Monday, July 1, 2013

Astoundingly accurate prediction

Mark Siegel, in Hugo Gernsback: Father of Modern Science Fiction:
Gernsback's inventions and promotions fed and were fed by his astoundingly accurate predictions of technological development. As a more detailed look at his fiction will reveal, he was a tireless prognosticator in a number of widely varied areas. In 1915, he described atomic war in the following manner: "Setting off spontaneously the dormant energy of the atom--the entire city of 300,000 souls, houses, churches, bridges, parks and everything else have gone up in a titanic vapor cloud; only a vast crater remains." (Hiroshima had a population of 320,000 when it was bombed.)
The "critical" model based around the notion of sf as "predictive" is foolish and useless for more reasons than I could even begin to recount,* but here we have a perfect example of how plainly tasteless it is, at its not-too-extreme logical extension.

*It is not that discussion of the "predictive" model is inappropriate to a discussion of Gernsback, who indeed foolishly thought that was what sf was for. But to buy into it so wholeheartedly leads nowhere good.

To begin with, if one really must reach for "accurate Gernsback predictions," one need not go to the extremity of atomic war--why not television, or plastic furniture, or even, if you absolutely have to bring up a large-scale catastrophe, scientific agriculture? To brag that Gernsback was "astoundingly accurate" in his prediction of nuclear war, while treating such war itself as some kind of neutral marvel, is, again, breathtakingly tasteless.

As for that closing parenthetical, there are no words. We see here someone working according to an automated process: "match figures, match figures, if they're close mention them." Because if Siegel had devoted a second's thought to the cute little factoid in his parentheses, he would have realized that there is no reasonable way that this can be considered a "prediction."

Honestly, why is it there? Are we to think that Gernsback--what, predicted the approximate size of cities likely to be nuked to hell? Are we supposed to be pleased about it? Impressed? Am I to chuckle archly? Tell me, Mark Siegel, what is that parenthetical for?

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