I think we left the future behind some time ago.

Brain-controlled robotic arms?  So last year. Literally.

Synthetic organ transplants? Two years ago. (Synthetic. Organs. No clones were harmed in the extraction of this windpipe!)

I watched the latest Star Trek movie, and I’m wondering why the hell I’m supposed to believe that after three hundred years of medical science (even if you argue it’s effectively only one hundred because of lost ground due to a bad 22nd C) someone getting non-instantaneously-fatally-shot is meant to kill them. Cooked, I could buy (and that’s from six years ago), but generically shot-splosioned? Please.

Mass-produced straws that can filter out particles measuring 0.2 microns, eliminating 99.9999 percent of the bacteria and 99.9 percent of the parasites so that you can safely drink from contaminated water? Old news. I mean really old news. The Lifestraw came out before Daniel Craig started playing James Bond.

As a genre, I think SF is about attempts to solve problems[1], to protect humans against disease or damage or physical constraints or the very limits woven into the fabric of reality, or to create new and beautiful beings of incredible potential and wonder[2]. Sometimes it doesn’t solve all the problems because the answers are harsh answers, as per Stephen Crane’s line:

A man said to the universe: ‘Sir, I exist!’
‘However,’ replied the universe, ‘That fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.

Sometimes it doesn’t solve all the problems because the problems are not solveable within the scope of the story. Sometimes the story focuses on the effects of the attempt or the success.

The light of my life has been (re)reading the Culture books by Iain Banks lately. I have gleaned bits and pieces of the setting, from excerpts read to me and discussions had, and I came away with the impression that the Culture is a post-scarcity, post-illness, post-accidental-death, possibly post-homicide society. I bounced this description off him, and he said unto me “Yeah, pretty much.”

“So what are they about?”


“If no-one needs anything, where does the story come from?”

And he smiled and said “You should read them.” (And I will! But the intersection of my “owned” and “to-read” shelves is still in the triple digits, so it’s taking me a bit. (The Culture books have been bumped up the list, though, because he did read The Bone Key when I suggested it.))

I’m not saying that fictional futures need to be the present with a glaze of chrome and buttons, that SF is limited to a style where instead of going to work so you can pay the mortgage you end up jet-packing to work so you can pay the space-mortgage. (I’m glad I’m not saying that, because that would be horrible.)  I’m not saying that people don’t change–people change all the time, and the shocking ahistoricity of (at the very least) modern North America makes it very hard to notice this at times.

I’m saying that since technology is rapidly outpacing some of our ideas of the future from only two decades ago, and it’s actually not possible to fully understand everything that’s happening at the moment, it’s really easy to forget exactly how far we’ve already come in terms of technology.  Which is a shame, since it means there is amazing technology with concept-shattering implications out there which I will never even hear about, but at the same time…

We’re here in the future.  I’ve heard this can be a nice place to live; let’s check it out.  Don’t forget to ask questions.


[1] There is a whole ‘nother digression here, about what SF does, and certainly there are a ton of stories that take a hard swerve off into “but the brown/differently-religioned/not-straight/craaaazy scary people will use the power of science to GET US ALL” territory, but I do believe that much of SF is “people see a problem, technology ensues, wow/whoops/interesting” with moderately intelligent discussion of all these points.
I have been accused of being a rabid optimist, mind.

[2] And then flip out because they’re not pretty and move around on their own so you run away and abandon them, Victor Frankenstein I am looking at you. Jackass.

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