- Associated Press - Thursday, June 12, 2014

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - There is a question among science fiction fans and futurism aficionados repeated so often that it has become more than just a refrain or cliche. It embodies a whole genre of thought.

The question: Where is my flying car?

Science fiction writers often try to anticipate what the world will look like decades or centuries out. Sometimes they get eerily close to reality. Sometimes they are way off, as with those who predicted personal air cars by the 21st century.

The intermingling of science fiction and reality will be one of the central topics of this year’s Campbell Conference, an annual event 35 years in the running. Hosted by Kansas University, the conference draws science fiction writers and readers for presentations, readings and conversations on the craft, The Lawrence Journal-World reported (http://bit.ly/TOjlWc ).

The relationship between science fact and fiction is more complicated than whether one predicts the other. Those involved with this year’s conference anticipate a lively discussion about how science fiction delves into the social effects of technological and other major changes to our world.

James Gunn, founder of the conference and of KU’s Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction, calls science fiction “the literature of the human species.”

“Much of what I’ve done and what science fiction has done is related to the ways which change and the future can affect us as a species, as well as to how the choices people make today will influence the kind of world that we will have,” Gunn said.

Kij Johnson, a KU assistant professor of English, author and one of the hosts of the conference, points to the country’s active entrepreneurial sector as a major point of interaction between science fiction and reality.

“We’re in a golden age, I’d say, of entrepreneurism,” Johnson said. “You can get an idea out in a way you just couldn’t in 1950.”

And while not all ideas from fiction become products, many - such as handheld computers and video phones - have. “Once it’s on paper, it’s out there,” Johnson said. “It’s on the table.” But even more importantly, Johnson said science fiction explores big social questions about changes.

Chris McKitterick, a writer and current director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, acknowledges that science fiction’s predictive power is faulty, as many predictions are. He calls the genre “a view from a height” - a way of examining changes before they happen.

“The most important thing in science fiction is the unintended consequences of discovery and innovation,” he said.

This year’s conference will also honor the work of Frederik Pohl, a well-known figure in science fiction and a longtime visitor to the conference and the related Intensive Institute on Science Fiction.

Pohl, who died in September 2013, was a writer, editor, literary agent and scholar of science fiction. Pohl was also an avid futurist, and in his work he dug into the reality of science fiction by exploring the social and psychological worlds of his characters.

As a literary agent, he represented Gunn, Isaac Asimov and a host of others. He joked that as an agent in the 1950s he represented 90 percent of the world’s science fiction writers at the time and still went broke, Gunn said.

Story Continues →