I enjoy writing imaginative stories, but these days I stick to fantasy. Science fiction is both too hard to do well, and not interesting enough.
The rationale of science fiction (SF) is that the events in the story could actually happen. Maybe in the future, or maybe on some other planet, but the known scientific facts of physics and chemistry are scrupulously adhered to. There are a few permitted exceptions: time-travel stories are always considered SF, even though modern physics doesn’t provide much support for the idea. Other SF devices, such as faster-than-light travel, have fallen out of favor for the same reason, but again, you can still use them if you care to, and nobody will accuse you of writing fantasy.
Most often, SF is set in the future. Amazing stuff has been invented that we know nothing about today. But it’s not supposed to violate the laws of physics … at least not in any way that the reader can easily detect.
The difficulty is, it’s impossible to predict the future. If you want a few good laughs, read some SF from the 1950s sometime. In the year 2000, you’ll learn, everybody smoked cigarets, women stayed in the kitchen wearing an apron while the men went off to work, and everybody flew around in atomic-powered cars.
In Isaac Asimov’s first robot stories, the robots had vacuum tubes in their brains, because the transistor hadn’t yet been invented. Imagine that!
But let’s suppose we can make a good, solid prediction about future technology. That may not help much. If you have a reasonable understanding of history and human psychology, you’ll know that societies and cultures are immensely complex. As are ecosystems. Predicting how a new technology will affect people’s lives is backbreaking work — and writing a good story in which your predictions are presented in a coherent and meaningful way is even harder.
It can be done. I’m thinking of a novel by Robert L. Forward, the title doesn’t leap to mind at the moment, in which the main characters (not human) live on the surface of a neutron star. But I’m not smart enough to do it; I’m only barely smart enough to understand the challenges.
All too often, SF isn’t about people. The characters in the story are just the author’s pawns. The real protagonist in an SF novel is quite often the human race itself. Which almost always rises to the challenge and ends triumphant, because who wants to read a story in which the human race as a whole is defeated? There’s a political and psychological bias written into this type of story that makes it rather unappealing to me.
The golden age of SF began in the 1920s, when the dominant view of technology was (a) that it was a force for good and (b) that it could solve any problem. The birth of the atomic bomb caused something of a reassessment of those premises, but it’s still the case that a lot of SF has a strong pro-technology bias.
I don’t have a strong pro-technology bias. I like my computers, but I could make a long, long list of technologies that frighten, annoy, or disgust me. Selling an SF story that focussed on issues of this sort would be difficult, simply because of the pro-tech bias of the market (and perhaps of the readership).
So why bother? Besides, I actually like writing about wizards.