Welcome To The Future™: Futuristic Realism

“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.

More accurately, welcome to a blog infatuated with futuristic realism! 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, or when science fiction tries coming off as real life to the point you probably wouldn’t be able to tell if it was contemporary or sci-fi, 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, or at least images that had a distinctly familiar and ‘non-artistic’ angle to them.

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One of the first images submitted to /r/SciFiRealism
Artist: SwissAdA

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 there was a disconnect between ‘what they said it would look like’ versus ‘what it actually looks like’.

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 dreamed 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.

In early 2014, 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 doomsday-dealing 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 presenting to 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.

Among 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.

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One such obvious place is Dubai. It’s even going to be featured in the video game Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
Photographer: Alisdair Miller

Ever since the little schism involving what sci-fi realism was and what it eventually came to mean, I’ve since moved all the more ‘realistic’ stuff to a new subreddit— /r/FuturisticRealism. Here, the content is much more strictly controlled, and the aim of the sub has remained true from the beginning to now.

And 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™!

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Author: Yuli Ban

I'm an aspiring novelist with a terminal lack of a life.

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