Science fiction has always played a roll in developing new ideas and technologies that
capture the imagination, and inspire us to develop the technologies that captivate us as young children. But it is rarely known about the techniques and methods used to actually develop these breathtaking futuristic technologies that ultimately become the technologies of the present. This post will describe the methods that Kurd Laßwitz developed during his career as a science fiction writer. Before we can understand Laßwitz’s methods for creating predictive science fiction, it is important to know what futuristic technologies he predicted.
In 1850, there were only four cities on earth with a population of 1,000,000 or more. In his novel Gegen das Weltgesetz (Against the World-Power), Kurd Laßwitz predicted over-population and the raise of mega cities, also known as metropolises. Not only was he able to see the raise of over-population, but
development and use of artificial foods as well. It is important for the reader to note that Kurd Laßwitz developed these ideas before the first assembly line by Henry Ford in 1905. Not only did he have one of the first ideas for artificial foods, he also arguably developed the first idea for the first super computer before the development of the first transistor in 1954.
Kurd Laßwitz first method for developing future predictive SF is as follows:
“In the transformation [of speculations about science, the future, etc.] into literary form, the laws of nature and the should may not be infringed upon without arousing the object of the reader and interfering with the effect. For everything that occurs in a novel, which is intended seriously, as art must be capable of being related to our own experience, i.e., to the contemporary view of natural laws and psychology; in short, it must be explainable and plausible. An effect, which occurred simply by magic and could not be explained scientifically would be just as unusable poetically as a sudden psychological unmotivated transformation of a character …. Our sense of veracity tolerates no postulates which directly and absolutely contradict previous scientific and psychological experience” .
The first rule states that the novel must abide by the current day scientific and psychological laws and cannot infringe upon these laws of nature. By abiding by these laws, the story becomes explainable and plausible to the reader and to the alternative future that it is creating.
“Who can answer these questions [about the future]? Science cannot venture to do so, as long as it has not yet found the famous universal Formula of Laplace, which will answer all questions about the past and future and enable us to perceive the mechanism of the Universe in the same manner that this mechanism presents itself to the human intellect in the motion of atoms. And yet there is a magical agency by which we can anticipate this formula and with one fell swoop lift ourselves beyond the reality, which slowly works itself out in space and time with mass and energy. This magical agency, which enables us to lift the veil of the future, is imagination [die Idee]. Fiction [Dichtung] has the privilege of looking into the future, but if that which fiction narrates is really to inspire in us a sense of trust, then fiction must take counsel with reality and conform closely to experience. Many inferences about the future can be drawn from historical course of civilization [Verlauf der Culturegeschichte] and the present state of science; and analogy offers itself to fantasy as an ally.
Now in this process fiction is much freer in its use of hypotheses than is science, whose business is to provide the objective knowledge. As long as he does not contradict the scientific knowledge of his time, the writer of fiction may expand the hypothesis in order to further those aims, which he considers essential to his function. In science the hypothesis must its justification through the ongoing process of experience, while in fiction the hypothesis is justified simply by its psychological utility, i.e. by the effect which it creates by making objects and events vivid and plausible and by transforming them into elements of the readers active emotional response.”
By developing a method that steps outside the standard deviation of developing scientific hypotheses, but yet works within the current day empirical evidence of scientific and technological explanations. Kurd Laßwitz is able to establish a method that becomes predictive in nature by merging human imagination with the day’s current knowledge that does not have to operate in the same manner as the standard scientific method for experimentation.
By understanding the methods that Kurd Laßwitz used in creating his novels, such as his most famous novel Auf Zwei Planeten (On Two Planets), which helped chauffeur in the rocket boom in Germany’s Weimar Republic from 1918 to 1933. We are able to apply this method not only to fictional writing, but also in our thought experiments in developing alternative worlds to help us better understand where the future might lead us.
If you are interested in learning about German Science fiction during the 1800′s and 1900′s, I would recommend reading The Black Mirror and Other Stories: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Germany and Austria (Early Classics of Science Fiction)
Editor’s note: All quotes in this article were borrowed from The Empire Strikes Out: Kurd Lasswitz, Hans Dominik, and the Development of German Science Fiction .
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