science fiction

Gravity, and Reaction (a mini review)

Now that I've had a chance to sleep on it, I'll comment on the movie. First, it was absolutely beautiful to watch and downright spectacular from a cinematic perspective. The 3D wasn't overdone and seemed perfectly natural in the movie's setting.


The Future That Is Now

Image of Supercar, from the Wikipedia entry on the kids' show by that name.This is the future, and we're living it now. But . . . 

What you are about to read is a follow up to my earlier post surrounding Neil deGrass Tyson's "How much would you pay for the Universe?" video. Many of us really do live in what, as a child, I would have imagined as a pretty cool world, even if I didn't have a flying car. Speaking of flying cars, as a private pilot, I can honestly say that until self-driving cars (self-flying?) are mandated by law, I'm really kind of glad that flying cars aren't everywhere.

However, as cool as my world of computers and gadgets and Higgs bosons and deciphered genomes and etc, etc, etc is, I miss our collective thirst for adventure. We're more about gadgets than discovery. I had my first computer back in the late 70s and progressed through the school's IBM mainframe to my Commodore Pet, TRS-80, Vic20, Commodore 64, IBM PC, and PCs of many incarnations to my current collection of notebooks, tablets, ebook readers, and smartphones, scattered about my house and car so I can look something up from whatever room I happen to be in.

I love all that stuff. I have a Wii, a PS3, and I had an Atari 2600 as well as one of the original Pong consoles.

But it's all just faster, shinier, and (lucky for me) progressively cheaper tech incarnations of the same old ideas. We, as a species, seem to be pushing inwards and using up what we have here rather than reaching out. Space exploration takes a kind of wild thirst for adventure that we collectively seem to be missing. We're stagnant, waiting to see how much thinner or faster the next iWhatever will be.  And we're not just stagnant, we've become timid and insular as a species, looking to the next financial quarter rather than the next quarter century.

There's a very real anti-science movement out there, fueled by fundamentalists of all stripes. Stupidity and ignorance expressed in 15 second sound-bites is rewarded while scientists and secularists are viewed with disdain and distrust. You can say, "This [ insert project here ] is an affront to God. What we need is more people in pews and less wasted dollars on science." in 15 seconds. Explaining the benefits of space exploration takes a little more time.

I want to see us break through all that, forging ahead despite these negative pressures, but research and exploration on a grand scale requires a massive buy-in from the public. Sure, these may just be the "Dim Ages" (as opposed to the Dark Ages) and we may come out of this in another hundred or two-hundred years, but I don't want to wait that long. I want to know we can do it again (walk on other worlds) and I want my children to experience that sense of wonder and excitement, just as I did.


Bladerunner and What Has Come to Pass

One of the things I always fascinating about science fiction is that idea that it is somehow meant to be predictive or prescient in some way. While writers often start with 'if this goes on' as their launchpad, I don't really believe any of them (or many of them) actually sit down with the intention of predicting the future. That's what makes the kind of exploration from this BBC article ("Blade Runner: Which predictions have come true?") both interesting and annoying at the same time. It's cool to see what the writer "got right" but that's not the intent of science fiction. 

In a sense, the journalist is assuming that science fiction, by its nature or intent, is a form of soothsaying. If it is, then science fiction writers may enjoy a slightly higher return on their predictions than most precogs from the  supernatural camp only in that they studiously watch events and attempt to extrapolate a future based on varying degrees of likelihood and, naturally, fictional intent. 

Supernatural soothsayers, those oracles of the spirit world, employ a much more slipshod or prosaic approach. They predict what they believe their customers are willing to pay for, telling people what they want to hear. True soothsayers, if such things actually existed, are more likely to face Cassandra's fate (or Chicken Little's). And so they predict what the market will buy.

There are those who make it their business to predict trends and suggest likely future outcomes using science and statistics as their tools and they too are selling to those who will purchase these predictions. These people are sometimes called futurists. And while some futurists may be science fiction writers and vice versa, when the futurist is operating as a science fiction writer, the product is entertainment. The stories may be cautionary tales or invitations to wonder, but they are meant to entertain. Science fiction writers are, first and foremost, storytellers. But the history of science fiction, its sometimes futuristic visions of wonder, inspired by the boundless discoveries of science and technology, has raised the bar for this particular species of writer. In writing about the future, their tales are seen through the lens of the oracle, with their created futures examined for accuracy. 

Futurists, on the other hand, tend to fall into the same category as economists. Or weather forecasters.

So, read on, dear friends, to see what has come to pass in some of the most famous manufactured futures in science fiction. My good friend, Robert J. Sawyer, a masterful spinner of science fiction tales, is one of the people consulted to judge what came to pass if this went on.


Marcel's Science Fiction and Fantasy

Marcel is an award-winning technical author. While most of his writing tends to lean toward computer-related stuff (okay, so the vast majority is computer-related), he has been known to write and publish (and edit) some great science fiction and fantasy.


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