Saturday, January 2, 2010
Here we are, the beginning of 2010. According to Arthur C. Clarke, this is the "year we make contact." But don't hold your breath. After all, according to his 2001: A Space Odyssey, we should have had a colony on the moon and sentient computers a decade ago. Such is the danger of setting science fiction stories in the "not-too-distant future." The future has a nasty habit of eventually becoming the present and then the past.
Astronaut Buck Rodgers (according to the 1979 television show that ran into the early 80s) should have been launched into space in 1987 where he should now be frozen due to a life-support system malfunction -- he should be out there right now, floating aimlessly, until he's discovered in the 25th Century. According to Star Trek, Earth should have had its Eugenics Wars in the 1990s. According to Space: 1999, a catastrophic explosion on the moon in September almost 11 years ago should have knocked Luna out of its orbit around Earth, hurling it into the dark void of distant outer space. And according to the first Terminator movie, Skynet should have become self-aware and started a nuclear war on August 29, 1997. (Okay, Terminator 2 changed all that, but you get my point.)
I love science fiction. I understand that near-future stories are much more relatable than tales set millennia from now. But I get annoyed when science fiction writers give us the exact year of their speculative fiction. Can't they just be vague about it? Can't they just say "five years from now" or "twenty years from now" or even just "tomorrow"? That way, whenever we're reading the story or watching the movie, the time would be relative to when we're watching instead of a specific point in history that can become dated.
Of course, the beauty of science fiction is that it allows geeks like me to explain those indiscrepancies with theories of alternate timelines, parallel universes, etc. Still, it would be much easier if they just avoided giving us an exact near-future date in the first place.