In 2017 we wondered whether science-fiction writers could help us reimagine the future of health and healthcare. Some 400,000 words, 145 entries, and 6 shortlisted stories later, not to mention coverage in the Guardian, serialisation in the BMJ, and sold-out events at the House of St Barnabas and the Old Operating Theatre, we’re relatively content that our Writing the Future prize has sparked more than a couple of new conversations and perspectives as to where we’re headed.
So, what comes next? Well, we’re keen to keep the conversations that started in 2017 continuing into 2018, and are looking for organisations to partner with us to help make that happen.
He stands up and walks around his desk, placing a sweaty hand on my lower back as he opens the office door to indicate it is time to go. “The Oracle represents the most sophisticated healthcare algorithm ever created. Trust Her.”
We’re stood in the gallery of the 19th century Old Operating Theatre, as medical students would have done to watch their tutors at work. This is the oldest surgical theatre in Europe, in use before the birth of modern medicine. No germ theory of disease, no anaesthesia and an epistemology based around the four humours meant this was a room more used to torture than cure. Bloodletting, lancing boils and amputation the surgeon’s art.
It seems to me the Writing the Future science fiction prize, and the beautiful, eerie stories, mess with our minds because they say ambiguous things about the gap between the present and the future.
Is this gap vast, with futures yet untold unfolding in unpredictable directions? Or is this gap porous, and shrinking? Are the seeds of these unsettling futures already contained in our present? I want to think about this gap, about this distance for a bit, at the same time far removed and uncomfortably close.
“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” Steve Jobs
In September I was invited to present at NHS Expo on what health and care may look like over the next 70 years, and the leadership challenges we face as a result. At the same I was privileged enough to be reading Kaleidoscope’s Writing the Future sci-fi short stories about health and healthcare in 2100. I was struck by the possibilities for the future we could face.
Having been part of the panel judging the splendid recent Writing the Future competition, I've been asked to pen a few words about the writer's job; specifically how the world 'out there' gets filtered through the writer's imagination so that it arrives 'down there' on the page.
Life is messy and inchoate. We writers are mining it for truth. Disobligingly it refuses to manifest itself in convenient five act structures for us simply to copy down.
Writing the Future is a vanity exercise. A piece of ephemera only of interest to the eccentric, whimsical, or those with far too much time on their hands.
I don’t agree; and having come up with the idea originally, I’m not sure you’d expect me to. But amid mounting pressures today, why on earth have we tied £10,000 to a literature prize about an era when almost all of you reading this will be dead? Why should you care? Here are three reasons.
When Richard Taunt invited me to do this, I should have given him a warning. That my least favourite forms of fiction are science fiction and fantasy.
That when it comes to the future, I am right there with the American baseball star Yogi Berra – to whom is often attributed the famous quote: "Never make predictions – especially about the future." Fortunately, Richard made clear that all I needed to talk about is the past – before finding out who has won Writing the Future, the future of health and care in 2100.