn't going to go, but then when people scoffed at it, he decided to go as a dare.

As a defense, he argued that great economists have more in common with great novelists than they do with lesser economists, precisely because of the projected narratives and minute accretion of detail necessary for both kinds of work. He then riffed that Das Kapital was a novel, in which we meet our protagonist (The Commodity) on Page One and follow him through a series of adventures throughout the volume.

It strikes me that much of this is true even if you don't think Das Kapital is a novel, or that Mailer was a great novelist.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment