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Futuristic Realism

Updated on December 21, 2015
Yuli Ban profile image

Malik, also known as 'Yuli', is an aspiring novelist with a terminal lack of a life.

Pepper

Pepper the Robot
Pepper the Robot | Source

Welcome To The Future™!

More accurately, welcome to the futuristic realism hub! There are many things that need to be asked before we get started, the most important of which being: "What on Earth is futuristic realism?"

Short answer: it is a subgenre of science fiction and literary/realistic fiction that combines contemporary or familiar storytelling with the high technology seen in sci-fi.

Long answer: it is many things. There are multiple definitions for it, and the very nature of the genre changes over time. There are two main terms: "sci-fi realism" and "futuristic realism." How are they different? On a fundamental level, they mean the same thing. However, they go about reaching the same goal in different ways.

Sci-Fi Realism describes science fiction that emulates reality on some level. Maybe that means slice-of-life familiarity, or maybe that means hyperrealistic graphical design. When science fiction seems indistinguishable from real life, you have sci-fi realism.
Futuristic realism goes for the same thing, except it throws in real life to the proceedings. When real life seems indistinguishable from science fiction, you have futuristic realism.

At the same time, as the creator of these terms, I'm apt towards using them interchangeably, and I'm more comfortable with "futuristic realism" due to its lack of the otherwise constricting 'sci-fi' label. On the Sci-Fi Realism subreddit, there is already considerable tension due to the label and the original mission statement.

Perhaps that's because my ideas weren't fully formed at the time of creating the subreddit, or perhaps that's due to the style's nature. I lean towards the former: when I created the subreddit, my sole intention was to find science fiction and cyberpunk pictures that seemed to be pictures taken in real life.
Some examples included photoshopped images of natural landscapes featuring futuristic aircraft. Back in July 2015, this is what sci-fi realism meant. Then it expanded to include "close-ups" of a futuristic world.
Offbeat images that depicted a future world that wasn't just "sci-fi cityscape #3,842" or "cyborg military policeman staring into distance towards sci-fi cityscape #3,842" were what I was looking for. It's not because I hate these sorts of images— especially considering I'm a regular of subreddits dedicated towards those images such as /r/CityPorn, /r/ImaginaryCyberpunk, and /r/ImaginaryCityscapes— but because I had come to notice that I was a person living in a world that seemed increasingly sci-fi, but the larger parts of life didn't reflect this fact.

In fact, there's something I call the "Smartphone Perspective" (also known as the Smartwatch Perspective and iPhone Perspective, depending on the discussion): take out your smartphone. Now turn it on. Congratulations: you wield a gadget that is more futuristic than most things sci-fi writers have ever dreamt of. In your hand is a computer that has access to all the world's information, to images, to videos, to movies, to novels, and more. It's something the average person even ten years ago considered a quasimagical prop meant for a movie set in the year 3000. Meh.

"Meh" is right. At times, it's meh. At times, it's awe. We'll soon feel the same towards things like hyperloops, domestic robots, and moon colonies. Real life will become indistinguishable from science fiction.

I recognized this truth. It took time for me to articulate it clearly, but I recognized it early on. Except... there was still a disconnect— where were the heroes and villains, the alien invaders and hackers? Sure, there are global megacorporations, but for the most part, we just deal with them and move on with our everyday lives.

Everyday lives! That was it. That's what was missing from a lot of science fiction on which I grew up. I always wanted a personal robot, but never did that idea materialize into anything more than a vague snapshot of a robotic servant handing me a glass of soda.
Somewhere along the line, I began to seriously think about the consequences of owning my own personal robot servant, of the little everyday things that would arise. Was it exciting? Not usually, and that's why futuristic realism was never a major thing before I started a subreddit dedicated to it. Science fiction is almost always meant to be an escape from our current lives, after all. Sure, it tends to wind up influencing our lives, but it mainly serves the role of entertainment. It was never actually intended to become our everyday lives. Yet become our everyday lives it has.

So that's why I want to tell the story of a family celebrating Christmas, an otherwise homely scene, but one featuring their domestic robots and smarthouse. That's why I want to tell the story of an average couple taking up virtual dating. Average people with average lives with ultra-high technology that they believe is average or, at the very least, losing its novelty.

That's why I say the very nature of the genre changes over time: one day, even owning an artificially intelligent robot inside of an artificially intelligent house won't come across as science fiction. It only does today because we've never possessed artificially intelligent robots or houses.
A modern contemporary story like The Fault In Our Stars would read like utterly ultraterrestrial sci-fi to an average person from the 1700s. Then again, F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic, The Great Gatsby, would be science fiction to such a person all the same, what with these fast-paced "automobiles" racing along the place. If one made the deliberate attempt to create such a feeling, that they were reading or watching something sent back several decades or centuries and wasn't intended as science fiction, what would that be like? Something they consider a contemporary realistic story, but we would find incredibly futuristic and beyond our times...

I want to find out.

Amongst other things, of course. I also want to celebrate how futuristic we currently are. Believe me, there are many current creations that seem ripped from the set of cyberpunk thrillers, and I want the world to know.


So that's why I want to tell you once more, something that's made me feel great for years in the midst of suffering from depression— Welcome To The Future™!

Future Life with Pepper the Robot

Pepper スペシャルムービー 「さぁ 未来をはじめよう。」[Pepper The Robot: The Future Is Now]

Home of 2016

Two Peppers as captured in a modern home
Two Peppers as captured in a modern home | Source

Little Droid in the Big Apple: Times Square

ASIMO visited New York in 2014. Surprisingly, he's the least sci-fi thing about this image.
ASIMO visited New York in 2014. Surprisingly, he's the least sci-fi thing about this image. | Source

The Disconnect

I want to buy some droids.

I want to buy a self-driving car.

I already have a drone, and I still plan on using it to scout out a cemetery to hunt ghosts. Ghost-hunting robots, anyone? Seriously, why haven't any of the big ghosthunting shows thought of that yet?

And there are legit drone shows that are going to occur or have occurred. Or try floating balls that make the sounds of a city street. It's all so sci-fi, but there isn't really a genre to describe this. So I chose Futuristic Realism. As opposed to Hard Sci-Fi, which is mainly concerned with how well sci-fi conforms to known physics, futuristic realism is all stuff happening in a manner that feels realistic, without any flash or pomp, and feels relatable.

I've always said that the best example of Futuristic/Sci-Fi Realism is a bit where I took "Sarah, Plain and Tall" and added robots. ASIMOs working on a farm is as Futuristic Realist as you can get. To an extent, it doesn't matter if that farm is in the USican midwest or located on a space colony in the Keiper belt. Does the story really feel realistic?

To another extent, it does. That is more hardcore realism where the aim is to be as '20 minutes into the future' as possible. I suppose you can say Futuristic Realism is taking science fiction and translating it into Realistic and Literary fiction. A truer futuristic realist story about a farmer would be about that farmer's struggle to survive a drought and dealing with some other people. A more traditional sci-fi (particularly cyberpunk) story may have him pit against a megacorporation bent on buying out the farm and tossing him to the side. Still futuristic realism, though, and depending on how you handle the story, it could lean more one way or the other. If it's more about corporate vs the individual, alienation wrought by corporate culture, and the technology used by the corporation to push him out, it would fare better as being called cyberpunk. If it's more about the people themselves, and just happens to feature corporate alienation, then you have something closer to pure futuristic realism. That's why I say it's easiest to pull of futuristic realism with a farm (or suburban) setting— it's already much closer to individual people doing their own thing, without being able to fall back on the glittering neon cyberscapes of a city or cold interiors of a space station to show off how sci-fi/cyberpunk it is. It makes the writer have to actually work. Also, there's a much larger clash. A glittering neon cyberscape of a megaopolis is already very science fiction (and realistic); adding sexbot prostitutes and smartglasses doesn't really add to what already exists. Add sexbot prostitutes and smartglasses to Smalltown, USA, however, and you have a jarring disconnect that needs to be rectified or at least expanded upon. That doesn't mean you can't have a futuristic realist story in a cyberpunk city, or a space cruiser, etc. It's just much easier to tell one in Smalltown, USA because of the very nature of rural and suburban communities. They're synonymous with tradition and conformity, with nostalgic older years and pleasantness, of a certain quietness you can't find in a city. Throw in technological abominations, and you show off just HOW timeless these places are.

I live in a rural area. As soon as I become rich, I'm buying a Pepper robot. Two problems? One, it's not all that easy to become rich (but dammit, I'm gonna keep trying). Two, they don't sell Peppers in the US. But they will. And when all this comes together, I'll be that creepy black guy living in a trailer with a humanoid robot. I'll be talking to Pepper while outside, in the evening. Crickets sing their songs, cicadas buzz, dusklight cools the air, I pull up a plastic chair and sit and listen to my playlists filled with stoner-rock, and watch Venus and the stars blink into the sky. Next to me, Pepper the robot. We're just chatting, maybe chatting to the neighbors, talking about life.

That's futuristic realism. Would it be the same without Pepper? We'd still be doing what we're doing, but Pepper adds something. And it's not even just Pepper. That I'm listening to music, with tens of thousands of songs, on a handheld computer that contains all the world's knowledge, is, too, Futuristic Realism. Things that feel ripped from the pages of a cyberpunk novel, yet are part of our everyday lives, things that don't even feel so futuristic at times, are what makes this genre work.

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