From the days of Jules Verne, science fiction has always been an inspiration for people looking for a direction in science and technology. In order for advances to happen, someone, somewhere, has to imagine it. In this way, the Hugo Awards could turn out to be an important method of rating popular ideas and directions in science imagination.

I’ve just listed the background of some important writers that have set us on the current path. Checking in Wikipedia, here’s a rundown of educational background for recent Hugo winners.

• Cixin Liu – Computer Science?
• Thomas Olde Heuvelt – English Language and American Literature
• Ann Leckie – BA Music
• Charles Stross – BS Pharmacy/Computer Science
• Mary Robinette Kowal – BA Art Education/Theater
• John Chu – Microelectronics?
• John Scalzi – BA Philosophy
• Brandon Sanderson – MFA Creative Writing
• Pat Cadigan – BA Theater
• Ken Liu – AB English, JD Law
• Jo Walton – BA Classics/Ancient History
• Kij Johnson – MFA Creative Writing
• Charlie Jane Anders – ?

Who would have thought Ken Liu was a tax lawyer?

Clearly the field has broadened. The really hard, theoretical sciences like physics and math have given way to more practical applications like computer science. Now men are also using the arts degree as an avenue into SF writing the same way women did in the early years. The humanities dominate in the background of these authors, not the sciences. The literary quality of SF has improved, as pointed out by the recent squabble over the Hugo Awards, but is the science still there?

Although these new, more literary entrants into the field are great writers, they just don’t have the theoretical science background that gave the Golden Age writers a vision of the future that’s still playing out in space exploration and colonization today. The loss of theoretical imagination in hard SF has implications for how our future might go. Without vision, how can we agree on a direction?