Tasers. Mobile phones. The world wide web. All these technologies can be found in science fiction stories, decades before they became realistic – and that’s why the medium has found an unexpected new fan.
While most sci-fi is enjoyed by movie audiences or readers, now big business is taking an interest too. Large companies including home improvement store Lowe's and confectioner Hershey are commissioning writers and artists to take flights of fancy.
One of the people responsible for this interest is Ari Popper, co-founder of the company SciFutures. Several years ago, Popper was attending an amateur science fiction writing course he had signed up to as a hobby. At the time, Popper had a day job in consulting, and he began to wonder whether there were better ways to harness that creative link between fiction and fact.
“I had an epiphany and it was, ‘this is a business!’ Well, this is potentially a business,” he says with a laugh. “You never know till you do it.”
Today, SciFutures produces fictional narratives for the likes of Hershey, Del Monte foods and the US Navy, using formats such as graphic novels, artwork and roleplay. The work for most clients remains confidential, but here’s an extract from a story produced for a major beverage company, about a woman visiting a “hydration station” serving nutrient-packed water:
Diana fished her intelli-water bottle from her bag. [Jose] walked behind a waist-high counter of contoured wood and waved the bottle in front of the Hydration Hardware sensors. The vast screens along the wall poured colour in long streams of information. “You’re still not drinking enough water. And it’s flu season, you should really have the flu shot added, electrolytes, maybe some Vitamin C. How’s the knee feeling?”
“Great, actually.” On her last trip to the Oshun Hydration Station, her biometrics had told Jose about her arthritis in her knee, something she’d had since she was a child. It felt like shards of glass between her bones. Jose had suggested ionized water, Oshun’s cutting edge water additive. Her knee hadn’t hurt all week.
SciFutures has also produced work for the home improvement chain Lowe’s. What could science fiction possibly bring to a brand that sells white goods, paint and home decor? Popper explains that he started by commissioning a story and imagery about a hapless future couple who design their next DIY project using a 3D virtual reality simulator: