Why We Terraformed a New Home for Future Fiction
Why Motherboard just started publishing the best science fiction on the internet.
Art: Koren Shadmi
Motherboard just launched Terraform, a hub dedicated to publishing future fiction. This is why.
Science fiction is everywhere. It may be our most popular, and populist, of genres. We can't seem to get enough of it in the multiplexes and on Netflix. But, weirdly, there's a distinct dearth of science fiction in its purest, arguably its original, form—short fiction—in the environment to which it seems best-suited. The internet.
Critics may argue about science fiction's literary origins—Mary Shelley's Frankenstein! No, Gulliver's Travels!—but the genre metastasized in the 1950s and 60s, through the vehicle of pulp magazine publishing, as fantastic short stories and serialized adventures. Short stories are the DNA of the genre; bite-sized futures and parallel realities designed to jar their readers into radical disconnection with the present-day.
Surely we have room for short stories again in our networked world. They don't take too much of our precious time. The medium is nimble and versatile. We could slip short stories into our pockets (and send them to our Pockets), daisy-chaining fiction to the op-eds and news pieces we read and share ad nauseam every day.
There are tons of great publishers of science fiction online—but still, it's strange that there isn't more fiction commingling with the newsy posts and personality quizzes and status updates tumbling down our feeds. We encourage the dissemination of information and storytelling in every conceivable way, be it listicles, data visualizations, video collages, tweetstorms, whatever. But when was the last time you saw a link to a short story shared on Facebook? The internet, it seems, doesn't know what to do with the stuff.
Yet. We're going to give it a shot. Meet Terraform: a new section of Motherboard, where we'll be publishing original speculative fiction every week. You'll find established voices here—the kinds of writers whose imaginations have already made a dent on the world—as well as emerging talents, bright new brains we love and can't wait to share.
Short fiction entertains us, but stories are more than just escapist jaunts into the unknown: they're tools of critique, of inquiry, of exploration. They can literally help us understand our wild, wonderful, and terrifying today. Why shouldn't they live alongside their nonfictional counterparts here on Motherboard, and throughout the internet ecosystem?
The aim is for Terraform to seize upon and play off of the zeitgeist; if drones are the news this week, we'll try to run our best piece on autonomous machines. If it's climate change that's making waves, perhaps we'll have fiction that takes place in the not-too-distant sweltering future.
Because, as you likely know, the relationship between science fiction and reality is a tangled hierarchy. Perhaps autonomous machines and quantum robots exist today partially because their engineers were weaned on William Gibson and Bruce Sterling novels, and subconsciously directed their adult lives towards replicating the super-cool futures of their adolescent reading. And that's nothing new. As Isaac Asimov once observed, "science-fiction writers and readers didn't put a man on the Moon all by themselves, but they created a climate in which the goal of putting a man on the Moon became acceptable."
To wit: Take a glance at the headlines on Motherboard today. Or any day. Pretty much every news story here could serve double-duty as the premise for a dystopian novel or cyberpunk noir film. Acidic oceans, quantum robots, killer drones, and mind-controlled prosthetics: these are the present-day truths populating our science fictional world.
Why start publishing science fiction when we're knee-deep in truths much stranger?
Well, we believe that fiction isn't just a place we go to escape from reality; it's a place where we can come to understand, even take control over, what is real. To test code, you have to run it. To see if a building will stand, or an airplane will fly, you have to build a model. Science fiction's functionality is the same: to take the world as we know it, tweak some key variables, and let it run for a few—or a few million—years. What emerges from the experiment may or may not tell us anything meaningful about the future, but it's a really, really good mirror for what's happening right here, right now.
We need a good mirror for the here and now. Not a flattering one, or the kind that distorts who we are. The kind that shows us every pore.
Because technology is complicated, in its construction and its consequences. Distinctions that once seemed inalienable—between real and unreal, human and machine—are falling like dead satellites from orbit. The planet is changing faster than we can contend with. As is language, power, and our sense of place in the cosmic theater. We land on comets; we comment on everything.
To start, we're launching with stellar stories from two greats, Bruce Sterling and Cory Doctorow, two exciting newcomers, Terraform's co-editor Claire L. Evans and Adam Rothstein, with killer art from Koren Shadmi and Gustavo Torres.
Science fiction is an extremely powerful tool. Not for predicting the future, but for clarifying our present. We want to see that happening not just in monthly magazines, but on Reddit, Digg, and Facebook. We want fiction to be part of your feed.
Think of Terraform as tomorrow's news today.