Jan. 15, 2023

What-if Stories

What-if Stories

A lot of science fiction stories are based upon questions that begin with “What if...?”

That is the reason why the acronym SF is often used to stand for Speculative Fiction.

Perhaps more than any other genre, Science Fiction has always seemed to be asking variations of this question.

  • What would happen if this were to occur?
  • Or what would happen if that had occurred?
  • What if this type of invention were created?
  • Or what if it had been discovered or created centuries ago”
  • What if time travel were possible?
  • Or Faster than light travel?
  • Or Artificial gravity?
  • Or Immortality?
  • Or machine intelligence?

Whether plausible, improbable, or impossible, such fantasies intrigue most of us and even considering the answers to those questions can lead writers and readers along a path of fanciful outcomes.

Sometimes these questions are based on our fears.

  • What if there were a pandemic that wiped out most of the human race? (Earth Abides by George R. Stewart)
  • What if Machines were intelligent (The Terminator, Colossus by Dennis Feltham, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison – 1967
  • What if aliens invaded the Earth? (War of the World by H.G.Wells)
  • Or if governments became completely totalitarian (1984 by George Orwell)

Sometimes the questions are based on the current edge of technology.

  • What if robots existed? (Isaac Asimov; the Robot series)
  • What if we traveled to Mars (Andy Weir – The Martian)
  • What if we cured cancer and achieved near immortality (To Live forever - Jack Vance; This Immortal – Roger Zelanzy)

The question WHAT IF? is the premise of many alternate reality or alternate history novels.

  • Consider The Guns of the South – by Harry Turtledove which considers how history might have changed if the South had won the Civil War.
  • Man in a High Castle – by Phillip K Dick posited the question, what would have happened if Germany had developed the atomic bomb first and won WWII?
  • The Oppenheimer Alternative by Robert J. Sawyer where the author speculates what would have happened fi the greatest scientists of the min 20th century banded together to save the world (Oppenheimer, Einstein, Szilard, Fermi, Bohr, von Braun, etc.:)

WHAT IF has even become a popular series of comics under the Marvel brand.

  • What if Spiderman joined the Fantastic Four?
  • What if Ironman were evil?
  • What if Thanos had joined the Avengers?

The basis for this question seems to have spawned science fiction itself when Mary Shelley wondered what might happen if a scientist could reanimate the dead (Frankenstein) and has become a tradition that stretches out from the earliest ventures into this genre (H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burrows, and even Rudyard Kipling)

Daydreaming may be the essence of what-if stories as we use our idle time to speculate what might have been or what could be.

Whether people speculate about the future or the past, scientific advances, or things that could go wrong, the possibilities seem endless and lead to countless fantasies that are just waiting to be told. Once you start down this path, it is almost impossible to escape wildly improbable scenarios. Asking these questions is both addictive and inspiring.

If you have read any science fiction at all, it is almost impossible not to have experienced tales like these. And whether you are a reader or a writer, you likely have spent far too much time considering such things.

My question for all of you is this:

        What ‘What-if’ questions have you asked?

        Or which ‘What-if’ questions have you considered the most intriguing?

Curious writers would love to know.