Tools for Inserting Science Fiction into Policy

As you might guess from our “Why Science Fiction and Policy” page, we wish there was an established field of “Science Fiction Policy Studies”. Yes, there are already venues out there for futurists, as well as many resources on using scenarios to inform decision making (google scholar abounds with it!). But rarely does science fiction get discussed in policy debates or inform policy decisions. We want there to be more public and scholarly attention about how science fiction stories can inform policy debates about the future. Science fiction stories can force us to think through our own goals and priorities for given policy issues, allowing us to develop a similar language for talking about policy decisions. 

Thankfully, there have been some efforts to contextualize science fiction and how it can inform policy. Below is our list (which we’ll update as we find more) of some of the best resources for thinking about the role of science fiction in informing policy. Some of these tools can be used to create new, tailored science fiction that can tease out key parts of a policy debate. Others can take existing science fiction and help better insert it into policy discussions. 

  •  "Thinking longer term about technology: is there value in science fiction-inspired approaches to constructing futures?” Bennett and Miller's 2008 article in the journal Science and Public Policy. This article explores multiple reasons why science fiction can be helpful for thinking through policy issues. As the authors say: 
    • “[I]f society is going to become more reflexive in assessing and anticipating technological change and its implications for society... it seems to us crucial to identify novel strategies for thinking longer term about technology that can incorporate questions of meaning and social dynamics — no less than physical laws — as foundational elements of analysis”
    • “It is wrong to see science fiction as merely about individuals; science fiction narratives are about individuals who inhabit societies, and the best science fiction allows us, through individual stories, to have societies very different from our own come alive”
    • “We need, therefore, to develop new tools that can help the public engage vitally with scientific and technological futures, which increasingly are caught up not only in the physical transformation of matter but the biological transformation of life. One such potential tool is new socio-literary techniques built on the strengths of science fiction.”
  • Just as Bennett and Miller explore science fiction as a tool for governance, others have proposed a broader framework for governing science policy, with science fiction as a key tool for doing analysis. Real-time technology assessment has a dedicated research theme for using science fiction. The most significant implementation  of this research approach is through work on  "Technology Assessment and Choice" which uses SF as part of a broader suite of tools to examine where technologies are going and how society should govern them. Science fiction can tie to many different approaches for governing technology. 
  • Rosalyn Berne, a professor at the University of Virginia, has used SF as a tool to probe where scientists imagine how their work might develop. By forcing scientists and engineers to write SF stories themselves, it can cause them to question assumptions about utility and unintended consequences that might not otherwise be considered. This approach could help generate new science fiction, which in turn may make scientists and engineers more aware of the policy dimensions of their own work. 
  • NASA has also explored using science fiction to inform its policy decisions! At the turn of the millennium, NASA worked with several science fiction, including the late Arthur C. Clarke, to get advice for how it should do long term thinking.  David Rejeski of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars discussed the result and prospects of such an approach here

This list is just a beginning, and we’d love to get input from others on what other helpful resources there are. Please join the conversation by emailing us at, or on twitter @scifipolicy


Where to Find Policy-Relevant Science Fiction

What is science fiction? Debates for decades have tried  to define what science fiction is, exactly, often trying to exclude some piece of the genre and emphasize others. Such debates are likely irresolvable. In the words of Justice Potter, you "know it when [you] see it". There is a lot of science fiction published every year, and much of it varies, from the fantastical to dystopic to transcendent visions of humanity and its various possible futures. We are willing to have a broad definition of what science fiction is-- but our main concern is trying to find fiction that makes us rethink policy debates. 

We should also caveat an oft-repeated concern: some avoid science fiction because they don’t think it is “good literature”. We, in part, agree: there is a lot of bad science fiction published every year. But, as the editor Theodore Sturgeon once said, “90% of everything is crap.” Given that most published literature is bad, it’s obvious that most science fiction is likely not to be good as well. We believe that there is a spectrum of quality for stories, but that there can sometimes still be awkwardly written tales that can make us think differently about real world problems. 

Science fiction stories can be divided into four different categories. As described by the Hugo awards definitions

  • Novel: story of forty thousand (40,000) words or more.
  • Novella: story of between seventeen thousand five hundred (17,500) and forty thousand (40,000) words.
  • Novelette: story of between seven thousand five hundred (7,500) and seventeen thousand five hundred (17,500) words.
  • Short Story: less than seven thousand five hundred (7,500) words.

