1. Yuli Ban

    Yuli Ban Member

    Feb 27, 2014
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    Futuristic Realism (aka Slice of Tomorrow, Literary Futurism, and Sci-Fi Realism)

    Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Yuli Ban, Jun 1, 2016.

    What is "futuristic realism"? In simplest terms, it is what you get when you fuse slice of life fiction with science fiction. Hence the moniker "slice of tomorrow".

    But that's not all. From there, you can go even further and create 'literary futurism'— traditional literary fiction that features sci-fi technology.

    But even that's not it. There's also a visual style known as 'sci-fi realism', which can actually be two things all its own: 1) science fiction that looks very real and believable, or 2) real life that resembles science fiction.

    This is actually quite a wide umbrella term as you can guess, and I will give some examples.


    I'll start with slice of tomorrow-styled futuristic realism. I've often said that the easiest way to create futuristic realism is to rewrite Sarah, Plain and Tall and add robots and smartphones. The second easiest way is to describe the daily life of a family that has their own ASIMO. The third easiest way would be to create a fictional biography or mockumentary set in the future. And the fourth would be to send a contemporary fiction (i.e. The Fault In Our Stars, or any generic cop drama on TV right now) back 50 years in time.

    Sci-fi realism is mainly visual and conceptual. For example, check out my subreddit /r/SciFiRealism and its sister subreddit, /r/FuturisticRealism. The latter is a more purified example of what I mean. There's a sort of photographic quality you don't get from most sci-fi artwork.

    I've heard many times that futuristic realism can be described as "science fiction without action/adventure elements." And while this is largely true, I wouldn't want that to become the dominant definition. Sci-Fi Realism, for example, can very easily get away with being classic sci-fi/cyberpunk action if it looks super-realistic or actual is from real life. I also eagerly await the Space Age equivalent to War and Peace. Nevertheless, I can't deny that there is truth to the claims: I came up with this concept when I wrote a semi-fake diary entry about my day and happened to add things like robots, flying cars, and AI. I wondered about what life would be like in the near future.

    It separately came to me a second time when I was working on a major project that was set hundreds of years into the future, and all the action calmed down and the story became more about life in an ultraterrestrial future. I realized that I was doing something startlingly similar to the "sci-fi diary."

    Kovacs from the Cyberpunk forums explained it well
    Well... the only real way that sci-fi realism works - for me - is if the science fiction is invisible and ubiquitous.
    Today, I could write a fully non-fiction or 'legit literature' fiction (e.g. non-genre) story using tech that, a decade or two ago, would have been cyberpunk. For example: 20 years ago if you wrote a murder mystery about a detective that could track a victim's every thought and action the day they were murdered, all withing 5 minutes or so, that would be sci-fi or even 'magic'. Today, you just access to the victim's phone and scroll though their various social media profiles. Same with having a non-static-y video conference with someone halfway around the world; it use to be Star Trek, now it's Skype. So how would this prog rock of sci-fi work? I suppose you tell a tale where the tech... doesn't matter. It's all about human relationships.
    Ooooh I bet you think that's boring, don't you? Well, maybe. But we can cheat by playing with the definition of 'human'.

    I'm thinking about the movie Her. Artificial intelligence is available and there's no paradigm shift. A romantic relationship with an AI is seen as odd... but not unimaginable, or perverse. There's no quest, no corporate spooks, no governments overthrown, no countdown timer, no running from an explosion. The climax of the story is as soft as it gets. Robot and Frank is another good example; it's a story where the robot isn't exactly needed, but it makes the story make more sense that if it was say a collage student Scent of a Woman style.
    (hun... Scent of a Robot anyone? Al Pachino piloting Asimo?)
    So I guess what I'm leading to is take the action-adventure component out of sci-fi. Take the dystopia out of cyberpunk. Take out the power fantasy elements. Take out the body horror. What are you left with? Something a little less juvenile? In order to develop this you'd have to have a really good dramatic story as a basis and sneak in the sci-fi elements. You can't by, definition, rest on them.
    Which is tough for me to approach, because I really like my space katanas.

    Lemme zoom in on one particular line.

    There's no quest, no corporate spooks, no governments overthrown, no countdown timer, no running from an explosion. The climax of the story is as soft as it gets.

    And I think that might be one of the harder things to understand about the style. Take myself for example: just two years ago, I couldn't exactly imagine a science fiction story without any of the above. If you're going to write a story involving robots, cyborgs, and AI, you'd better have some explosions and guns, goddammit.

    It was watching stuff like Real Steel, Chappie, District 9, and Star Wars: A New Hope that really got me interested in "what if". Those movies possessed 'visual authenticity.' When I watched Real Steel, I was amazed by how seamlessly the CGI mixed with live action. Normally, the CGI is blatantly obvious; it feels obviously fake. It doesn't look real. But Real Steel took a different route. It fused CGI with practical props, and it was amazing to see. For the first time, I felt like I was watching a movie sent back from the future rather than a science fiction film. Other films kinda achieved that, but it was Real Steel that I first really noticed it.

    What is futuristic realism not?: "X can be Y, but Y isn't X." Futuristic realism can use these things, but these things aren't futuristic realism by themselves.

    • Hyper-realistic science fiction. As I said, visual authenticity started futuristic realism, but that's not what it is anymore. Nowadays, that's just straight 'sci-fi realism.'
    • Hard science fiction. Futuristic realism can be hard or soft or anything in between; it's the story that matters. Hell, you can write fantastic realism if you want to.
    • Military science fiction. Some people kept thinking sci-fi realism meant 'hard military sci-fi', which is why I rebranded the style 'futuristic realism'. Military sci-fi can be futuristic realism, but a story simply being military sci-fi isn't enough.
    • Rural science fiction. After the whole spiel on /r/SciFiRealism when a whole bunch of people were angry that I kept posting images of robots in homes and hover cars instead of really gritty battle scenes and dystopian fiction, the pendulum swung way too far in the other direction. I have said that 'the best way to write futuristic realism is to take Sarah, Plain and Tall and add robots', but I didn't say 'the only way to write futuristic realism is... yadayada.'
    • Dark 'n gritty science fiction. As aforementioned, some thought 'sci-fi realism' meant 'dark and gritty science fiction'. And I won't lie, it is easy for a realistic story to be dark and even gritty and edgy. But see above, I had to hit the reset button.
    • Actionless science fiction. You'd think that, after all this bureaucratic bullshit, I'm trying to force people to write happy science fiction about neighborhood kids with robots. Not at all. In fact, you can have a hyper-realistic, dark and gritty hard military science fiction story that's pure, raw futuristic realism. It depends on what the story's about. A story about a space marine genociding alien scum, fighting to destroy an ancient superweapon, can indeed be futuristic realism. It just depends on what part of the story you focus on and how you portray it. Novelizing Halo isn't how you do it. In fact, there's a futuristic realist story I desperately want to read— a space age War and Peace. Something of that caliber. If you want to attempt that, then I think the first thing you'd hafta do before writing is whether you can pull it off without turning it into a space opera. Take myself for example: fuck that noise. I'm not even going to try it. I know it would fast become an emo Gears of War if I tried to write it. It's not supposed to be Call of Duty in Space, it's a space-age War and Peace. There are twenty trillion ways you can fuck that up.
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2016
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  2. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributing Member

    Jan 7, 2015
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    The middle of the UK
    I love this stuff, and it's probably what I'll write once I shed my correct, contemporary WIP.

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