It Is Easy To Predict an Automobile in 1880; It Is Very Hard To Predict a Traffic Problem

Frederik Pohl? Robert Heinlein? Isaac Asimov? Connie Willis? Ed Bryant? George Zebrowski? Ben Bova? Robert J. Sawyer? Sam Moskowitz?

Dear Quote Investigator: Predicting the primary effects of a new technology is difficult but feasible. Anticipating all the secondary effects is nearly impossible. Here are two statements of a viewpoint that has achieved popularity amongst science fiction aficionados:

In the nineteenth century a machine enthusiast could have predicted the automobile, but an SF writer could have predicted the traffic jam.

It is easy to predict the automobile but difficult to predict the traffic jam.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI occurred in a 1953 essay by prolific science and SF author Isaac Asimov titled “Social Science Fiction”. Asimov discussed three different types of SF stories: 1

Let us suppose it is 1880 and we have a series of three writers who are each interested in writing a story of the future about an imaginary vehicle that can move without horses by some internal source of power; a horseless carriage, in other words.

According to Asimov, gadget SF, the first type of tale, highlights the struggle to invent such a device and climaxes with its successful demonstration. Adventure SF, the second type, presents a romantic tale that hinges on using the device during action packed scenes. Social SF, the third type, explores the complex ramifications of the device as it is deployed within a society.

Asimov remarked that automobiles catalyzed the construction of suburbs. He also observed that vast networks of busy roadways resulted in large numbers of injuries and deaths. These indirect consequences of automobile usage would not have been easy to foresee. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

It is easy to predict an automobile in 1880; it is very hard to predict a traffic problem. The former is really only an extrapolation of the railroad. The latter is something completely novel and unexpected.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Is Easy To Predict an Automobile in 1880; It Is Very Hard To Predict a Traffic Problem

Notes:

  1. 1977, Turning Points: Essays on the Art of Science Fiction, Edited by Damon Knight, Social Science Fiction by Isaac Asimov, (From Modern Science Fiction, Its Meaning and Its Future, ed. Reginald Bretnor, Coward-McCann, 1953), Start Page 29, Quote Page 40, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1977, Turning Points: Essays on the Art of Science Fiction, Edited by Damon Knight, Social Science Fiction by Isaac Asimov, (From Modern Science Fiction, Its Meaning and Its Future, ed. Reginald Bretnor, Coward-McCann, 1953), Start Page 29, Quote Page 41, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified with scans)

Pohl’s Law: Nothing Is So Good that Somebody Somewhere Won’t Hate It

Frederik Pohl? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Frederik Pohl was an influential award-winning science-fiction author and editor. Apparently, Pohl’s Law states:

Nothing is so good that somebody somewhere won’t hate it.

Would you please examine this linkage?

Quote Investigator: Multiple statements have been labeled “Pohl’s Law” over the years. In 1966 Pohl was the editor of the science fiction (SF) magazine “Worlds of IF”, and he responded to letters from readers in a section called “Hue and Cry”. Pohl crafted an adage and affixed his name to it. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Pohl’s Law: The more hysterically any entity reacts to criticism, the more you’re likely to find to criticize about it.—Editor

In 1977 SF author Spider Robinson published a review column in “Galaxy Magazine”. He printed a version of “Pohl’s Law” that matched the one specified by the questioner: 2

Although Pohl’s Law states that nothing is so good that someone somewhere won’t hate it, I can hardly imagine anyone failing to enjoy this delightful album. Oh, and the George Barr cover is lovely.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Pohl’s Law: Nothing Is So Good that Somebody Somewhere Won’t Hate It

Notes:

  1. 1966 December, Worlds of IF, Volume 16, Number 12, Edited by Frederik Pohl, Hue and Cry (Letters to the Editor), Start Page 160, Quote Page 162, Galaxy Publishing Corporation, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1977 September, Galaxy Magazine, Edited by James Patrick Baen, Volume 38, Number 7, Galaxy Bookshelf by Spider Robinson, Start Page 118, Quote Page 122, UPD Publishing Company: Subsidiary of Universal Publishing & Distributing Corporation, Scarsdale, New York. (Verified with scans)

I Had a Writing Block Once. It Was the Worst 20 Minutes of My Life

Isaac Asimov? Robert Silverberg? Andrew J. Offutt? Harlan Ellison? David Gerrold? David Langford? Frederik Pohl? Anonymous Fan?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular science fiction authors Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg were both famously prolific. Apparently, one of them delivered the following quip:

I had a writing block once. It was the worst 20 minutes of my life.

Alternatively, the remark may have been crafted by a fan in this form:

He had writer’s block once. It was the worst ten minutes of his life.
She had writer’s block once. It was the worst ten minutes of her life.

Would you please explore the provenance of this joke?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence of this humorous schema known to QI appeared in the influential 1972 collection of short stories titled “Again, Dangerous Visions” compiled and edited by Harlan Ellison. The author Andrew J. Offutt in the introduction to his tale stated that he had suffered a period during which his writing abilities had faltered. In the following excerpt Offutt employed his distinctive style using a lowercase “i”. Emphasis added by QI: 1

“Last summer, June 1970, i experienced my first Block, that ancient writer’s devil i’d heard about. Stupid; it was MY fault.

After an elaborate multi-paragraph description of his difficulties Offutt finally presented the punch line. The term “liefer” is in the original text:

“i fought, i kept sitting down and trying to type, i snarled, cursed, cussed, obscenitized. Kept on fingering keys, (i use three fingers, one of which is on my left hand. It gets sorest.) i kept on. Come on, damn you!

“i PREVAILED! It had been awful. It had lasted 45 minutes, and now i know what a block is. i’d liefer forget, and i will never ever stop at a stopping point again!

“i can’t see that a block ever need be longer, assuming one has any control over himself at all.

Harlan Ellison’s response to Offutt asserted that prominent science fiction authors such as Theodore Sturgeon and Robert Sheckley had endured blocks that had lasted for years. Ellison also wrote that the witticism about an evanescent impediment was already being told within SF fandom: 2

There are fans who jest about me and Silverberg “blocking”—for half an hour. But one day will come, smartass; one frightening, mouth-drying day when nothing comes. And then you’ll know what it is to suffer the torments of a hell you can’t even name.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading I Had a Writing Block Once. It Was the Worst 20 Minutes of My Life

Notes:

  1. 1972, Again, Dangerous Visions: 46 Original Stories, Edited and introduced by Harlan Ellison, Section: Introduction to story “For Value Received” by Andrew J. Offutt, Start Page 119, Quote Page 124, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1972, Again, Dangerous Visions: 46 Original Stories, Edited and introduced by Harlan Ellison, Section: Introduction to story “For Value Received” by Andrew J. Offutt, Start Page 119, Quote Page 124 and 125, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)