I can’t find it online, but I read an introduction to Rose for Ecclesiastes in which Roger Zelazny was quoted as saying that he knew he had to hurry up and write the last of his Mars stories because he knew that new developments in science would make them impossible.
(Or possibly, he hesitated to publish that story because he already knew that science had outpaced him. Either way, it’s a fabulous story and you must read it.)
Rose was published in 1963, and Mariner 4 sent back the first close-up photos of the Martian surface in 1965.
Nope, no beautiful Martian dancers living there.
By now we know the surface of Mars better than we know the surface of Earth (those pesky oceans, you know.) But Zelazny’s fears aside, that hasn’t stopped the popular conception of Martians from appearing regularly in popular culture. (Yes, I enjoyed John Carter. Did you?)
The portrayal of Mars in more science-minded science fiction, though, has changed greatly as new information became available about the planet. Where Edgar Rice Burroughs and Roger Zelazny couldn’t have told their stories after 1965, Kim Stanley Robinson and Ben Bova couldn’t have written theirs earlier.
This leads me to two questions for you all: first, how much does it matter? Does science fiction have a place for both the most accurate possible science and for things we know aren’t true but love anyway? Is the answer different if the story used the best science of the time it was written, but knowledge has moved past that?
What kinds of stories are likely to become obsolete in the very near future? If you are a writer, are there ideas you love that you will never get to write because they are already past, or will you use them anyway? If a reader (and the two categories are by no means exclusive), are there topics you hate to see in SF because you know they’re already obsolete?