In a recent essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Dartmouth professor Dan Rockmore argues that for visions of the future, we should turn not to scientists or futurists but to artists: “Unimpeded by error bars and immune to the stakes that motivate futurists, they may be our best guides to the science-inflected possibilities of the future, precisely because they have the freedom to chart a possible future that many a bench scientist can’t or won’t.” In that spirit, Rockmore, director of the Neukom Institute for Computational Science, has established a new award that will recognize works of speculative fiction, especially those that ponder societal effects of everything from artificial intelligence to big data.
The Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award will celebrate near-future narratives in books and plays that pertain specifically to computational science—which can manifest as the aforementioned examples as well as many other concepts: self-driving cars, robots, basically anything related to ramifications of futuristic technology.
“The arts have always had strong creative connections to the sciences, including computational science,” Rockmore said in the official announcement, from late October. “These awards recognize the role of artists as gadflies for the good, provocateurs and satirists when the sciences overreach, and as far-seeing prophets of scientific potential, for good or bad.” H.G. Wells, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, and Isaac Asimov are all mentioned as examples of the kinds of fiction the award seeks to honor.
The inaugural awards, to be announced in the spring of 2018, will be presented in three categories: playwriting, as well as fiction by established authors and debut authors. Rockmore explained the distinction in categories: “Many of us have read, and continue to read, the greats of the genre, but there also seems to be a huge uptick in people writing speculative fiction today. This award program is meant to recognize artists that inspire us to think deeply and carefully about the future that computational science and ‘the digital’ are creating; the best of this kind of work is both thoughtful and thought-provoking.”
Entries may be any of these works published since June 1, 2015; the submission deadline is December 31. Judging will be conducted by a panel of writers and scientists, to be announced early next year. Find out more information at the official Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards website, and listen to Rockmore talk about the award on New Hampshire Public Radio.