Causing Pandemonium: Sales and Souls
Hindsight: Mark Charan Newton and Nights of Villjamur

Why we need to ask "What if?" by Jeff Norton

I met Jeff Norton at the Worlds of Tomorrow event at Foyles and we chatted a bit about geekiness, getting boys reading and other Lofty Topics. He's an extraordinarily impressive guy, with a lot of insight into the creative industry. Mr. Norton's debut novel, MetaWars, comes out this Thursday, and I'm delighted to give him this space to talk about the importance of science fiction...


MetawarsMore than any other genre of storytelling, Science Fiction demands a stretch of the imagination. I believe that the imagination is a muscle, an important muscle, and it must be worked and stretched if it’s to grow stronger.

Science Fiction (and I’ll use “sci-fi” interchangeably as shorthand) permits us to ask a fantastic, mind-opening question: “What if?”

“What If?” is an important intellectual exercise, a kind of circuit-training for imagination, asking us to speculate on the future, develop theories, challenge pre-conceived notions, and test hypotheses.

People who change the world possess the ability to imagine a “What If?” scenario, envisioning a future that others cannot yet fathom – whether it’s a tech innovation, a start-up, or winning an Olympic medal.

Science fiction is a wonderful playground to test visions of the future; from social engineering to new technologies. Of course, visions of the future can range from terrifying (1984) to inspiring (Star Trek), but importantly, they all require the reader/viewer/user to imagine a world not yet created. The sci-fi genre enables readers to take imaginative leaps both into the author’s world and also into their own possible futures.

This ability to construct a possible world within the confines of the imagination flexes the same muscles that scientists use to construct and test hypotheses, business people use to forecast the impact of new strategies, and politicians (should) use to calculate the impact of new policies. It’s a skill, and it takes practice. Science fiction is a great place to practice this skill, a skill that’s required in critical thinking, thoughtful analyses, and considered debate.

I believe that we need to learn this skill early, and practice it vigorously. It’s one of the reasons I chose to populate my debut novel, MetaWars, with a young protagonist. I could have chosen an adult point of view, but I wanted to offer younger readers the chance to flex their speculative imagination muscles.

MetaWars is a dystopian, high-tech thriller about a teenager in a post peak-oil London that gets swept up in the battle for control of the immersive internet. It’s targeted at young readers (think Alex Rider meets The Hunger Games) and gives boys and girls the chance to ask “What If?” But it’s also a serious analysis of a possible future where the internet dominates our lives completely - and whomever controls the web, controls the world. It’s an extrapolation of a today’s tech wars.

It’s my hope that through MetaWars, readers will not only get an entertaining, thrill-ride of a story, but also exercise their imagination muscle, getting fit for tackling the challenges to come.


Jeff Norton is the author of Metawars: Fight for the Future, released this Thursday from Orchard Books. He is also a filmmaker and the founder of Awesome. You can prod him on Twitter at @thejeffnorton.