January 2016 was different.
We blocked off an entire month, primed it with some of the best speculative fiction from our ocean’s future, wrapped it in a narrative to connect seemingly disparate topics, and launched Field Notes from the Future, 41 blog post imagining the issues we would face in 2041, 25 years in the future. This was the first time in the blog’s almost 8-year run that we dedicated an entire month to a single concept. It was also the first time that the authors collaborated and coordinated our content.
I am incredibly happy with the results. Field Notes from the Future gave us a chance to flex our creative muscles in new and exciting ways. It gave us an outlet to express our hopes and fears, to expand on our concerns, and to look beyond the horizon and imagine the conflicts that have yet to emerge.
Science and Science Fiction have always been deeply connected. For all the great work of the “heroes of science communication”, the STEM-advocates, the science outreach professionals, it was Clarke, Verne, Shelley, Wells, and Le Guin who inspired me to pursue a career in science. Science shows us the world as it is, Science Fiction imagines the world as it could be.
What did Field Notes from the Future accomplish? Superficially, we had a small spike in readership and a large spike in new readers. That’s great, and helps tremendously with the long-term viability of the website, but raking in the clicks wasn’t why we did it. Writing these posts was revitalizing. In the past, we have taken entire months off from blogging in order to rest and recharge. I never liked doing that, it always felt like abandoning our readers, but we still needed it. Spending a month writing science fiction was equally energizing, but it also gave us chance to think about and hone broader concepts, to think about the big picture when it comes to ocean science and conservation, the practice the craft of writing and storytelling, skills essential to good science outreach.
By stretching your understanding beyond the here and now, and thinking about how the discoveries of the present can shape the future, reading and writing science fiction makes you a better scientist.
I’m incredibly proud of what we produced this month. Some of my favorite writing to appear on Southern Fried Science appeared in January. Stories like Chuck Bangley’s Sharks and Global Norming in North Carolina and David Lang’s Twenty Years Later, the Identity of Johnny Milkweedseed Finally Revealed are Southern Fried Classics. I got to get weird and wonky with articles like How Cyborgs are like Old Wooden Ships and What Star Wars can teach us about the ecology of a Type I civilization. I had the chance to dig into the nuances of celestial navigation on another world in Gliding on starlight: Celestial Navigation for Martian Explorers, which, by the way, is only superficially science fiction. You could actually use the advice in this post to circumnavigate Mars like just as Earthlings did during the Golden Age of Exploration. And I got to express my frustration and extreme cynicism regarding technocracy and seasteading in When we ate the rich.
And, most importantly, we had fun. Field Notes from the Future was fun for me in a way that writing for the blog hasn’t been in a while. It was a reminder of why I started this blog, nearly a decade ago–to explore new and creative ways to write about the ocean.
Will we do it again? Probably not in the near future. Perhaps we will revisit these ideas later. At the very least, you can bet we’ll be keeping a tally of any predictions that come to pass. If you missed anything, you can always visit the Field Notes from the Future page or start at the beginning with Founder effects in a deep-sea invasive: Easter Limpets.
For now, it’s back to business as usual, discussing the latest in marine science and conservation from a team of some of the finest marine ecologists, conservation biologists, social scientists, science writers, and ocean lovers I know.
If you want to help support new efforts like Field Notes from the Future, or just help sustain Southern Fried Science, please check out my Patreon Page and consider giving a few dollars a month. It means the world to us.