Science Fiction and Post-Literacy

What can science fiction tell us about post-literacy? Speculative fiction is useful because while it deals with ideas about the future it is almost always reflecting on the present. It peeks into new possibilities but it finds the roots of those changes in the contemporary world. SF is the present told through the lens of the future.

As a result, some of the best SF is not shocking; it’s not a horror story or even a mystery. It’s believable. It seems inevitable.

And that makes the genre so useful in thinking about post-literacy.


It would be easy to fantasize about any number of post-literate capabilities or conditions. But flights of fancy don’t ground themselves in the possible. Where SF can help is when the stories connect the dots between where we are and where we might end up. And the path of those dots is perfectly believable.

The posts that are part of this series (Science Fiction & Post-Literacy) are part of a project to read widely through the science fiction genre and identify elements of post-literacy that might do a few things:

  • what do writers conceive of as possible post-literate conditions?
  • how did those conditions arise (i.e. what happened that created them or required them)?
  • how does this new capability (or set of capabilities) fit within a larger ecosystem of communications and knowledge?
  • what does this future condition tells us about the present?

As a result the posts will be idiosyncratic reviews focusing on a particular element of the story. Sometimes this might be a fragment in a much larger narrative; other times in might be the focus of the story. Either way, the posts about about the post-literate aspect and may well ignore all the other (perhaps better) bits.

I’m just a reader, not a SF scholar. I’ll lean on the latter where I can but I think of this series as more a personal exploration.