Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Science Fiction -- more fiction than science

I have been rereading some of the older science fiction stories. It is always interesting to see how the authors got a little bit right and a lot wrong. Almost uniformly SF writers overestimate both the pace and extent to which technology will change in the future. Orville's 1984 is a prime example. George Orwell's so-called vision of the future was very, very far off the mark. But even such luminaries such as Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov missed the spaceship on most of their predictions of the future; think 2001 A Space Odyssey and the sequel, 2010. Well, here we are folks, and I still can't book passage to the Space Station. I think I mentioned before that no one seems to have predicted computers especially not the iPhone type.

We still have to wait a while for talking computers and robots that do more than sweep floors and set off bombs. What is even more striking is the conservative nature of real society as opposed to its portrayal in SF novels and films. People have not changed a lot in the last 100 years, at least not in terms of the way we were supposed to be living according to SF. For example, Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky paints a picture of people living next to the Grand Canyon in underground homes. Yeah, sure.

Reading a lot of old SF points out how really hard it is to second guess the future. It is remarkable how many stories continued the Cold War into the 21st Century and beyond and how many had a Third World War or even more. I have noticed that a major portion of the SF writers are truly pessimistic. Back to Tunnel in the Sky, when it turns out that the world is so heavily over populated that they are sending millions of people to the stars by way of Heinlein's Star Gates.

It is also notable how little place religion is given in the future worlds of SF. If religion is mentioned at all, it is usually portrayed as negative and evil rather than beneficial to anyone. Perhaps the writers believe people will be saved by technology. It is also interesting how both SF and Fantasy seem to have the "average person" as the main character, who just manages to save the World or the Universe. He or she is always being hunted or attacked by the evil ______ fill in the blank (government, underworld, monsters, religious leader etc.) and always seems to just survive due to superior cunning, luck or the fact that the person was really a superhero but didn't know it.

SF writers especially, do not tell stories about ordinary people in ordinary families. If there is a family, the family is usually non-traditional and none of them have more than two or at most, three children. I have seven children and I already know all about the prejudice of the world on this point. Often the family is missing, the hero is an orphan or his parents are killed or whatever. SF writers do not like to deal with families, they are too traditional.

Technology itself is almost always personified. There is always an evil machine gone amok or robots that want to take over the world from humans or some other evil purpose. Aliens are usually evil or have some ulterior purpose when they aren't overtly trying to kill off the human race. If there were alien civilizations, and if they knew about earth, why would we think that they were automatically antagonistic or even uncaring about humans? Why are most aliens pretty bad?

Probably continued.

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