In addition to being entertaining, many science fiction novels and short stories provide thought-provoking examples of future scenarios—well-thought-out, consistent explorations of social and/or technological developments and their effects on a society. Some representative examples are listed below:
A society in which defense and protection are exclusively provided by private companies (they are considered too important to trust to government bureaucracies) is a background feature of "The Moonrakers" by Poul Anderson, featured in the collection BEYOND THE BEYOND (New York: New American Library, Signet paperback, 1969).
A variety of antibureaucratic, laissez-faire societies are visited by a government mission in Eric Frank Russell's satirical classic THE GREAT EXPLOSION (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1962).
The implications of various biomedical developments are explored in two Robert Heinlein novels. The radical effects of cryogenic hibernation on social institutions are explored in THE DOOR INTO SUMMER (New York: New American Library, Signet paperback, 1959), and the development of longevity among a small minority of humans is the theme of METHUSELAH'S CHILDREN (New York: New American Library, Signet paperback, 1960).
The ramifications of colonizing the seabed—political, economic, and social—are considered in THE DEEP RANGE (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1957) by Arthur C. Clarke (of 2001 fame).
A society in which children have legal rights, including the right to "divorce" their parents, is the backdrop of THE STAR BEAST, an early Heinlein novel (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1954).
Coexisting, competing social systems (selected for short periods in separate communities by vote) are examined in Chad Oliver's "The Mother of Necessity," included in his book ANOTHER KIND (New York: Ballantine Books, paperback, 1955).
A functioning anarchist society, a corporate form of group marriage, and a successful libertarian revolution on the Moon are featured in Heinlein's THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, Berkeley paperback, 1968).
An elite group of philosophers and scientists sets up a research project for a galaxy-spanning project to change the course of history in Isaac Asimov's classic trilogy FOUNDATION, FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE, and SECOND FOUNDATION (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, 1967).
A galaxy-wide police force secretly forbidden to kill any intelligent creature is the subject of a series of Poul Anderson short stories, including "The Live Coward" in ANOTHER PART OF THE GALAXY (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Publications, Inc., paperback, 1966) and "Enough Rope" in FOUR FOR THE FUTURE (New York: Pyramid Books, paperback, 1959).
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Science Fiction Scenarios".