The Golden Age of science fiction is long over. But some of the genre's greatest moments haven't arrived yet. There are major landmarks in the history of science fiction that are just on the horizon — and some of them could arrive in your lifetime. Technology may have caught up to science fiction in some areas, but it's going to be transforming the genre in others.
Here are 10 landmarks in the history of science fiction that could be happening in the next few decades.
Top image: Magic Fox/Deviant Art.
1) First video game to get nominated for a Hugo or Nebula Award
Seriously, has this not already happened? I did a lot of searching through the list of past nominees and didn't see any games. And it's not that long ago that a graphic novel or comic had never been nominated for a Hugo — and now, of course, we have the "Best Graphic Story" category. But in the age of Mass Effect and Portal, it seems inevitable that a game will be nominated — maybe in the "Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form" category? Some of the richest storytelling and best worldbuilding in science fiction is happening in games right now, and who knows how complex they'll be 10 years from now.
2) The first science fiction author in space
Again, hard to believe this hasn't already happened. We've already had the first science fiction movie shot in space. And commercial space flight is getting cheaper and easier, with the launch of space tourism in our very near future. It's just a matter of time before some science fiction writer — either someone already famous, or an ambitious up-and-comer — decides to take a trip up there. Or maybe someone living in space will decide to write an SF novel? (Update: Various people have pointed out that Buzz Aldrin and other astronauts wrote or co-wrote SF novels after returning to Earth. So I guess the only thing that hasn't happened is an already-established SF author going to space, or someone writing an SF novel while in space.)
3) A big budget science fiction movie made in China hits #1 at the U.S. box office
China is becoming one of the biggest markets for U.S. science fiction movies — experts say it's just a matter of time before China represents as much box-office cash as the U.S., and James Cameron says his Avatar sequels will be geared towards China. But that relentless demand for big-budget science fiction spectaculars will drive the Chinese to make more of their own — and soon enough, the Chinese answer to Transformers or Star Trek will be ruling the U.S. box office, too.
4) The First SF Movie Filmed on the Moon
Once humans go back to the Moon, it's inevitable that we'll want to take advantage of the setting to create the first Lunar thriller actually filmed on the Moon. Just imagine the vistas you could get with an IMAX camera. Or at the very least, we'll be sending more robots to the Moon — and these could include non-human actors and "camera crews," filming some exciting lunar action sequences for the umpteenth Mission Impossible film.
5) Mo-cap technology gets cheap enough that YOU can be mo-capped in an interactive story
We may or may not get fully immersive virtual reality, that lets you smell the flowers and touch the scenery in a virtual world, in the next few decades — but it seems likely that we'll get really strong augmented reality, as Google Glasses and other wearables become standard consumer items. And the next frontier might be interactive storytelling where you get to control a cartoon creature, or a realistic-looking alien — using motion-capture. You set up a rig in your living room, and then you get to be Andy Serkis.
6) First hit TV series produced only for the web and/or VOD
And by "hit," I mean new episodes rack up around 10 million unique viewers within a week after going up, and the stars and producers are making enough money from advertising and subscriptions to buy a nice house. Advertiser-supporting television is an unsustainable model, that's going to crumble in the face of DVRs and the popularity of online streaming — and premium cable won't be able to pick up all the slack. So at some point, someone is going to find a model for producing a TV show for the internet and VOD that actually makes tons of money — and I bet the first one will be a science fiction show. Because science fiction fans are early adopters.
7) First SF novel to be written by someone with brain implants
We're already testing brain implants on monkeys and finding that they can, indeed, improve cognitive abilities. So it's only a matter of time before humans get brain implants too — and they won't just be for people with impaired cognitive function. The first author of a science fiction novel to use brain implants may or may not publicize that fact, depending on how much prejudice there is against early adopters of this tech — but I bet that book will be something special.
8) The first SF author living on Mars
We've had lots and lots of novels about Mars, but we've never had a novel written there. Yet. There's a lot of talk of establishing a Mars colony in the next couple decades — Elon Musk wants to send 80,000 people to the Red Planet — and it seems like a good bet that we'll have at least some humans living there by mid-century. The biggest question: Will the first science fiction author on Mars be someone who's already famous, or someone who just starts writing on Mars and becomes a new publishing sensation?
9) First movie to be made with nanomachine or nanoscale visual effects
We're already able to do way more with nanoscale engineering then we could a few years ago. How long before we can create nanoscale film sets — bringing a new meaning to the idea of filming miniatures? Or create a scale replica of a city, down to the smallest details, to be destroyed in a big disaster sequence? How long before we use nanoscale materials to transform an actor's makeup in real-time? Nanomachines could be the next transformative wave in movie-making, along the lines of motion-capture and CG effects.
10) The first SF novel or short story written by an AI
It probably won't be using the same painful writing process that you or I use to try and pound out a work of fiction — instead, it'll be using algorithms to do a lot of the work. The result may be an approximation of a human work of fiction, or it may be something much stranger. Just as AIs are already writing video games by sourcing code from existing games, AIs may study existing novels to figure out how to create new ones. The result may or may not be fantastic — but it'll definitely be a unique take on the genre.
Thanks to Annalee and George for suggestions!