How to keep suspension of disbelief when reading/watching science fiction works written quite some time ago which are happening in what was future then, but is present or even past now?

The things people imagined then that would exist in future may not really exist now, or even be completely ridiculous starting from funny clothes, all the way to flying automobiles.

One example:

  • It's 2011 now and Jupiter didn't explode into becoming a star Lucifer. And Soviet Union doesn't exist anymore like in the famous film.
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    Well, physically, Pluto remains exactly the same. The fact that they said "Planet" instead of "Planetoid" is minnor. I have more trouble suspending disbelief when there are martians, like in Stranger in a Strange Land. – pupeno Jan 11 '11 at 21:42
  • @J.Pablo: You're right, the comment about Pluto is diverting attention from the main point. I'll edit it out. – Goran Jovic Jan 11 '11 at 21:46
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    What does this really have to do with SciFi - no different than reading a Western that takes place in 1800 really? – Rebecca Chernoff Jan 20 '11 at 17:14

Old science fiction can be considered an alternate history.

I just re-watched "Blade Runner", which feels like an alternative history where computer, TV and screen technology had been been stalled in 1980, but by 2020, all other technologies had zoomed way ahead of anything we are likely to see in ten years.

  • Ok, that does make sense. Alternate history and science fiction. – Goran Jovic Jan 11 '11 at 21:48
  • Good, but doesn't make really old work like Verne any easier to deal with. Wrongness doesn't change with discovery. But back then, Verne didn't know he was wrong. – DampeS8N Jan 11 '11 at 21:56

I think it's important to keep the era in which the work was written in mind when reading/watching it. A near-future novel set in 2001 but written in the 1960s should be considered to be set in "1960s plus 30-40 years" rather than "9 years before today".

  • Nice way of looking at the problem :) – user296 Feb 26 '11 at 19:21

Remember, you are reading a story, a work of fiction that should be enjoyed as such. Sure, I snigger when Spock has to change the tapes in Star Trek, or 60s concepts of brainwashing are used in The Prisoner, but I enjoy the tales nonetheless if they still work.

A good story is always a good story.

  • great answer, especially your last sentence! That sums up my feelings exactly - enjoy the story and don't worry about the details. Plus - 60s sci-fi is so wrong its fun! – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Mar 16 '11 at 18:25
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    Or maybe the Recording Industry Association of the Federation banned all recording technology newer than the CD? – yatima2975 Aug 8 '11 at 13:14

I don't know about suspending disbelief. I usually am aware that a novel written in 1950 is going to have 1950's viewpoints and ideas about The Future. When the book was written is just one more thing to take into account when reading a book, in addition to who wrote it and where they wrote it.


I kind of like how Enterprise handled this problem (although I didn't much like Enterprise). Where possible, they tried to retcon stories that could be retconned. Where not possible, they assumed that Enterprise lived in a slightly (or somewhat) alternate version of our current history.

In my mind, alternate, counterfactual versions of our universe (especially when written in our past) are just as interesting as attempts to guess the future.


I think we can appreciate and enjoy the author's POV, knowing our own (as it pertains to the future) is likely just as off-kilter. I enjoy reading Well's story about the moon -- not because I can suspend my disbelief, but because he was a clever man in his own day and I can appreciate his lack of information regarding the nature of space travel.

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