Here at SciFi Policy, we have a special focus on short stories through novellas. Numerous references already exist for assessing what books are available in science fiction every year -- check out major websites like io9, and If there is an important policy message in a book, it will become part of the discussion. There are, however, very few resources for identifying short stories in science fiction. Moreover, if you’re looking for something that a congressional staffer or federal decision maker can read, the story often needs to be short. Shorter stories are worth focusing on because they have a better chance to go viral, whether among policy-makers or the public. 

Here is a partial list of the magazines that publish short fiction (novella through short stories). Some of them are paper or kindle subscription only, but increasingly more and more magazines are putting stories online. 




Finally, Sam Tomaino’s brief summaries over at are an invaluable resource in sifting through the substantional amount of material published each month. 

Across all of these magazines and anthologies, there are several dozen short fiction pieces published every month. One of the best resources for discovering what new science fiction short stories are coming out is’s prolific Sam Tomaino. His column (Note that the link will direct you to July, 2015; just skim through to find the month and year you’d like) provides several-sentence summaries of all SciFi short fiction published each month. Given that there are too many short stories published in a month for any mortal human to read them all, we sometimes skim through Tomaino’s SFRevu blurbs to decide which stories are worth reading That helps us triage 80% of the SciFi that's out there, searching for stories that seem to be relevant to a contemporary policy debate. 

However, given all of this: it’s still hard to find science fiction stories that can help us think through policy issues. Likely more such fiction needs to be written -- but there are still gems that are published every year. 

As time permits, our blog will attempt to curate and write about new science fiction stories that may help us think through issues in a different way. Your thoughts and suggestions on candidate stories or resources for finding policy relevant scifi are welcome: shoot them over to, or tweet them at us @scifipolicy.

Why Science Fiction and Policy?

“Where policy and vision intersect”

We strongly believe that a more focused use of science fiction can help the policy process to be more reflective and participatory. We’re dedicated to having more and greater discussions of science fiction stories with subject matter relevant to government and public policy. We also want to encourage more science fiction writers to write stories related to policy issues. By combining both increased demand for SciFi IN policy as well as more supply of SciFi FOR policy, we think SciFi can help improve outcomes in policy debates in the government. 

Why does this matter? Policy debates often happen in a confused rush, with competing interests jumping in to frame an issue before a policy maker has time to explore the full set of options. , Whether in  Congress or within an agency of the federal government, these decision makers simply don’t have the time to sit back and think for about the big picture. We can’t remove all such challenges in policy, but there are ways to nudge these men and women to think longer term, to better work toward the goals that the public wants and needs, with cognizance of the uncertain ways in which the future can evolve. 

We should be clear: the point is NOT to have science fiction predict the future of different policy decisions. While occasionally science fiction helps to predict some future technology (and gets chronicled in list after list after list), very often science fiction misses incredibly important changes. For example, while the revolution in information technology has been partially foretold in books like Neuromancer or Snowcrash, all of these works didn’t foresee the critical role that social media played in defining the new internet, and it’s impact on our world. It’s impossible to do a rigorous assessment of how accurate (or not) science fiction is, but we argue for a different goal altogether.

Instead of prediction, our desire is for science fiction that helps us better address the decisions we will make, as well as who we are and what values we have. If these issues are framed up in the context of a contemporary policy issue, it can force the reader to be more reflective, to think about their own goals and potential uncertainties. A good story can serve as a common reference point in a debate, helping different groups think about the same terms even if they disagree. By being reflective, thinking things through and exploring different scenarios through SciFi, policy makers may make better decisions about the future. 

We encourage a broad definition of what science fiction is-- but our main concern is trying to find fiction that makes us rethink policy and our approach to resolving the needs of society. We by no means think all science fiction needs to be this way: ‘popcorn movie’ adventure stories and mind-bending philosophical reflections have their place in science fiction. However, we do feel there is a lack of debate about (and perhaps supply of) of science fiction stories with something to say about how our current governments and organizations can debate and set policy for generations to come.

We want to find and emphasize stories that do this, which we call policy-relevant SciFi. Many have examples of science fiction stories that open up their mind to new possibilities about a political issue, from the internet to satellites or nanotechnology. Are there key debates coming up, such as about how to deal with human genetic sequencing or assessing autonomous cars, where we really could use more science fiction stories to help us better understand evolving terms of debate? What’s an example of a SciFi story that you wish you could show a decision maker at a Research agency, or even a Congressional staffer? We want to find these stories and issues, and encourage those in positions to frame policy debates to have access to their insights into these issues.. 

If you want to share word exciting new stories or drop us a line to talk about how science fiction and policy relate, please comment on the site, or send us an email at